Building a career in content
Here at Pickle Jar Communications we spend a lot of time talking about content strategy.
If you’re still not sure what content strategy is, you might want to have a look at our handy guide.
But the truth is, in the education sector we’re all still discovering how content strategy might benefit us and our institutions. Those of us with the words ‘content strategy’ in our job titles are still relatively few, although the number is growing as more universities recognise the importance of the discipline.
So how do you build a career in content? Or how do you get your institution to recognise that you’re already a content guru working under another title?
We asked five friends, from in-house experts to consultancy pros, how they got into content-focussed roles. Their responses reveal that content strategists come in all shapes and sizes.
Octavia Reeve, Head of Content Strategy, Royal College of Art (@octavia_reeve)
I got into content – though it wasn’t called that then – working at Macmillan Publishers, as Commissioning Editor overseeing the digitisation of the 17-volume, printed ‘art bible’ The Grove Dictionary of Art. I’d trained as an editor, and suddenly it was all SGML mark-up and hypertext links. It taught me that technology and content have to be equal partners throughout a project to create a great experience.
I remain a stickler for standards (style guides and brand guidelines), a believer in user-led strategy and a tech optimist – always looking for the next way to use technology to connect to audiences.
Rob Mills, Head of Content, Gather Content (@RobertMills)
I graduated in journalism and then took a small but relevant detour from professional writing when I worked for BBC Wales in audience research. I was knee-deep in data, disseminating it to different teams to help them make informed decisions about their content.
From here I went agency-side as a studio manager and that was my first foray into the world of writing for the web and digital content. I also wrote for industry publications and had a web-related book published through a small and niche independent publisher. Seven years of agency work helped me hone skills around project management, collaboration, user experience, research, copywriting, and workshop facilitation.
Four years ago I stepped into my first role with content in the title. It brought together all the skills and experiences from prior jobs, as I became Content Strategist at GatherContent, and more recently moved into a Head of Content role.
Noel Mellor, Head of Content, Manchester Metropolitan University (@thenoelmellor)
I graduated from Manchester Met in 2006, starting out as a copywriter for an online news agency. However, it was only when I joined a larger media agency that I got the chance to get more creative.
I’d spent a few years in independent film and festival marketing, where I picked up skills in video, podcasting and design – so when the chance came to flex those muscles in my day job, I grabbed it with both hands.
Since then, I’ve worked at agencies big and small, but finally came home to Manchester Met in 2017 as Head of Content. I still keep my love of film and film marketing alive though, and published my first book on the VHS films of the 1980s in 2016.
Ellie Lovell, Head of Strategy, Pickle Jar Communications (@ellielovell)
In 2005 I started working as Communications Assistant at the University of Warwick. My role involved creating content for the website, and supporting stakeholder relations.
In 2006, I set up the University’s Myspace page(!), soon followed by Twitter and Facebook. I was so excited about the emergence of social media and the new opportunities it would present for communications. I loved seeing the connections forming between people who’d never met before and had a shared interest in the University.
Fast forward 10+ years (working in various comms role at the University of Warwick and then as Head of Online at Birmingham Metropolitan College)… Whilst I still love social media, I now relish being able to help professionals understand the business benefits of using digital channels, and being able to advise on content and approaches that really engage target audiences and meet their needs, whether they are students, alumni, businesses, or the academic community.
Social media is a much smaller part of what I do now, but it’s all part of helping organisations to better tell their story using the right content and the right channels.
Trends and buzzwords change, but I’ve always been passionate about telling stories. I studied journalism and literature as an undergraduate, and worked as a communications officer (and later, editor) for an in-house university comms team.
I then took on a role as an adviser/chief of staff, which involved a healthy dose of strategic planning, speechwriting, and the like. While working in higher education, I continued to freelance as a journalist for the national newspaper.
Last year, I decided to combine these two worlds to create my own content and storytelling consultancy. Everything I do comes back to sourcing, crafting, and sharing great stories.