Memo to Millennials: Why Content is Killing the Game

When it comes to “content,” there’s never been more to understand and master. There’s also never been more upside to doing it right.

As a growing startup, my content-driven digital agency is always hiring. And so we interview twenty-something after twenty-something who moved to New York with aspirations of becoming the next section editor at the New Yorker, the next publishing executive at Penguin, or yes, the next great American novelist.

Each time, I ask them what they’re doing in a WeWork conference room drinking cold brew on tap, showing me a printout of the one blog post they did get published on the New Yorker website, and reciting their qualifications for a job in content marketing — an industry they didn’t know existed six months ago. Their answer is usually the same: it’s special to get paid full-time to write and edit.

They’re right. I’ve built a business thanks in part to the fact that more and more talented young writers and editors are finding success and fulfillment in content marketing — once known as publishing’s ugly sister, but now embraced by Millennials like me as a welcoming path to double their salary in half the time.

What these fresh-faced Ivy League grads don’t know is that content marketing isn’t just a dumbed-down version of your Junior year Comparative Lit class. It’s a field that’s revolutionizing the way we tell stories in real-time — in 280 characters, in two-sentence paragraphs, and yes, in search-optimized headlines.

Why Content is Killing the Game

There’s been an enormous, well-documented shift in consumer behavior over the past 20 years thanks to the rise of internet access and mobile technology. People don’t watch TV ads or look at billboards in the same way. Except for subway and Super Bowl ads, there’s no more valuable real estate than the content at the top of a Google search page.

I know — none of this is exactly a news flash. But it’s important to recap, because this shift is partly responsible for the meteoric rise of content marketing from niche SEO play to primary mode of communication between brands and their customers.

There are plenty of other factors at play. Perhaps most importantly, traditional publications (and publishing houses) are struggling to find a foothold in a digital economy that content marketers have been calling home for over a decade. As recently as 2012, the New York Times was writing headlines like “How Cosmo conquered the world.” And yet last year, the traditional media giants Condé Nast and Hearst were reporting significant declines in circulation of most of their major outlets.

What we’ve seen as the product of all this — wait for it — disruption is a job economy that’s skewed heavily towards turning brands into publishers and publishers into dinosaurs. To put it even more simply, people want to write content for brands because brands want to pay them for content.

What’s Left to Learn

This, of course, is all great news for an agency like mine. I’m shocked at the quality of applicants we receive. And trust me — I know that says a lot more about the appeal of our industry and the “startup glow” than it does about L&T.

But there’s something to be said for the higher bar we’ve set for ourselves and the aspiring content gurus who work for us (or want to work for us). For marketers, there is simply more to be an expert about than there has ever been before.

Related: 10 Qualities to Look for in a Content Marketing Hire

Simply put, you need to know more. Great research skills are absolutely essential in this industry because consumers approach a lot of what they read online with a healthy degree of skepticism. And for the sake of staying relevant — in other words, to do your job as a marketer — you often have to step out of your wheelhouse and write about topics, products, and even whole industries you may have never even heard of before.

What’s more, you have to package what you write about things you never knew existed in a smart and engaging manner. In other words, you need to possess an innate ability to tell interesting stories. That’s how we communicate today online, by swapping compelling narratives and fresh takes.

This is all good news for the aspiring content marketer — there’s no coding involved, no night classes to attend. Instead, the “soft skills” are at a premium.

Today’s brands and marketing organizations don’t need data scientists — they need storytellers. I can safely say we’re lucky enough to work with the best of them.