What is a content marketing strategist?

And does your purpose-driven brand need one?

Woman pointing to colorful stickies on wall with team at the table
Image Source: Jason Goodman, Unsplash

By Rebekah Mays

If your purpose-driven brand creates content and you don’t have a content strategist, then it might be time to think about hiring one.

But what is a content marketing strategist exactly? And do you really need one for your purpose-driven brand?

That’s what we’re here to explore today.

Table of contents

What is a content strategist?

Let’s start with the basics. What is a content strategist, exactly?

Here’s Mediabistro’s definition:

“A content strategist plans, writes and edits content; ensures it is clear, compelling and properly distributed across web, mobile and social platforms; and adheres to a consistent brand philosophy.”

In other words, a content strategist usually:

      • Plans content
      • Helps create content, especially through writing and/or editing
      • Supports content distribution efforts across different channels
      • Ensures the content is consistent with brand messaging guidelines
      • Monitors key metrics and reports on performance
Quote from Ann Handley: Everything the light touches is content

Sometimes the words “content strategist” and “content marketing strategist” are used interchangeably.

A “content marketing strategist” focuses especially on the marketing of a product, while a bigger-picture content strategist might look at other areas, too. (Makes sense, doesn’t it?)

But I also believe that Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes, is right on the money when she says that “Everything the light touches is content.”

(If that sounds familiar, she’s playing off Mufasa’s line from The Lion King: “Everything the light touches is your kingdom.”)

In other words, content is at the heart of every interaction people have with your brand — even if you don’t think of that interaction as marketing-driven.

This “content” might be the messaging of your customer support team and salespeople, your packaging, and/or your digital materials about your products and services.

This content can either improve the experience the person has with your brand … or detract from it. Ultimately, all this makes a difference to your business’s bottom line.

Of course, it’s challenging even for a “strategist” to go into detail on every single area of your business. So while a content marketing strategist should be aware of the “content” throughout your business, most content strategists start by focusing on the areas we typically think of in content marketing. Areas such as:

      • Website pages, including Search Engine Optimization content
      • Email marketing and newsletters
      • Social media content

Finally, the content marketing strategist might support with the creation of the content, but they won’t be able to do it all themselves. They’ll need other resources (personnel and finances) to create the content, distribute the content, and evaluate the content performance.

"A content strategist plans content, helps create content, supports content distribution, ensures content is consistent with brand messaging, and monitors key metrics."

What’s the difference between a content manager and content strategist?

While a content strategist focuses primarily on planning, creation, and quality control, a content manager is more focused on supporting the team and keeping all the different tasks flowing smoothly.

In theory, the content manager and strategist could be the same person.

But we all know that managing a team takes a lot of time, and trying to juggle team management and content strategy usually means one or the other gets put on the backburner.

Which leads me to my next point …

Do I really need a content strategist?

Ultimately, somebody needs to be responsible for the content marketing strategy. And it’s clear that many businesses struggle with this.

In their annual “State of Content Marketing 2022 Global Report,” Semrush reports that 97% of the 1,500 survey respondents use content marketing as part of their marketing strategy.

However, 40% of the 1,500 survey respondents said they had no documented content strategy. That’s a lot of businesses without a content strategy!

But is documentation all that important? Yep. 

Graphic with semrush data quoted in article

Let’s take a look at even more of the data. 

Semrush also reports that 78% of marketers who feel their content marketing efforts were successful in 2021 had a documented content marketing strategy.

Meanwhile, 81% of marketers who had unsuccessful content marketing efforts did not have one.

“But wait!” you might say, “Correlation does not equal causation!”

I know, I know. But it’s pretty intuitive, right? When you document something, you have to think through it more clearly and be able to articulate your goals.

You have to be intentional and strategic.

And ultimately, it’s logical that content marketing will be more effective when it’s intentional and documented and not random.

Bottom line is, you may not need someone with the exact title “content marketing strategist.” But if you are going to the trouble and expense of creating content, you need someone responsible for the strategy behind it.


How much does it cost to hire a content strategist?

So then, if you don’t have someone doing content strategy on your team, then you have a few options:

Option 1. One of your team members (aka a manager or a specialist) adds content strategy to their plate

Option 2. You hire an in-house content strategist

Option 3. You hire someone external to help you with your content strategy

Let’s explore these options and see when they each make sense.

Option 1. Give content strategy to an existing team member

In my experience, Option 1 can work if the team member is an rockstar and/or if marketing strategy is a big part of their job description.

My one caveat here is to be wary of piling strategy on a manager’s plate — people management takes up so much darn time, and so the strategy ends up getting the short end of the stick.

For best results with option 1, give content marketing strategy to a team member whose main responsibility is strategy.

Option 2. Hire an in-house content strategist

Option 2 works great if you have the budget for a full-time person.

How much budget? That of course depends on a few factors.

According to Payscale.com, a content strategist in New York with 5 years’ experience in digital marketing earns a median total cash compensation of $80,104. In London, the same role with the same experience earns a median total cash compensation of £44,776 per year.

“According to Payscale.com, a content strategist in New York with 5 years’ experience in digital marketing earns a median total cash compensation of $80,104. In London, the same role with the same experience earns a median total cash compensation of £44,776 per year.”

The exact numbers will depend on your industry, your location, your benefits package, and the caliber of professional you’re looking for.

My view is that if you can afford a great, full-time strategist, it’s probably worth it – because they’ll be completely committed to your brand and will learn the nuances of your audience over time. 

Option 3. Hire a contractor to help you with content strategy

But let’s say that option 1 doesn’t work for you, you don’t have the budget for option 2, and/or you can’t find the right person for your in-house content marketing strategy. Enter the third option!

In the third option, you bring in someone to work on content strategy on a contract basis – such as a skilled contractor or an agency.

The advantage here is you don’t have to pay a full-time salary and benefits, and you don’t have the same long-term commitment you do with an in-house employee. 

The disadvantage is that it can be tricky to find the partner for your business. 

So how much does it cost to hire a contractor or agency?

There’s no “going rate” for freelance or agency-based work. But let’s say for the sake of simplicity, you pay your freelance content strategist 50% of the full-time salaries I mentioned above – so about $3,300 a month for the U.S. example, or £1,900 a month for the UK example. (Disclaimer: These are rough numbers, and prices will vary depending on many factors.)

The contract option can work really well for many different types of brands. Just keep in mind that even though you have more flexibility with a contractor, the best results will come from someone who can work with you for a longer period of time.

Because of that, it makes sense to ask whether the contractor is open to a long-term commitment when you discuss an initial project.

Where can I find a content strategist who will understand my purpose-driven brand?​

If your brand is driven by purpose and impact, then it may be challenging to find a content strategist who not only has the skillset you need but also “gets” what your brand is trying to do.

I know this combo is hard to find, which is why at Thrive, we bake content marketing strategy into all of our SEO services for purpose-driven brands. 

While we focus specifically on SEO (increasing organic traffic and leads), we often end up helping clients with other big-picture issues. All of our work ends up helping clarify the strategy our clients need for other parts of their content marketing.

You can learn more about Thrive and read about our project-based approach to SEO here.

The even better news is that Thrive is not the only one out there who can do content strategy!

So here’s a more substantial list of places you can get help:

Ultimately, the decision of whether and when to hire a content marketing strategist is yours.

It’s up to YOU to decide if you can afford one … and how you want them to work within your team.

Just keep it mind that without a content strategy in some way, shape, or form, it’s going to be hard to get a return on your content marketing efforts.

And if all else fails, you’ll be alright if you can keep in mind these wise words from Mufasa — I mean, Ann Handley:

“Everything the light touches is content.”

Profile of Rebekah, a woman standing outside, smiling, and wearing a blue blazer

About the author


Rebekah Mays is the founder and owner of Thrive Copywriting, a digital marketing agency offering SEO “Sprints” to grow traffic and leads for B2B impact brands. She helps marketers and executives cut through the noise so they can grow their revenue — without sacrificing their values. Ready for more traffic and impact? Get in touch.

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