The Talent Fairy Chats With People Who Hire Content People
The best part of my role as Talent Fairy is that I get to talk to people constantly. I talk to folks who still work in print magazines and love it and want to ride it out. I talk to folks who have transitioned to new roles outside the magazine industry. And I talk to lots and lots of people who are trying to transition out of traditional media into new roles and careers. But what I’ve found is that those three groups don’t necessarily talk to each other. There is a knowledge gap between those who are looking for content jobs and those who are hiring for them. In this series of posts: Chatting With People Who Hire Content People, I bridge that gap, and answer questions that career pivotors might have about roles and organizations outside of traditional media. I will be talking to folks who have content backgrounds and “get it” and those who don’t, but they will all have one thing in common: They hire content people, people like you.
My interview this week is with Carrie Sloan, the VP of content marketing at Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest broad-based healthcare company. Carrie started her career in magazines at titles like Elle Girl, Details, and Marie Claire. She broke out of print before most of her peers, landing top roles at the sex and relationship website YourTango, the personal finance website LearnVest, and the parenting site Cafe Mom. She made her move to J&J in 2015 where she breathed life into the content strategy for the 130-year old international brand. Carrie has also always been very generous to Ed210, serving on Ed’s first panel discussion on content marketing in the winter of 2015. And back when I was a frustrated magazine editor trying to decipher job postings for content marketing roles and if I was qualified for them, Carrie was incredibly encouraging. She assured me that my skills as an editor would translate — and sure enough they did. Now I continue that conversation with her several years later. We talk about why she hires journalists for her key content roles (you’ll love her answers) and how to talk like a corporate executive (get ready to walk the square!).
Here is an edited transcript of our recent chat:
Talent Fairy: Hi Carrie. Thanks so much for agreeing to talk to me today! Let’s start with the easy stuff. What do you do at J&J?
Carrie Sloan: I’m the vice president of content marketing, or of the Global Content Lab.
TF: What does the Global Content Lab do?
CS: We create content that celebrates all the good work that J&J does and the good work that our employees do. Essentially our role is to protect and enhance the company through storytelling. [When I came on in 2015,] we redesigned the corporate website to tell stories. And hired a team of journalists to do that. We report enterprise-wide on any story across the company — that ranges from a first person piece on what it meant to one employee to take advantage of Johnson & Johnson’s paternal leave benefits, to a profile on someone who does oncology research. For instance, we can talk about how a scientist discovered a molecule that could lead to a new treatment. Or, how Johnson & Johnson is leading the charge in terms of parental leave and provide videos about our new leave policy so employees around the world can take advantage of that new policy. We are in 60 countries around the world.
TF: So who is your audience exactly? Is it for employees or for consumers?
CS: Our content is published on the Johnson & Johnson website so it’s a consumer audience. And we talk to investors, nurses, our employees, and other key stakeholders for the company.
We push that content out across our social media channels; on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and LinkedIn. We are doing a lot more with LinkedIn now.
TF: How do you refer to this content that you create? Everyone seems to call it something different.
CS: Content marketing is how we refer to it. Internally we are known as the “content lab.” And what we do in the world is called content marketing or brand publishing.
TF: I’ve never heard it referred to as “brand publishing.” That’s a new one. And good for my community to know it’s not something new and foreign.
CS: Right. I’ve heard those words used interchangeably.
TF: I find it interesting that when you built your team you referred to the people you brought on as journalists. Do you call them journalists now? The people who we hire have a journalism background. Their actual title is content strategist or editor in chief. We have a team of content strategists who report up to our EIC. And as the world is evolving, and as paid social strategy is becoming more necessary, we have also had the need to add to that team. We hired a full-time digital designer and a producer / editor who can create video in real time. They can go to an event and capture it on video and we can tie that event to something that is happening in the world, or a hashtag, like World AIDS Day.
TF: So what is it about journalists that you like so much?
CS: We are trying to do the same thing at J&J that journalists are already doing in the world. It’s almost like a sixth sense, that ability to spot a story in the wild and shape it into a narrative that people are going to respond to and connect with. It’s that “whisper story” idea. You might be talking about something else entirely. For instance, at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis one of our content strategists was on the phone for another story altogether. The fact that J&J had a scientist who was a former refugee came up in the conversation. He was a scientist at Janssen [a J&J company] who fled Syria — it ended up being this amazing story about a human journey and what was also captivating news headlines at the time. Point is that when you hire a journalist their ears perk up at a story like that.
TF: How much does content play a role in the overall business strategy for J&J?
CS: One of our primary goals is to support the business. Anytime we are launching a new drug, for instance, we find ways to tell a story about it, whether it’s an original video or story on the site. Or a good example: The consumer group was launching a new Neutrogena light therapy mask and because we had such great SEO traction from our story about the technology behind the mask, they got a boost in organic traffic when we linked the story to their brand site. That inter-linking strategy gave them the organic placements on Google and provided more traffic, and sales.
TF: Back to hiring. I always want to talk about hiring! In addition to having that journalistic instinct, what are you looking for when you are hiring content people?
CS: Having that SEO strategy experience is helpful. Don’t be scared off by that though. You can brush up on those skills really easily just by taking a course; there was just a Google boot camp on SEO recently, for instance. [Psst! GA offers one.]
TF: So it’d be OK if someone just took a class — they don’t actually need work experience in SEO?
CS: Yes! Because I want you to be able to understand the SEO strategy, but you would not be the SEO expert. We have an SEO agency who will do that. As a content strategist, you just need to integrate the recommendations from the agency into your content. And just have to understand the basics so you can do that.
TF: What else do people with an editorial background need to be aware of when applying for a job at a corporate brand like yours?
CS: For someone coming into a corporate environment it’s a lot different than a newsroom. You need to have someone who has diplomacy; it’s the same skill you use when you are interviewing a source for a story. You also have to be a translator, often of very difficult content and be able to turn that content into a very highly readable and engaging story. Also the ability to translate what a company wants to talk about and connecting it to what is happening in the outside world, so we can time our storytelling to external events. For instance, timing the promotion of our parental leave policies to when parental leave is in the news, like when Mark Zuckerberg is talking about parental leave. Because that’s when everyone else is talking about it too. As journalists, we look around what is happening in the world and we pitch ideas with that timing in mind. It’s not a skill that we [as journalists] would normally see in ourselves. But most other people, it turns out, don’t think like that.
TF: Are you hiring right now?
CS: Yes. We will be interviewing for roles in social media and for a site manager.
TF: Do you have any other practical advice about breaking into content work at a corporate brand?
CS: Corporations are really eager to find people with our backgrounds. I would say seek out particular recruiters who have those connections. [ahem!] Redo your resume every single time you apply for a new job — and put the keywords of that job description into your resume. And keep your LinkedIn profile updated. Also look around at your peers, read the profiles of people whose jobs you’d like to be in and emulate what they have written.
TF: Before we sign off, one last fun question. I’m collecting terms that are used in the corporate world. What terminology do you use in your current role that would have been unfamiliar to you in your previous career in editorial?
CS: Learning to speak corporate is a big transition! Words like “aligned,” as in “I think we are aligned on this project” or phrases like “Walk the square.”
TF: Walk the Square?
CS: Yes, it’s the idea that you need to get buy in from all your colleagues and stakeholders. In editorial I think we’d just call it brainstorming! There’s also “atomization,” the idea that you can take one concept for social media content and customize it for a platform so it gets its best engagement on each platform. It’s like you’re splitting the atom.
TF: I love it! Thank you Carrie, for demystifying what it’s like to work at a large international corporate like J&J. Your own career path and pivot from journalism to content marketing is so inspiring. Thanks so much.
CS: You’re welcome. My pleasure.
Chandra Turner is founder and CEO of Ed2010 and Talent Fairy. She is a talent recruiter specializing in the content and media space. She also offers personalized career coaching for media professionals at all stages of their career.
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