By Chandra Turner
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 traditional media and love it and want to ride it out. I talk to folks who have pivoted to new roles outside the magazine industry. And I talk to lots and lots of people who are trying to transition 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 Kristen Dollard, VP of Content at Spartan, the obstacle race company and fitness and wellness brand. Kristen and I have mutual friends in common (hi KK and LK!). When we first met Kristen was the brand director at Yoga Journal where she created an award-winning online education center. Before that she led the digital team at Self.com and worked at Rodale’s Yoga Life and was on the launch team for Women’s Health. Kristen joined Spartan in February as a contractor and became full time in September. She leads a small but mighty internal editorial team, manages an arsenal of freelance contributors, and is an authentic cheerleader for the brand’s unapologetic mission of “extreme wellness.” Here is an edited transcript of our recent chat:
Talent Fairy: Tell me a bit about Spartan. I know it’s a race for hardcore athletes, but that’s about all I know!
Kristen Dollard: While it is known for hardcore obstacle course athletes, we have 7 million fans in our community, we are in 42 countries and have 3,000 races a year. It’s not just about the races though; it’s the Spartan mentality. I was drawn to the mission because it was not wimpy, but also like the yoga mentality: You go to yoga class to be a better person on and off the mat, not just so can show off your fancy poses. That’s Spartan’s growth mindset: We want to own “extreme wellness” and at the end of the day change a million lives.
TF: Extreme wellness. That’s an awesome term!
KD: Yes. A lot of what is already out there is so vanilla. In my years being in the fitness and wellness space. I’ve seen the pendulum swing. Now fitness [content] needs to have a real point of view. The Spartan mentality and lifestyle is about committing to being healthy. The idea is that health is earned, not given. These are the old fashioned values that are missing in the world today. It doesn’t mean you have to be an elite athlete, but you are encouraging people to make their health a priority. So we are putting stakes in the ground around that. The science is that humans will do anything to avoid discomfort. But at Spartan we say that discomfort spurs growth. Even Buddhism tells you that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
TF: How does this messaging support the products that Spartan offers? You offer virtual classes, right?
KD: We have featured experts to get you fit, help you build strength and endurance. One of my favorite classes is our Fear is Fuel class with ex-Olympian Patrick Sweeney shot in the Chilean desert. He will help you make fear a superpower! But I also love our digital bootcamp. It’s a three-parter, and it’s workouts that work aren’t just built for SEO! You do strength and agility training in a gym then running and endurance and then flexibility and mobility; all with these trainers that are beyond amazing. And who doesn’t like to find the latest, hottest, secret trainer!
TF: Education and content are so intertwined these days.
KD: Right. If you want to turn your race business into a media business, which is one of our goals, education is the next tent pole. Anyone, anywhere, on any device can participate in the Spartan culture. For all of our content, the goal is three things: awareness, engagement, and then customer acquisition and conversion. And projects have to fit under one of our three pillars: fitness, fuel, or tribe. The more content and storytelling we do, the more eyeballs and more people we reach. My job at the end of the day is to deliver a more organic search. If you can drive the audience to the site, it justifies your existence. You can show the value of what you are doing in real time with this type of data. Most of the time content is often siloed.
TF: Who do you report up to? And what do you actually call the team you work on?
I report to the CMO; I lead the content team which lives in marketing. I joined because [she] found me on LinkedIn and forty-eight hours after our first meeting, I was supporting the content projects. We are a matrixed organization so imagine all of us supporting one another to get the job done. Our digital lead, video lead, PM team, social teams and biz dev leads are my day to day counterparts. We’re small but our volume of work is massive. Because I’m on such a small team and have strong relationships with our head of digital and the leadership team, we have a more integrated approach [to our content strategy].
TF: Is your team growing?
KD: We always need talent—great writers, bloggers, and influencers as well as digital strategists, SEO gurus and more. We are trying to flex every muscle out there available to content, and we need really ambitious people to help us do it. Spartan is a great place for smart entrepreneurial self-starters. It’s a place for people who have a lot of ideas and have the energy to get things done.
TF: Are you hiring any full time roles?
KD: There is an open head for a social media role. We’re looking for someone who is in the Tik Tok realm and has experience and a track record building brands with emerging social media. I’m always ready to meet people who have great energy and ideas and can figure out what is going to help those channels grow. I am also looking for writers who can write long format as well as think-pieces that can help us build our LinkedIn footprint.
TF: Cool. What skills do you look for when hiring content creators on your team?
KD: Anyone who has created online education, please call me! Experience in online education is great because we are growing in that area. But also, we need good writers for the blogs and think pieces. I feel like these days writers can get trapped in neglecting their own voice and embracing a unique point of view. We want great reporting, but also pieces need to be voicey and interesting. Getting the tone right is really important. It’s easy to tone things down but it’s hard to tone things up. In my early days at Women’s Health the stories would get kicked back to you until you produced stuff no one else had. You have to take it to the next level.
TF: You come from an editorial background and now you report into marketing. What value do you see having roots in editorial?
KD: At the end of the day if you are purely editorial you are relentless for the reader slash user slash consumer. And that is what marketing is now. It’s a savvy understanding of what the users want. Content was always marketing. It was a way to get your audience’s attention. It used to be marketing was buying impressions. But what we are trying to do at Spartan is make connections. And that is what editorial does, makes connections to our consumers. Ultimately that is the same goal as what marketing has.
TF: What is the future of content marketing? Do you think it’s growing?
KD: Yes, I think it’s growing. If you look at YouTube and Google and these massive players who own and guide the data world and how you sell things, you see that content is becoming more important. Consumers don’t want to just be sold to. They want an authentic connection. Tory Burch wouldn’t have Tory Daily if content wasn’t important. Nike wouldn’t have Nike Training Club. Equinox is investing heavily in content. This is a cultural shift and opportunity. I am personally excited for respectful use of data that makes the world a better place. Data journalists may be the most exciting thing to ever happen to the digital world.
I honestly believe that good ideas and valuable skills change people’s lives. Whether it’s a training program that Nike gives you, or an inspirational quote from Adidas or a podcast like Forever35 where a former colleague works. They can connect with you beyond what they sell. That authenticity factor is even bigger now which is why [brands] need real quality content. Something that a bot can’t make!
TF: Thank goodness for that! That’s a great note to end on. Thanks so much Kristen. It’s been a pleasure.
KD: Thank you!
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.