Q& A with Chris Rackliffe: Director, Social Media and Editorial Content Development
By Chandra Turner
The Talent Fairy chats with people who hire content people
The best part of my role as Talent Fairy is that I 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 magazine media. And I talk to lots of people who are trying to transition out of traditional publishing 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 Chris Rackliffe the director of social media and editorial content development at Aetna. I first met Chris ten years ago when he won my heart (and the prize of $1000) with his scholarship application essay for the Ed2010 Trust Fund. He was (and is) a gifted writer who knew how to connect with people via words. I enjoyed watching his career trajectory via social media (where he goes by @crackliffe). He went on to run social media for Men’s Health and Women’s Health at Rodale and then to Time Inc. where he was the social media director at Entertainment Weekly. Between the two he did a brief stint working for an agency as a social media manager for a client, Citibank. It’s that gig that led him to where he is today, working at the healthcare giant, Aetna, which has more than 50,000 colleagues (and was bought last year by CVS Health which has 200K!). We talk about what it’s like to work for a large corporation after a career in magazine media, what he looks for when hiring content creators on his team, and how corporate life finally gave him the opportunity to reflect on his life and career and write the book he always dreamed of writing. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
The Talent Fairy: You joined Aetna two years ago. What a change from working in pop culture and entertainment! How did you make that transition?
Chris Rackliffe: When I was at Time Inc. they laid off a bunch of people ahead of the sale to Meredith. I had to figure out what to do with my career. I was 30 years old and was having a midlife crisis! One of the people I worked with when I was on the agency side—she was my client at Citibank—had joined Aetna. She explained what the job was: They were looking for someone to come in and run social media and community management. They had recently launched a brand campaign and were pushing it in an interesting direction: focusing more on the connection of body, mind, and spirit. For me, it was a return to health and lifestyle from my days at Men’s Health and Women’s Health and also a chance to get out of the hustle and bustle of entertainment. Working in entertainment came with a lot of perks, but the downfall was I didn’t have a lot of boundaries. I was burned out. So the job at Aetna was interesting to me. Once I met with everyone and saw how thoughtful, strategic, and smart everyone was I was sold.
And you were recently promoted, right? Congrats! What is the new job?
CR: I was promoted to oversee editorial content development as well as social media. [See the Health Guide that Chris and his team create.] It allows me to use the knowledge that I acquired working on editorial teams—not just writing in 280 characters. It lets me sink my teeth into an area that I have long been interested in and feel passionate about. That’s part of the reason why I was so interested in this role. It is more thoughtful. If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. It is meaningful in a different way.
“I love having the opportunity to slow down from the fast pace and be able to put together real strategy. Not just assemble the plane as you are going.”
Tell me a bit about Aetna and its unique brand messaging and voice.
CR: The gist is this: Life doesn’t happen in a vacuum. As a person your physical self is only one part of a whole you. People treat their health and their health care as something that happens to them physically. But we found that you are not just signing up for a healthcare provider. We are joining you on your health care journey. We flipped the script, so it’s about you: How can we help you achieve what you want to do? Not just physically, but also in your mental health. We live in trying times: People are anxious and over extended. They don’t know how to cope. If something happens to your mind, it happens to your body and to your spirit. That is why it’s so fascinating to me.
So how are you getting that messaging across to your audience?
CR: One of the programs that we run is called Proactive Community Management. We have social listening set up with keywords around health and wellness and we are listening to the conversation and finding those people to engage with. For instance, we saw someone tweet and say, I’m sitting in my car and I can’t find the motivation to go inside the gym and workout. And we tweeted them back and said, You made it to the parking lot and you can make it inside. It takes one step. Later they tweeted back to thank you so much for the support.
Wow, that’s pretty cool.
CR: We’ve had 5,500 engagements like that and we haven’t gotten one negative response. It’s changing the way people think about us, changing our relationship to be a more proactive one. Not just reaching out because something went wrong or you weren’t covered for something, but it’s about maintaining your health. It’s a lot easier to stay healthy than it is to get healthy when you are sick. The research says that too. We can all do our part to take better care of ourselves.
There are a couple different content groups at Aetna right? Can you explain what yours does?
CR: Yes; ours is based in marketing. There was a pivot a year and a half ago to be more aligned with what the business units are trying to achieve. We are leaning heavier into content marketing. Seeing what we could achieve on the Health Guide and via the social channels [like Facebook]. It was not just creating the health and wellness content, but how can we help drive business results? I never had a chance to do any of that work before in the magazine world and I’m now able to lean into a new aspect of my career and learn more about how to market products and services in a new way. It’s been an interesting ride watching the Health Guide team evolve as part of a larger content team beyond B to C [business to consumer] to do white papers and B to B [business to business] content that lives in a variety of places, like in internal sales tools and pitches. It’s a challenge that our team has really risen to in a really nimble way.
How does the content you create go beyond traditional marketing?
CR: What we have found is that in general, people are more moved by the power of someone else’s story than the benefit of a product or service. That is not traditional marketing. It is more content marketing. It’s using the power of a story to illustrate your message and change the relationship from one that was transactional to be more personal. We have seen that resonates with people, from an engagement and reach standpoint. We have magazine veterans on our team who know how to do a profile and how to humanize them and use that to tell an impactful story to change behavior. There is something about the power of someone else’s story. It moves people in a different way.
You mention magazine veterans on your team. Do you have a lot of former journalists working with you?
CR: We have a variety of different people. Everyone has an expertise in content strategy or social. The content all comes from an editorial and journalistic background. The veteran magazine folks use their journalism skills to tell those stories. On the social side they have worked for a variety of brands: Citibank, Bank of America, or other heavily regulated industries, and others have worked in fashion and beauty. They are from so many different backgrounds.
Well you certainly took it like a fish to water! What was it like to go from a media company to a massive healthcare corporation?
CR: We live in interesting times. And I realized the people are what matter. They make all the difference. A brand or a company is just a collection of people. Healthcare companies get a bad rap. Some of it is deserved, but a lot of it isn’t. I say, Don’t just make decisions based on your preconceived notions. There’s such a wealth of opportunity out there, and I’d hate for folks to shut the door on it. You don’t really know until you get up close.
What skills do you look for when hiring content creators on your team?
CR: It’s not that different from magazines. You have to know what people want and know your audience. [As editors], we were taught how to impact people with our messages: What’s going to make them commit? What’s going to illicit a certain behavior?
When you are hiring, what do you struggle with finding?
CR: Someone who has resourcefulness. Someone who is solutions-focused. Someone who is gritty. It can take a long time for things to come to fruition, so you need someone who is willing to roll up their sleeves and work with a variety of different people in a variety of different departments to get things done.
Great point, but it can be tricky to determine that in an interview. How do you vet for that?
CR: I have them do an edit test and give a challenge: How would you solve this problem? These are the various factors that we are working with: How do you move the ball along to get it done? I don’t need someone else who is going to tell me why we can’t get something done. I need someone who can say, Here are the three other ways we can do it. I always ask in interviews, Tell me one story of a time when something went really well for you. And tell me one story of when something went really wrong. I don’t expect people to be perfect. But it’s about how you pick yourself up and find the solution. We are going to stumble and fall. You might get frustrated, but it’s how you recover that matters.
That’s a great exercise. Note to self, I’ll have to start asking that in my candidate interviews!
CR: I also look for enthusiasm. Someone who is genuinely excited to work in the healthcare space. I don’t want someone who is just treating it like a job, but who understands how important health is. I like it when they share stories about how they lost a loved one and that’s why they want to be in this line of work. Or their cousin has cancer and they want to help people catch it sooner. Things like that help make that personal connection to me. This isn’t about putting in a lot of hours. It’s not about overextending yourself. It’s about Are you going to bring your full self to this? You want to have someone on your team who wants to be in this together. We succeed or fail as a team. That sort of energy is contagious.
So are you hiring now?
CR: We don’t have any open roles at the moment on the social or the content teams, but things are evolving in an interesting and exciting way. Things are dynamic right now.
You may have seen that I have a quote series called “Why Editors Make the Best Hires.” What unique skills do you believe that editors have to offer the world?
CR: They understand what it’s like to write a first draft, go back to that draft, and get it to a second draft, then not be fully happy with it and do five more drafts! It’s two steps forward, one step back. Being able to handle that is really critical. The same thing applies in content marketing. At the last minute, the client can say, We can’t use that. We need someone who is able to roll with the punches and figure it out. That is what a magazine editor brings: resilience and grit.
Speaking of writing, you are working on a book! Tell me about it!
CR: It’s a self-help book, It’s Good to See Me Again. It’s a guide on how to get back to yourself when you feel like you’ve been lost. A lot of people are looking for meaning when times feel meaningless. I want the book to feel like aloe after life burns you too many times. When someone in our family passes away, or you’ve gone through a break up. When we fall out of touch with ourselves, how do you become lost and how do you become found? I’ve been chipping at it for a year and a half. I’m going to self-publish next summer. I want to move people and bring their spirits up when they feel a little hopeless. …. I’m right where I need to be. But I didn’t always look at my life that way. I want others to approach their challenges and obstacles with the same curiosity I did. Anything is possible with an open heart and mind.
That’s a great place to end. Thanks so much for talking to me today.
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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