“I’m an editor.” That was my reply for nearly two decades when anyone asked what I did for a living. I put “editor” as my occupation on doctor office forms and immigration arrival papers. Sometimes I elaborated with “magazine editor” if I was after an “oh wow.” (It was fun to work at Cosmo in my 20s.) But in the years since I’ve left print, I’ve trained myself to stop referring to the work I did for Good Housekeeping, CosmoGIRL!, Parents, and other big titles as “editing.” Somehow being an editor just seemed antiquated, too simple, almost quaint. It no longer embodied the scope of my work: the long-term planning, short-term execution, attention to detail, big picture thinking and all that analyzing and revising and tweaking and tweaking again to get the story right, the voice right, the messaging just right.
So now, I don’t call what I did editing. I call it content strategy. What’s the difference you ask? Not much. In fact, it’s likely if you spent any time working for print magazines that you’re not an editor either. Take this quiz and find out!
You might be a content strategist if you know how to …
… package. That’s now strategy, baby. If you know how to experiment with text formats (hello: quizzes, flowcharts, infographics) create a series of stories on one topic, build out a piece visually with lists, checkboxes, illustration, photo, infographics, pull quotes or sidebars (see a spread in Parents) … all that is part of editorial strategy and can be applied across platforms. Who knew? (10 points)
… create a lineup. That’s now “editorial planning.” This is a golden skill outside of magazines (and heck, even in magazines these days if you’re still there). Just don’t call it a lineup. You’re building an editorial calendar or “roadmap” when you create a plan that has multiple pieces of content (video, articles, social media posts, what have you) that has the right pacing, right mix of content, and all builds to give your audience a well-rounded storytelling experience, over a period of time. (10 points)
… write pithy copy. Think coverlines, heds, deks, pull quotes, captions, and blurb and product copy. If you know how to write short and snappy (what magazine editor doesn’t?) it’s a valuable skill with a name: “short form.” (Long form = everything else. lol.). I realized that I was going to be OK when I was mid-way through my content marketing 101 course and the instructor said, The way to think about writing strong copy is to imagine writing the lines for the cover of a magazine. She showed Cosmo as an example. I laughed out loud. I used to actually write coverlines at Cosmo and CosmoGirl (inset). (15 points)
… write in the magazine’s voice. That’s now “brand messaging” and you are “targeting your audience.” For many years I think I lost my own voice I was so good at becoming whatever mag I was editing for (usually some version of “like you’re talking to your best friend”). If you got inside the head of your reader to write engaging, authentic, insidery voicey copy that met them where they are based on their demographics, interests, passions, or lifestyle, you are an expert at brand messaging. (20 points)
…execute ideas that connect with people. If you had to dig beyond the obvious to uncover the fascinating and unique through stories that engaged your reader on an emotional level and you used your “brand messaging” voice to do it … Well, that my friend, is “storytelling.” In fact, I could just as well titled this post, You might be a storyteller if … (25 points)
Now tally up! How many points did you get? See! You ARE a content strategist. (If you got 80 points you’re a Master Content Strategist. Look at you!)
Of course there are many more skills magazine editors instinctively possess that I did not list here that also apply (I know the editors reading this are itching to tell me). My point is that we just didn’t have spiffy names for them back then. (Storytelling. humpf. We could have come up with that.)
I’m convinced that the reason was because in the golden age of magazines our work wasn’t directly monetized. We were the church and the state was on a different floor. We didn’t have to break down what we did or even name it. It was simply the creative process. The magic of editorial. It was okay that it was elusive and undefined. It was almost preferable that it was. But now content is made to be sold, it is a product, and in order to sell something, you have to break down its components and define them to show their worth, and put a price tag on them. Enter all these new terms. So show your worth, my friend, you will always be an editor in your soul. But if anyone asks, tell them you are a content strategist.
Chandra Turner is a former magazine editor turned content strategist, talent recruiter, and career coach. She is the founder and CEO of Ed2010, a career website for media professionals, and Talent Fairy, a talent recruitment agency.
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