Making the Leap from Editor to Content Strategist

Sara Zailskas, a content strategist for, the website for the National Association of Realtors, asks questions editors should consider before they pursue a career as a content strategist. Those who do, Sara says, may find a more lucrative and stable career than what they had at the publishers they’ve left behind.

If I ever lost my current job as a content strategist, I like to think I’d have a good shot at finding another position because:

  • I have editorial skills that are the foundation of good content strategy, and
  • companies I’d never think of as publishers are using content strategists, meaning I wouldn’t be limited to looking for a job in one industry.

That was one of the takeaways from two days last month at Web Content Conference 2011, which gathered content strategists from all types of non-publishing companies – places I’m willing to bet pay more than any publisher today. Think BP, Abercrombie & Kent, and Wyndham Hotel Group.

Most of these very smart people were also just learning about editorial calendars, how to execute the same message in multiple media – concepts editors in trade publications use daily. As editors, we often underestimate how transferable our editorial experience is, and those skills are particularly important to content strategy.

The last I checked, publishing had some kinks to work out, and many folks have lost their jobs – that was me a year ago. You’re probably hearing about content strategy as a full-time job and wondering if it might be right for you. If so, consider these questions:

  • Can you let go of a project? Content strategists often work as consultants and don’t “own” their projects, and that means, whether you’re internal or external, you don’t always get the final say on key decisions.
  • Are you good at looking at things from different perspectives? Working across groups with different goals and interests?
  • How are your teaching skills? Content strategy is a new concept to many communicators or stakeholders in general. Plan to explain your role, thinking and reasoning. A lot.
  • Are you curious about the who, what, when, where, and why behind a project? About the history behind how you got to this point? About how people in other organizations would approach the same problem?
  • Do you have a sense for design and spatial organization?
  • How well can you sort things?
  • And how are your negotiating skills?
  • Can you apply your skills to all content types and subject matters?
  • Are you willing to track data and use it to make decisions, even if it goes against your idea?
  • Are you capable of performing triage without making your blood boil?
  • Can you define content strategy in one sentence?

And finally, what color is your content-strategy cape? Because if you answered positively to pretty much everything, you’re ready to wear one.

2 thoughts on “Making the Leap from Editor to Content Strategist

  1. Hi Sara:

    Your blogs addressing the content strategist as a promising career have offered excellent advice! Obviously, there is apparent enthusiasm among the advertiser contingent that suggests good things await for talented editors who can fulfill the requirements you’ve outlined.

    In your role, I assume considerable time is spent developing content packages for advertisers. Usually, such packages occasionally can be hair-raising, especially when ethical considerations come into play. To deal with those eventualities, do you have written editorial guidelines in place that are made available to customers and/or prospects? if so, could you share that information?

    I have posed these questions in my capacity as chairman of ASBPE’s ethics committee. I am researching possible guidelines covering content marketing activity that could be added to our current code of preferred editorial practices. In years past, I spent time supervising a special projects activity for a major B2B multi-publisher. We had considerable experience creating high-value, tailored content for our customers. In those days, we identified the service as “special impact sections” . . . a euphemism for “advertorials.”

    Satisfying the customer was not always easy. But although we worked for the client, we were employed by a publisher. For those “content strategists” who wind up employed by the advertiser, will it ever become necessary to compromise traditional standards in the interest of achieving commercial objectives? Do you ever have a problem with that now?

    In the event you wish to reply privately to this inquiry, please email me at

    Howard Rauch, President
    Editorial Solutions, Inc.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Howard. My job now w/ NAR does not cross into any advertising packages, although in my last position as a managing editor (but essentially a content strategist) for a group of print and digital publications I found our editorial staff being tapped for ideas on how we could package content better for advertisers. This was new and awkward. We knew the information would be labeled as advertising — something we always maintained. But our editorial participation in the brainstorming was new.

    The most formal conversations took place in regard to my role as project manager for a custom publication, to be expected.

    In either case,we didn’t have ethics guidelines specific to that but recognized it was a slippery slope and did discuss it amongst ourselves and would wonder, er, how far can we go?

    I’m happy to discuss this further and will reach out directly. And thank you for your kind words about the blog posts. I hope they are helpful.


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