In the past half-decade, dozens of notable journalists have transitioned into content marketing roles. The most notable of all was former Forbes and Newsweek editor Dan Lyons, whose disastrous experience at HubSpot became a hilarious and tragic best-seller. But aside from the occasional tragedy, these career switches have actually turned out pretty well. Look at how Tomas Kellner left Forbes to change the way people think about GE, or how Zak Stone turned Dollar Shave Club into one of the most intellectually curious publishers on the web.
Over the last year, another journalist has made waves in content marketing: Margaret Magnarelli, the former executive editor of Money magazine, who now runs the content program at Monster.com. At Content Marketing World, Magnarelli was a finalist for content marketer of the year, and Monster.com took home the honor for best content marketing program.
When I met Magnarelli at Content Marketing World, I soon realized that the honors were well-deserved. She’s one of the sharpest people in the industry. Since she joined Monster, the company blog has grown 22 percent to 33 million annual unique visitors, and job searches from content pages have increased 20 percent to 470,000. Monster’s content is so good that the company even syndicates stories to Fortune, Fast Company, and Mic.
Last month, we caught up in New York as I learned why she decided to leave the journalism world, how she broke down silos, and what she’s done to transform Monster’s content program.
Why’d you decide to come over to Monster from Money? What attracted you to the content marketing space?
It started for me in 2013. Money was separating from CNN Money in the Time Warner spinoff. We had to launch a website on our own in a very crowded space. We flipped the switch on June 1, 2014, and the traffic didn’t just show up. There’s a shift in how people are consuming content today, and people aren’t going natively to a homepage to get content. They’re finding it in their feeds. They’re finding it through influencers. They’re finding it through search. It made me realize that you really have to hustle if you want to be successful in content. We hustled in very scrappy ways, and the site became successful.
At the time, I think the CEO of Time said he was going to take the wall between church and state, and bulldoze that wall. It struck me that the sanctity of this is gone, right? There’s a lot of struggle to produce content. A lot of places are having layoffs and reducing staff sizes. There are other pressures that come from advertisers as well, to produce certain kinds of content. It felt like I could choose who I wanted to affiliate myself with versus having it chosen for me.
We started taking content from companies. I talked to some of these people like NerdWallet and Credit.com. They basically have brand newsrooms, and I remember talking to a guy who is the head of the Credit.com content team, and he was like, “I love my job. I have so much freedom. I can make the kind of content I want. I have resources. I have a great team.”
He had a sense of freedom, and I was like, “Oh, my god, I want that.”
What attracted you to Monster?
I started looking up content jobs, and I began with Monster. I want to work at a place that has a greater meaning. Money did that for me. It was about helping people take control of their finances and feel confident in something very abstract. The job search process is very much the same. All of my history in content creation is in service journalism, and I saw a ton of opportunity to do the same thing for Monster.
When Monster launched in the ’90s, it was the only player in the space. Now there’s been obstruction, so we have a real imperative to get millennials and Gen Z to know Monster. I feel like content is a great way we can do that.
Obviously, it’s a for-profit company, but there’s a greater meaning that I really felt aligned with. What am I selling to somebody? I’m selling the promise of a better life and a happier life, especially since 30 percent of your life is spent at work. I really like all that. I also saw that, in its infancy, it probably was one of the first companies that really paid attention to content.
How did you kick things off, both from a strategy perspective and building your team?
The first thing I did was go around to every person I thought could possibly touch content in any way and say, “What do you think I should do, and how can I help you do your job?” That really helped me understand a lot of things that I didn’t understand coming from journalism—how I could work with these people and if I could align my KPIs with their KPIs.
The second thing was bring all these creators together under one team. At the time, there were three editors. There wasn’t a distinct brand voice or a distinct strategy. It wasn’t connected that well with our social, PR, and SEO teams. So it was about bringing the team together as a functional unit.
The strategy is what I told you before [at Content Marketing World], the “How, Wow, and Now.”
“How” is utility and service content. It represents the biggest portion of our portfolio because that’s what people want when they’re job searching. They want to know the basics. How do I write my résumé? How do I write a cover letter?
The second pillar of content is “Now.” Trend-driven, data-driven content. Bringing in what’s happening in the headlines, and trying to infuse a Monster viewpoint and talk to job seekers about what’s happening.
“I’m trying to keep them to the same rigors of a news team at a traditional company.”
When the Bureau of Labor Statistics report comes out the first Friday of every month, my team is on that report at 8:30, writing something at 9:30, and getting it up by 10:00. I’m trying to keep them to the same rigors of a news team at a traditional company.
Another part of “Now” is using Monster data, which was something we’ve done in the past six months. We do a Monster 100—the top companies hiring at any time. It’s great, because it drives tremendous conversion KPIs. We’ve seen something like a 90 percent conversion rate to a job search.
The last pillar is “Wow,” which is content we’re creating primarily for social engagement. Visual content, content for social-specific platforms. We do some stuff on Medium. Video stuff.
Some GIF-heavy quizzes?
Some GIF-heavy quizzes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Have you seen our weird quizzes?
Yeah. I like them.
We do some weird stuff. I feel like job searching is like a lot of spinach, and so it’s important to try to also make it a little bit fun.
Speaking of spinach, what are your content goals, and how do you measure them?
My KPIs. Pageviews are the first thing, but they’re not the most important. I use that as a measure of: Are people looking at our content? Do they care about it? Then we look at visitors.
The thing I care about even more is job searches, which is the first level of conversion. There are job searches and new account creation, which is something we’re trying to build. I feel like it’s a first step. It’s one of those things where I feel like it’s a minimal viable product, and now we need to think about being more sophisticated about it.
Monster has done content for a long time, so 30 percent of the site’s traffic comes in through content. We can’t just let all those people bounce, so we need to somehow find a way to capture them.
Let’s go back to when you started. You’re new to a company. How do you go about developing that brand voice? It’s something that so many people struggle to figure out even when they’ve been at the company for five years. As someone new coming in, how do you craft that?
I knew the first six months were going to be hard. I spent my first year at Monster trying to get the voice and the content creation down.
For the first six months, I had a hand in every story, and I set out some parameters for the brand voice. I won’t be able to remember all of them offhand, but upbeat without being Pollyannaish. A little funny and sarcastic sometimes, and always being you-focused from the first sentence. I feel like the headline—oftentimes we have to be a little more straightforward, but we look at the dek as a chance to be funny.
It’s kind of like “You go, girl!” meets a hipster content site. That’s my perfect voice.
So the process is just working with your team almost to the point where the brand voice is ingrained in them.
I feel like it’s all ingrained in all of them now, but not always in our freelancers. So I’ve set out everyone to pick like three heads and deks they like, three intro sentences they like, three pieces of body copy they like. Then somebody who is coming in to write for us can be like, “Oh, that’s the Monster voice. I get it now.”
It seems like you’ve hired a lot of people with journalism backgrounds for your team. Why is that?
I think that journalists are good storytellers. They’re used to being relentlessly focused on serving an audience. We approach things from a journalistic lens, and we’re reporting on information. I want people who have high integrity, who can craft a story.
Journalism school is kind of like trade school, right? I want someone who can do the trade already, and then we can teach them the art. I don’t want to have to teach somebody the trade of story creation, and it’s been great. My team is appropriately content nerdy. My deputy takes periodic votes about the Oxford comma. It’s also the background I come from.
This September was your first Content Marketing World. What did you make of it and the industry as a whole?
I feel like you’re trying to bait me into controversial thinking here. I think it’s a really nascent industry. We came away talking a lot about how there’s no one way to do this, and everybody’s doing completely different stuff. I guess it’s both exciting but also challenging.
We—by which I mean probably people like you and me—have to do more to push content up in companies. It’s a very mid-management kind of job right now, and it’s hard to get things done. It’s not a C-suite title yet. It’s probably the startups that are most dynamic. The bigger companies are like, “Well, we’ll kind of invest in it.”
There’s definitely a feeling of everyone’s figuring this out together. Content is often this little experimental silo that has a tiny sliver of budget, without well-defined goals. How did you go about trying to solve the silo problem?
It goes back to what I said about asking people, “How does what I do affect what you do? How can I do my job in a way that helps you?” That benefited me so much.
For example, Monster has a really great SEO director, and he’s on a completely separate team than I am. I work under marketing communications. He’s under product marketing. But after [I reached out], he said, “I have a big contract with an agency, and I’m willing to share them with you so we can create content that drives more search traffic, more organic traffic.”
That’s terrific, because that benefits both of us.
One of the most exciting things for me that showcases how we’ve been able to work across departments and evangelize content internally is that our current fall B2C digital brand advertising campaign is largely about content as a “reason to believe.” Our ad agency KBS created banners and videos that push toward specific content pages, like our career advice section. We’ve also made a significant investment as part of the campaign in native arrangements that allow us to use our own content, such as Nativo and a takeover of Popsugar’s career-and-finance channel.
“Bring creativity to the table. Be daring.”
The vibe I get from the CM World experience is a lot of people are very shy about asking for things at their company. You have to say, ‘I am the highest-level person who knows what I know at this company. I’m going to insert my opinion all the time and get people to understand that I know what I’m doing here.’
Hopefully, if you’re nice enough about it, people will listen to you.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you would give a journalist who’s coming into a marketing role for the first time?
Besides all the stuff I said before, people are just beginning to feel like they need to produce some ROI. We’re not just doing this for content’s sake. You have to go into it knowing what you want your ROI to be, because you can actually define it and say what’s reasonable.
What else? Bring creativity to the table. Be daring.
This interview was lightly edited and condensed.
This content was originally published here.