How Can a Fractional Chief Content Officer Level up Your Content Marketing?

A pizza with a slice taken out of it and the words "should you hire a fractional chief content officer.

Once you’ve gotten started with content marketing and seen how it can build long-term relationships with your ideal customers, chances are you’ve started to think about adding a Chief Content Officer or another content marketing leader to your marketing team.

But as someone who has fielded pitches for these roles for the past ten years, I’m going to tell you why it may be a much better investment to hire a fractional content marketing leader instead.

The Rise of the Fractional Marketing Leader

If you’re a marketing professional who has spent any time on LinkedIn in the past year, you’ve probably started to see a number of Fractional CMOs in your news feed. While the fractional chief marketing officer title may still be a little unconventional, the services they provide aren’t.

In a nutshell, fractional CMO services are a pithy way for marketing consultants to describe what they do when they have an ongoing engagement with a marketing team to provide marketing leadership as an external—yet embedded—part of the marketing department.

But what, exactly, IS a fractional CMO?

A fractional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is a contract or freelance marketing professional who is hired on a part-time basis to run a company’s marketing team and oversee its marketing efforts. The “fractional” element is a reflection that this unconventional hire provides the level of marketing leadership your company needs but at a fraction of the cost of hiring a full-time salaried employee with benefits, bonuses, time off, and other benefits.

Yet the CMO isn’t the only fractional marketing role that growing teams deploy to define and execute their marketing strategies. There are a number of roles that employ fractional marketing talent.

While I haven’t officially used that title for my work, I’ve typically had one or two fractional content marketing leadership engagements at a time since I first started my consultancy.

As a fractional chief content officer, I typically owned:

  • Auditing current content and social media content 
  • Defining content marketing plans 
  • Documenting editorial calendars to support those plans and demand marketing campaigns, 
  • Creating all types of content to execute against the agreed-upon content strategies

The first of these engagements I took on was for the productivity software platform Redbooth HQ. While doing some client prospecting, I came across their job listing for a part-time marketing manager. Even though their post was for a part-time employee and not for a freelancer, I made my pitch in my cover letter and scored an interview with their marketing director.

Unlike the full-time candidates for the position, I came to my interview with a slide deck that outlined the opportunities I saw for the team from a content marketing standpoint, and why I, despite intending to remain a consultant, was the right pick.

For more than a year, I worked as an essential yet external member of their marketing team. I wrote content under my byline, ghostwrote for executives, managed freelancers, and collaborated with their SEO agency. I was a one-woman content marketing team—and we both loved it. That’s when I decided I never wanted to go back as a full-time content marketing leader in-house.

How are fractional content marketing leaders a benefit to the marketing organization?

At the point in my career when I took on my first fractional content marketing role, I’d led content and communications teams in-house for many years. While I loved many aspects of being an integral part of an organization’s marketing leadership team, I also saw a few recurring drawbacks:

  • Marketing organizations can become very set in their ways when it comes to how the budget is distributed. This can make it difficult to get a budget for content marketing innovation and experiments, especially in risk-averse cultures.
  • In smaller organizations, the content marketing role can necessarily be very production-focused. There often isn’t enough strategic, leadership-level work for a full-time, senior content marketer.
  • I love mentoring and growing the talent on my teams. But if the day-to-day work isn’t evolving and there isn’t room for trying new things, I get bored. And who wants to spend 8 hours or more per day feeling bored? Not this gal.

These were my top reasons for going out on my own to found Erika Heald Marketing Consulting. I wanted to be able to pursue interesting new digital marketing, social media, and content marketing opportunities. And I wanted to be able to share my expertise and learnings with a growing marketing team, to help them create processes and frameworks that would help them scale their marketing efforts quickly.

Taking on fractional marketing assignments proved to be the key for me to having the endless cross-pollination that comes from working with multiple clients in different markets while still having an ongoing impact on a team. For the growing marketing teams I’ve supported over the past ten years in these fractional roles, I provided the support and guidance of an experienced marketing professional without a senior leader’s compensation package being on their books.

Is a fractional content marketing leader right for your marketing team?

While I’m a champion of fractional Chief Content Officer roles, it doesn’t work for every company culture or stage of marketing maturity. To assess how well this type of arrangement would work for your marketing team, ask yourself these questions—and answer them with brutal honesty:

  1. Do we expect our marketing leadership team members to be in the office for a specific amount of days, or during specific times?
  2. Is there budget and internal design resources allocated to content creation and distribution?
  3. Is much of our content creation reactionary or in response to specific internal requests?
  4. Does our senior management team value content marketing as a business driver?
  5. Is our content strategy focused exclusively on SEO and organic search?
  6. Do we have a culture that allows room for trying new things without being assured of a set ROI?
  7. Are meetings frequently held on nights, weekends, and in the spur of the moment?

If you answered mostly yes to the odd-numbered questions and mostly no to the even-numbered questions, your culture would likely benefit more from a full-time employee in this role. But if the opposite is true, you should consider hiring a fractional content leader to help scale your content marketing program.

Where to find a fractional marketer for hire

OK, now comes the (somewhat) hard part: finding the right person for the job. While it can’t hurt to use your traditional recruiting channels to find applicants for this role, you’ll also want to consider doing some outreach on marketing Slack communities, specialty marketers for hire collectives, your leadership team’s LinkedIn feed, and content marketing email newsletters (like the Content Chat Bulletin) that include freelance and contract opportunities.

I regularly take on roles like these too, so get in touch if you’d like to schedule a call to learn more about my capabilities and how our consultancy can support your content marketing efforts.

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