When you work as a freelancer or consultant, you have at least one project supervisor, and possibly up to 10 if you’re really busy (or really micro-managed). Some titles, like “CEO” or “content director” or “editor,” we automatically identify as a client. But then there are all the… others. The ones who you wonder, “Do they do anything? Do they need to be here? Do they want me to be here?”
The first thing to understand is, as long as the person at the top of the department thinks someone needs to be involved, it’s not your place to argue. However, understanding the functions of some of these titles can help you see why they’re in the CC line, and what they’re dealing with that you can’t see.
Ideally, not only does each of these team members play a part, but any one of them might be able to hire resources (i.e., you) for their own project at some point.
Common team members freelancers and consultants often deal with when working with brands
A content manager serves much the same role for a brand that a managing editor does at an outlet. This person works with the marketing and brand teams to develop content strategy aligned with brand goals, to develop content, to oversee the editorial calendar, and to maintain a consistent brand voice across all content materials. A content manager for a large company will often be in a position to hire or supervise freelancers and content vendors.
One step above the Content Manager in the org chart, a Content Director takes a high-level approach to developing content strategy, brand voice, standards, and workflow system for content creation, distribution and usage. This person usually oversees many channels including digital and social. They’re often responsible for hiring external partners including agencies, production vendors and strategy consultants. Similar titles: Director of Content Strategy; Director, Content Marketing
VP Communications/Communications Director
This role oversees external communications, i.e., the public face and voice of a company. If a company is large enough to need it, there will be both a VP and a Director, as well as someone to hire internal communications — the VP will oversee that person as well. Communications includes media relations, owned media creation, brand ambassador/spokesperson programming, event programming and reputation management. Sometimes, social media and marketing communications will also fall under this person’s purview.
This role is interchangeable with PR Director/VP Public Relations. People with this title usually are in charge of hiring agencies and consultants for PR, branded content production, live activations and web design.
Marketing Manager/Marketing Director
As a creative, you’ll never know how to properly interface with a marketing manager or marketing director until you get to know the company’s structure. That’s because the job responsibilities change so much from one company to another. There are marketing directors who are also sales directors, and marketing directors who also oversee the PR agency, and marketing directors who only oversee email campaigns and digital ads. There are marketing managers who oversee promotional sampling campaigns in 30 different markets nationwide, and others who strictly handle SEO and SEM.
Some marketing managers believe only in data and automated systems like programmatic ad buying — they can be a creative consultant’s worst nightmare. Then there are the ones who believe in a holistic approach, and will spend money on content creation and experimental campaigns. As a general approach, it’s always best to be optimistic about what a marketing manager or marketing director could potentially unlock for you, but also realize that they’ll want all creative pitches to demonstrate a clear path to ROI.
The classic stereotype of a Creative Director is a flamboyant agency ad man who razzle-dazzles brands into committing huge budget to broadcast TV campaigns or print advertising spreads. In traditional advertising agencies, this person is a visionary, a “big picture” creative.
As media and marketing evolve, and also as brands have taken a lot in-house, the responsibilities of a Creative Director might play have diversified somewhat. In-house CDs are often responsible for ensuring messaging and style are on brand, developing and executing integrated marketing campaigns, overseeing video pre-production and on-set production, and creating new campaigns based on data science and user insights. Their team often serves many others, including Communications, R&D, and Retail Sales. In some companies, this role has a lot of power to hire creatives full-time and freelance, and select external partners. In others, they are limited — for example, they may hire production staff and graphics people only.
The only time you’d come across this role in-house at a company is if the company is large enough to operate an in-house advertising or creative agency, that works on so many campaigns and projects for different departments and business units that the department needs dedicated account leaders to manage different business.
An account director supervises, strategizes and services — all to gratify their client, but if they do it well, it makes life a lot easier for the creative team. A typical week for an account director might include briefing a client on the status of ongoing projects, selling in a couple new projects, creating budgets and getting them approved, hiring influencers for a campaign, overseeing the writing and graphic design for several projects in progress, talking a client out of a panic attack, and onboarding three new freelancers(!)
While this job description is sometimes used as a corporate synonym for “writer,” content strategists can also be former writers and editors who have grown into more of a planning, campaign development, hiring and management role. One excellent real-life example of this is featured niche freelancer Abby Lerner, a former fitness editor. They may manage content calendars and hire writers to do the daily content. They might develop a video series, coming up with the overarching theme and script outline — but then turn over the script writing and production to other people. They might develop an SEO content strategy and then farm out the writing of the SEO content itself.
It’s understandable for a creative consultant to bristle when hearing that a “content strategist” is also in the room (or virtual room). However, the smart thing to do is find out if this person predates you in the company. If so, there’s a good chance that bringing you on was their idea in the first place.
AKA “brand guardian” — and people in this role take it very seriously. They may come from a marketing, product management or banking background. They may be extremely creative and charismatic, or they may have Cerberus-like guard dog tendencies. Their role is to oversee the image, profitability and reputation of a brand as though it were their very own small business — making sure that every element from legal claims to logo placement to executive bios are on brand.
A creative consultant might go months or years without ever interfacing directly with a brand manager — but that’s only if the in-house content team does its job, and also if they want to maintain a buffer. If you do bump into a brand manager, it could be very bad or very good. The “very bad” scenario is, you’ve worked on a piece of content or a campaign that the brand manager deems off-brand or non-compliant, and it’s somehow slipped through all the preliminary checkpoints and landed on their desk, causing a meltdown. You never want this. On the flip side, if you do a good job of representing and amplifying a brand, the other members of the team might decide to bring you in on strategy sessions for a large campaign, product release or annual goals meeting, and the brand manager will become the “client” that everyone’s serving.