The Biggest Issue In Content Marketing

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Suddenly everyone is talking about Content Marketing and perhaps the chart below explains why.

When I gave my recent talk to the Content Marketing Association (whose members have been doing this sort of thing in one form or another for many years) I made the point right up front that whilst the vast majority of marketers believe that content marketing is becoming more important and a discipline in its own right, most businesses still lack a defined strategy, dedicated budgets or headcount (source). 

So before we all get completely submerged in the inevitable wave of content marketing list posts, it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider some of the questions that are rarely talked about in those kinds of posts, but will be of real, tangible significance to clients who are making this huge transition.

If you take the Paid, Owned and Earned media model as a common default way of looking at the media landscape, then the most interesting places right now (as I’ve said before) are the areas of overlap and how content and ideas can flow between these different elements. The Altimeter Group neatly described this as ‘Converged Media’. But beyond this I think we’re seeing all kinds of areas of convergence. Not least in agency remits with huge grey areas and growing spaces of potential conflict. Where’s the line, for example, between a PR agency managing a brand’s reputation online and a media agency handling social media monitoring and response? Or that between a media agency creating content as a communications solution, and what a creative or digital agency would call their domain? Or for that matter a PR agency creating content around an event, or a media owner generating a content driven solution, or what a content marketing agency does? They may all come from a different place, but we are increasingly seeing at least some assets that look like they could have originated from any one of those places.

The CEO of a very successful content marketing agency said to me recently that it was only a matter of time before a sizeable brief that would have previously gone automatically to a creative agency be given instead to a content marketing agency. There may have been a degree of hubris in that but he may also have a point. With the shift toward always-on platforms and owned media assets there is an increasing requirement for the kind of editorial and operational skills beyond that which is focused on delivering to the requirements and timescales of campaigns.

Perhaps most interesting of all is that brands themselves are now (finally) starting to get in on the act. The kind of questions that a serious commitment to content marketing raises for a client company are pretty fundamental (but again, rarely talked about): issues around compliance, agile sign-off procedures, approaches to strategy and planning, resourcing, organisational structures. But whilst many are still only beginning, there are some notable exemplars of clients who do content really well, and more and more brands are investing in sizeable content teams. This will only become more evident over the coming year. So the demarkation between what the brand content or creative team, the brand’s content agency and their creative or digital agency work on is yet another blurred area. 

All this raises a killer question. With just about every part of the media ecosystem converging on a need for content and publishing expertise, where is all that talent going to come from? The challenge of attracting and retaining the best technical and content talent is already a very real problem if you’re not Nike and/or your company is at the other end of the scale from a small, trendy digital start-up in Shoreditch (as Ashley Friedlein pointed out in his excellent 2013 trends post). Already we’re starting to see some interesting talent transitions, with fashion and culture writing talent moving from large scale publishers to retail and fashion brands who are getting ever more sophisticated as media owners in their own right (ASOS, Gilt, Net-A-Porter, Urban Outfitters et al). The impact of shifts like Google Author Rank, which takes account of authorship in search engine results and ranking, only heightens the competition for the best and right talent to work for you instead of somewhere else. The answer to this very real question is likely to go beyond headhunters and into the need to develope the kind of environment, approaches, mindset, culture, and working practices in which these kinds of talented people can thrive. And that is not going to easy.

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