Lessons From a Content Newsroom Startup
By Steve McKee
Content marketing has rapidly become an important strategic component of most integrated marketing programs. At least in theory. As with every other aspect of branding, the devil is in the details—and the details of ensuring a successful and sustainable effort of this type are devilish indeed.
A little over a year ago my firm established a shared-services content marketing newsroom, and the learning curve has been steep. Not only does this new discipline remain largely misunderstood in the C-suite, it requires a rhythm and pace unlike any other form of marketing communications. And it introduces significant (and continual) risks of tripping up the brands we serve, via errors of omission as well as commission.
Here are half a dozen key lessons we’ve learned.
We know less about content marketing than we think. Every marketer understands (or should) that social is not a sales medium. It’s about relating with customers and prospects and seeking to give (entertainment, information, inspiration) rather than receive. That said, this remains an emerging and still largely untrodden branding pathway. A client I highly respect once said to me, “an entrepreneur is someone who can make progress in an ambiguous environment.” In content marketing, we’re all entrepreneurs.
The rhythm is completely different. As an agency, creativity is in our blood. But whereas we used to develop strategy according to a predictable schedule, now our schedule is dictated by the strategy we’re pursuing. In content marketing there’s no beginning, middle and end of a project or assignment; it’s just one continuous now. You have to think long term and very, very short term at the same time. It opens up whole new worlds of possibility, but the pace and internal culture shift hasn’t been easy to navigate.
Both brains are required. One of the difficulties all but the largest brands have trying to get an in-house content marketing program off the ground is that they have to start small, sometimes even with one person. The problem is, you need a highly-organized, never-miss-a-deadline, everything-gets-measured, left-brainer and an opportunistic, rabbit-trail-following, dot-connecting, creative right-brainer all in one. They’re kind of hard to find. We finally got things rolling when we figured out how to efficiently integrate the broad scope of disciplines already housed in our agency into our newsroom services.
There’s probably a tool for that. And if not, you can build it. Whether it’s social listening, sentiment tracking, metrics measurement, content curation or any number of other disciplines required to run an effective newsroom, affordable new tools are being developed every day. And if you can’t find a tool to address a specific problem, chances are other brands are having the same issue—and since we’re all entrepreneurs, we can invent our own. My firm has already done just that, developing software that not only amplifies our clients’ social reach but represents a new revenue stream to boot.
Click-bait attracts bottom feeders. It can be tempting to do anything to increase followers or create flashes of engagement. But as with any form of marketing, your efforts aren’t just about your brand, they’re an extension of it. It’s one thing for content farms to use manipulative teaser headlines or pump out content worthy of reality shows, but everything your brand does reflects on what your brand is. Resist shortcuts.
ROI means return on initiative (for now). We all know how difficult it is to measure the impact of traditional marketing, to say nothing of this new turf. Sure, content marketing enables you to be more responsive to unhappy (or happy, for that matter) customers, providing an obvious and immediate return. And a new study of 10,000 ecommerce websites and 304 million unique users says that website visitors who link from a social network spend an average of 8.2% more than those who don’t. But that can vary widely by industry, category and even platform, and it can be difficult to quantify for the people upstairs exactly how any specific program is paying off.
There is no shortage of lessons we’ve been learning, but one trumps them all: Content marketing is like a freight train; the return on fuel invested is pitiful as it slowly pulls out of the station, but once it gets rolling it’s a powerful way to move goods. The sooner you get your brand on board, the sooner you can understand—and enhance—its value.
Co-founder and author, Steve specializes in addressing the most meaningful problems. Call Steve when you want to change the world. He’ll have a thought (and some research) on that.
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