It was American marketing guru Seth Godin who back in 2008 said: “Content marketing is the only marketing left”. In the seven years since we’ve seen agencies scramble to get a share of marketers’ growing spend on content. With traditional advertising becoming less profitable, absolutely everyone is positioning themselves as “storytellers”. You’ve got PR agencies, creative agencies, social agencies, media agencies, digital agencies, SEO agencies, media owners (and, of course, specialist content agencies) vying to own content marketing.
So who exactly should own content? Since I co-founded an agency that leverages my background as an editor and publisher – and uses top journalists to create content for brands – I obviously think content agencies should. But I am prepared to concede that it really depends on what you want to achieve.
Content marketing is a broad church. It ranges from “branded content” from creative agencies that is arguably just an entertaining TV commercial that runs on the web (think John Claude Van Damme’s death defying stunt for Volvo trucks) through to “brand journalism” where companies launch their own fully-fledged media publications (think ANZ’s finance and business publication Blue Notes.)
While it may not be immediately clear how media agencies and PR agencies can justify their claims to be content experts, they can both play an important role in finding an audience. PR agencies may not have the expertise to create content (after all a press release is not actually the same thing as a story) but they understand the media marketplace. So if your goal is earned media you should absolutely engage a PR agency to amplify your content. Equally, media agencies are very well-informed when it comes to data and distribution so they can help you to deliver the right content to the right person on the right channel at the right time.
Still, I can’t help but think that the most important part of content marketing is actually the content itself. As others have said, good content can overcome bad distribution but even the smartest distribution strategy can’t save bad content.
Marketers are naturally seduced by distribution, data and analytics – they are tangible things to focus on – but it’s important not to forget that content marketing is a creative discipline. The goal should be to create authentic content that elicits a human response from your audience; that makes people think or feel something.
So the question probably shouldn’t be who should own content, but how can you use different partners to their best advantage? Perhaps the answer is to use people to create your content that you think are best qualified to connect with large-scale audiences and then team this with powerful data and distribution strategies. Content marketing is both an art and a science – and they’re not the same thing.
Lauren Quaintance is Head of Content at Sydney content marketing agency Storyation. www.storyation.com