The evolution of 'content': iCrossing & MediaBlaze chiefs discuss their new partnership deal and the industry's issues

iCrossing & MediaBlaze teams

"This business is evolving and adapting based on our vision for a modern way of marketing that needs to be consumer-centric at every point," states Nick Brien, chief executive of iCrossing and president of Hearst Marketing Services as he sits opposite Mark Iremonger, chief executive UK of the agency and Paul Button, co-founder and chief executive of content creator MediaBlaze, to discuss the deal they have just completed together.

With content marketing client spend continuing to grow globally, the two companies have recognised synergies and services gaps that the other can fill, meaning that when The Drum catches up with them in main meeting room of the new iCrossing offices in London, they are full of enthusiasm having just agreed the minority stake acquisition in MediaBlaze.

Iremonger has spent nearly a year now attempting to secure a deal which would strengthen the agency's content creation offer, with this agreement seeing members of staff set to work across both companies and a member of the management team at iCrossing set to sit on the board of MediaBlaze too.

"Even though we are operating as two separate businesses, we are increasingly behaving in exactly the same way," Iremonger says. "It allows the best of the two cultures to complement each other, which is incredibly important for any partnership between agencies to align."

Button picks up the flow to discuss the content creation processes offered by the company he co-founded around seven years ago, claiming that it produces "qualitative-based" and data driven content for clients. He adds that iCrossing will bring a "huge amount of insights" in order to understand human intent.

"That forms a role at the very start of working with clients on a content strategy and then at the back of that you want to amplify that content and iCrossing are leaders in that space. We have tried to do that but we are not used to fighting with the sort of budgets these guys deal with. This means that together, clients can have what they need," continues Button.

"For us, content marketing is something you have to aspire to do through the process of change in the business," states Brien. "That is what excites us as an agency. There are loads of people who can write content - networks of freelance journalists and brand marketers who can write a brief to have content written - but none of that stuff is tied together with an operating model, a strategy and a tone of voice and how big businesses change the way they work when it comes to brands acting as a publisher, it's not like a campaign where you just put it out."

The media background of the team at MediaBlaze is another element that Brien cites as being highly influential in making the deal and the importance it plays to the understanding of content marketing. "The importance of understanding great content, then to distribute it smartly and optimise it is vital. It was also very valuable because we are working with a huge array of editors, publishers and content creators within Hearst and it's important that we have players on our side who understand that."

He goes on to highlight that the agency's job is to build brand equity and brand vitality for its clients in a digital world, which also means being very accountable, which he says is a different application from a marketing standpoint than an editorial one.

"We have a plan and we've put a lot of work into it," Iremonger says when asked what the next stage is for the partnership, which includes eight different work streams that will focus on alignment of processes and how staff can work across both offices. "We have already started to work on new business together and we will be bringing this new offer to our clients, but the key here is finding the right pace for a successful acquisition where the sum of the parts is greater than the individual businesses." As a result the aim is to bring the best of both businesses to clients during Q1 of 2017 and explain how they can benefit. This will be brought to market as Mediablaze: content marketing powered by iCrossing.

Iremonger also reveals that while talking to clients in recent months he has sensed 'confusion' and 'frustration' around the use of the word 'content' and what it means. All three agree that it is time for the industry to find a definition of the term as it seems to mean something different to so many different 'content' creators.

"One of the challenges for clients is that the world is changing, consumers expect more from brands and a lot of that expectation comes from how they engage with the relationships they build which leads to 'content' as one point of that. For brands they need to engage with customers in new ways using content but they are struggling to understand its value and how it fits into the overall marketing spend and strategy," he continues.

"By bringing us together we are able to put all of our data and analytics expertise to bear on a lot of the publishing content expertise that MediaBlaze has that will help to make it a lot more measurable and accountable. That's a real problem that clients are grappling with in the industry," Iremonger adds.

Find out more about iCrossing at the agency's dedicated hub on The Drum website.

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Stephen Lepitak

Stephen Lepitak is editor of The Drum, with responsibility for overseeing the day-to-day running of the content produced for the various platforms run by the publication. Over the years he has interviewed agency network bosses such as Sir Martin Sorrell, Maurice Lévy and Arthur Sadoun, as well as Cindy Gallop, Kim Kardashian, film directors James Cameron, Spike Jonze and producers Harvey Weinstein and Lord David Puttnam. With a keen interest in media and breaking news, Lepitak has been with The Drum since 2005 and is based across its UK, US and Asia operations.

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