Traditional marketers need to rethink their skillset to succeed in content marketing, suggests Buzzfeed, the Guardian, Rockabox and more

Content marketing budgets are on the rise, with an increasing number of brand marketers planning to put more money into the content pot, according to the Content Marketing Institute. But producing engaging and varied content is one of their biggest challenges. Could a more intelligent approach to recruitment be the answer?

“What forced brands down the content marketing route was that advertising was starting to fall on this new, sophisticated, in-touch audience who, within the social spaces, have a voice who can turn around and say to a brand ‘we don’t like this’,” James Booth, founder of Rockabox, tells The Drum.

Engaging with this audience is becoming tougher and video is an ever-growing area of investment (76 per cent of marketers say it is now a tactic they use). It is also an area where Booth is seeing the most dramatic change in terms of who is creating the content that people want to consume.

“It’s been interesting seeing how many TV execs have been knocking on the door,” he says, explaining that he regularly has TV producers and commissioners coming to Rockabox for advice on creating commercial content. Some have asked to work for free in exchange for some guidance.

“They know how to create stuff, they know how to build programmes, they know how to shoot stuff to fit a particular creative feel,” he continues, saying that they now want to know about YouTube, branded content, and how to turn the skills they’ve developed into something that has value in both the digital and commercial world.

“Smart brands should be trying to recruit commissioners,” he adds. “People who know how to buy content, people who know what content works. If I were the marketing director of a high street brand I would have a job spec out there for an experienced commissioner to help me understand what I need to be creating.”

For Booth, Red Bull continues to set the benchmark for content marketing.

“They simply couldn’t be doing the stuff that they’re doing without having considerable skills in-house,” he says, suggesting that brands have a lot to learn from them in terms of recruitment if they are to match that level of success.

BuzzFeed knows a thing or two about commercialising content – 100 per cent of its revenue stream comes from it. Its model is so successful that the content darling of the moment also runs an education programme in the US to inform brands on how to produce great content.

“Publishers who can work with brands to create great branded content that users can relate to and want to share and at the same time co-exists with editorial content is the future of digital advertising,” says Will Hayward, European VP of BuzzFeed.

Disruptive creativity

So what skills can media professionals bring to a marketing team? “As someone who came into content marketing via journalism, I would say journalists and TV producers fit the content marketer brief more than traditional marketers,” says Adyoulike’s publishing and content director Dale Lovell.

“They understand their customers: magazine, website and newspaper readers or TV viewers. When you work in these industries you aren’t thinking about things like ‘is this getting the brand message across?’, you are thinking – ‘is this going to be a hit with my target audience?’

“Anyone that has worked in these industries has this as their default mindset. Traditional marketers tend to put their brand messaging front and centre.

“Journalists, producers, publishers, editors – these are industries built on ideas and disruptive creativity, and this makes them worthy additions to any content marketing team.”

Emily Shelley, managing director at Sticky Content, an agency acquired by the Press Association last October that works with brands on content creation and marketing, reveals the majority of its staff are journalists by trade.

“They bring an innate sense of what will engage different audiences. The writing skills, research skills, resourcing skills. If you’ve worked in a high level newspaper or media world you’re used to coming up with really original quality ideas – a lot of brands struggle with idea generation.”

The CMI study suggested that around 33 per cent of marketers struggle to come up with varied content that hasn’t already been done elsewhere.

“The experience of going to a weekly conference with a tough-as-nails editor – where, if your ideas aren’t good enough, you’re shot down in flames – is good. It’s a baptism that makes you sense check your own ideas,” Shelley says, adding one of the key skills that crossed over from her time as Press Association’s features editor to managing Sticky Content was editorial planning and maintaining a running log of content ideas.

“It’s running editorial on a day-to-day basis that brands don’t have experience of,” she says.

Benefiting brands

Cutting out the middleman, the Guardian this year launched its own branded content division – Guardian Labs. The initiative launched on the back of a seven-figure deal with Unilever, which speaks volumes of brands’ desire for a continuous stream of engaging content.

Managing director Anna Watkins says that at least 25 per cent of staff within Guardian Lab come from an editorial background.

“They really know and understand our audience,” she says, explaining that the skillset – the intrinsic understanding of the audience, clear grasp of a narrative, headline, content distribution and optimisation, and an increasing understanding of data, SEO, and distribution – offers something that third parties currently can’t.

“Our business is content and we can apply our publishing skillsets to the benefit of brands. This content is then shared across Guardian platforms – reaching a potentially huge audience around the world of progressive, influential readers.”

Social is the tactic used most by marketers (87 per cent) when it comes to content marketing and so this shift to sharing engaging content on a constant basis has required marketers to develop skills that traditional journalists have long held.

Paul Crosbie, former consumer editor at The Sun, currently works with Debenhams on its content marketing strategy. Speaking about how the retailer has evolved its approach, Crosbie says: “When I started, it wasn’t about producing stories that highlighted their products or services. You found that you were writing the same copy in the same way every three months.

“But gradually it moved from a point where it was all about selling to seeing content marketing as a way to engage customers.”

The brand recently worked with Gather.ly – a network of artists, designers and other creatives – for its #knowmysize campaign based on research into the number of women wearing ill-fitting bras. Crosbie reveals that originally this was meant to be content simply sent out in a press release.

“We thought about it and asked how can we get customers more involved? What can we do that’s going to engage customers?”

One of the biggest lessons an editor will learn is the impact of an image and so the activity evolved to play out on Debenhams social channels, resulting in numerous artists creating artwork to symbolise some of the key findings of the research.

So what do traditional marketers need to do to ensure they are not left behind?

Lovell concludes: “What needs to take place is changing the mindset of both traditional marketers – who are perhaps not wholly switched on to the idea of ‘brands becoming publishers’ and see little value in content marketing for their brands – and traditional content creators – so journalists, producers and editors recognising the real consumer value and impact that can be achieved in creating branded content.”

This feature was originally published in The Drum's 11 June issue.

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