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My Content Manifesto (Short Version)

January 31, 2013

I came into communications and video production after a long career in journalism.

Exposed to the content craze in the marketing and advertising world for the first time in my new role, I began to think about what I’d done as a professional content creator over the years and how it might apply to brands.

One of the first things I noticed were the differences between advertising and marketing and my old game of newspaper journalism.

People in advertising and marketing think in terms of campaigns, with a start, a spend and a duration.

We content people want our readers/viewers/audiences gas bagging around the water cooler each coffee break. Shock and amaze on every page the former editor of London’s The Sun newspaper, Kelvin MacKenzie used to say. He took it for granted that that meant every day as well.

Content people have a more enduring approach to what they produce. It’s about building and maintaining an audience over time and social media has recently made this process particularly poignant to brands.

I was surprised to learn – having found myself in “digital” – that in some circles content is considered a commodity, a means to a click or impression. But recently giants like Google, to their credit, have refined their search algorithms to prioritise quality. I can’t think why anyone thought a click on a piece of content that didn’t engage anyone had any value – but it obviously didn’t matter to a lot of people.

Quality content is the sum of its parts. Content isn’t just great design, a sparkling piece of writing or some beautiful footage. It is the finished, polished, edited product, in a place and a context. You quickly learn on a newspaper the best story in the world isn’t worth anything if you can’t get it into the paper. However it’s hard to really understand this until you’re producing genuine content that is – as a result – driving engagement.

Those who have become good at Twitter will get what I’m saying here. On Twitter, you see very quickly what posts work and which don’t. Certain posts will drive engagement in terms of new followers and so on, others will lose you followers and damage your standing with your audience.

One thing I have realised is that brands have a lot more content than they realise. The classic line: “There are 8 million stories in the naked city and this has been one of them” applies to brands as much as it does to people. It always used to motivate me as a journalist, knowing there are constantly great stories right in front of your nose every day, you’ve just got to recognise them when you find them.

And that’s a skill that brands would do well to harness. It is a difficult and rare skill; but rarer still is the brand willing to let a journalist, even one in their employ, rifle through their drawers. But then most don’t realise they’re sitting on a thousand great shareable, promotable stories that could be told tomorrow.