How can brands make it as publishers?

Tom RadfordIn this guest post, Tom Radford wonders whether brands or content makers should take the lead in content marketing.

The role of the traditional publisher in producing content has been challenged of late. It may even be on the way to becoming redundant. Newspapers and TV may not be dead. But they’re never going to be in the same again. One of the questions facing brands is whether they should become publishers. But this could be mistaking the role of the publisher.

A brand makes and sells products and needs to communicate with audiences. And, in the simplest terms, a publisher makes and sells content. These days, agencies have been clamouring around their clients to help them make content. The trend has even spawned a new type of agency – the content agency.

But can brands really “be their own publisher”? Maybe we should be asking a different question. Who is the best judge of whether content is good or not?

Well, two groups of people. Firstly the customer. Although you can glean feedback from them through various means it’s usually too late because the content has already been published.

The second authority on content is the editor. The editor has always been the king of content since newspapers began. It is their job to decide what to print and what to trash.

Where does the editor live these days? Well, chances are they are either on the verge of being made redundant or being courted to become the CEO of a content agency, or a content director for a major brand.

So there’s your answer, right? Well, not so fast.

Are we really suggesting that content agencies and ‘corporate editors in chief’ take control of publishing all the content just because they know the whys and the wherefores?

It is true that these people have the power to open up the eyes of a brand team to the possibilities of what can be done with content. They are most likely the experts on what is best for social media, for their intranet, for clients or customers.

But what about flavour? That brand flavour, the nuance that defines a brand deep down can be hard to grasp. And that’s where brands need to assert themselves in the publishing process.

An enterprise and their brand represents years of passion and effort understanding a product. The content professionals can see all of that, but may not fully understand it. This is where a brand can be a good publisher – by being good at commissioning content, and trusting the editor to communicate with an audience. But also having the wisdom to step in – at the right time – when that content might damage the brand.

It’s a fine line. To do it well, brands cannot be over-cautious and need to be prepared to make mistakes. A major global cable television network might spend tens of millions a year to create one good piece of content while funding hundreds of attempts.

Right now, the aversion to content risk is too high. The outcome-driven marketing brain requires exactness and a 100 per cent success rate, with data focussing on clicks not opinions. What stifles greatness in content marketing is avoiding opinion and controversy – the lifeblood of any traditional publisher. Provoking a response means that the audience cares about the content, and this leads to increased circulation as more and more voices join the conversation.

Managing this process is tough. But it really comes down to a solid relationship. Brands need to trust the content makers to do their job, and likewise the content maker needs to consider the brand’s message and timing in order to deliver content that is on the money.

It’s down to brands to provide good briefs and use their passion, experience and market knowledge to convey exactly what they want, and respect the right of the content professional to defend their own experience and talent pool.

If either party tries to lead the other there can only be one outcome – a bad working relationship and a sub-par content campaign.

Tom Radford is a content writer at Click2View.


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