When I started out in B2B media over 20 years ago, I was recruited to the ‘dark side’. I clearly recall a literal line on the office floor that marked the editorial department’s territory, past which the advertising sales team were never to cross…
Media has always had a historic separation of ‘church and state’, with advertising often perceived as a necessary evil for revenue generation. Interruptive online ad formats added to its woes, eventually raising audience annoyance, and decreasing impact for brands in equal measures. And poorly executed ‘advertorials’ earned early commercial content a somewhat tarnished reputation amongst journalists and readers alike.
Little wonder; good journalism requires independence, and credibility and loyalty are earned through understanding audience needs and putting them first. But this is precisely where, today, commercial content can be enormously successful when managed well.
The discipline of content marketing has now reached a level of maturity that sees it playing a pivotal role in the marketing strategy of sophisticated brands and businesses. The most successful practitioners all share one driving principle; a deep understanding of what their customers care about. So, in media organisations whose very business is audience engagement, why does commercial content so often fall short of the mark?
In specialist media in particular, where deep industry expertise and relationships are held, there is a huge opportunity to elevate commercial content to serve the needs of both audience and vendors, as well as your own business. But there is still too often an organisational disconnect that leaves a huge amount of potential value on the table.
Crucial questions to answer in assessing your current commercial content offering are:
  • Is the content you are publishing at least as high quality as your independent editorial?
  • Is it guided by a thorough understanding of the impact it will have for the business or brand paying for it?
  • Does it align with your own content brand and values?
If you cannot answer ‘yes’ to all three, there’s every chance that you would benefit from a more unified approach. Having a leader that oversees the entire content function is arguably the only way to ensure the success and growth of your commercial content offering.  And with a robust content strategy in place, you can confidently build and deliver on a plan that consistently provides value for your three stakeholder groups: Audience, Clients and Internal.
Audience Beginning with rigorous, data-driven insights on your core audience personas and what drives them, your plan should comprise an optimal mix of high quality, useful content that meets their needs. This requires looking at content type – eg. trends analysis, how-to guides, definitions – as well as formats such as articles, whitepapers, roundtables, and video interviews.
Clients Understanding the audience buyer journeys and utilising that knowledge in the products you provide is key to a robust marketing solutions offering. This frequently requires a (re) education of your clients; content requires a different approach to the advertising they may be used to, and overt product pushing will not gain them the desired engagement from their target audience. The integrated packages you offer should then be based around measurable outcomes for the clients. In turn, this often requires arming your sales team with the skills and confidence to become partner/ adviser to clients, pushing back and guiding where needed.
Internal A committed focus on audience needs comes of course with maintaining a high quality of content and benchmarked accordingly. In the case of commercial content, it should also be able to maintain, and ideally enhance, the credibility of your own content brand. And in delivering the consequent valuable client outcomes, build long term partnerships that drive an increase in average spend and predictable revenue.
There are several potential structural and resourcing models to consider, depending on your business model and industry sector, and there should be no need to compromise on independent, editorial integrity. A network of freelance specialists for example are a great asset to begin with. But whether you realign your current teams, or hire a new leader to build the function, investing the time and resources in building a solid, unified content strategy can be a game-changer for your marketing solutions business.
To get started, I recommend the following:
  • If you have existing audience insights and persona profiles, validate and refresh them. If you don’t, then conduct or commission this work before anything else!
  • Map your current output by content type and format, against any engagement metrics you have
  • Conduct a mini-audit of your current state and capabilities, including processes, resourcing and KPI reporting
  • Create a SWOT analysis of your entire content offering, considering how your commercial content compares with your own independent content, as well as that of a couple of known competitors
This should give you a good understanding of the areas to focus on that will have the biggest impact. And if you’d like to have a chat about any of the above, or find out more about Collingwood Advisory’s content strategy programmes, get in touch