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The New Newsroom For Brands

The advent of social media and the ubiquity of freely produced and shared content - from blogs to tweets, to personally curated streams - easily accessible and available online, means marketers today have more choice than ever to produce and disseminate content to clients and prospects. As the world of digital and social media have fundamentally shifted the role of newspapers and traditional print publishers from being the gatekeepers of knowledge, the democratisation of information - from the point of breaking news reports of an incident, through to the detailed analysis of a sector or the latest legislation for an industry, means the going has never been so good for marketers.

Keynoting at Raconteur's latest event at the Savoy Hotel in London on "Journalism for Brands", European MD of Forbes Charles Yardley said: "editors no longer have control - anyone anywhere can publish." He noted that as the world of journalism shifts to a new media model, brands are getting involved in the production of information. This shift has led to two top priorities for information consumers: transparency as to who is talking - and, ultimately, quality of content.

While the upside to this means that companies' marketing teams have enhanced access to a host of platforms, as they seek to convey information to prospective customers as well as existing clients, the downside to this is that so many marketers are doing it badly - or don't know where to start. So while a corollary of this democratisation of media means marketers have been able create and disseminate content on global online platforms at minimal cost, the challenge is that brands are finding that the information that they produce is not resonating with their readers.

There is a large disconnect between the content that marketers create and what readers in the marketplace need. According to The Economist, 93% of marketers say that they connect their content directly to their products or services. But on the other hand, 71% of executives reported getting turned off by content that seemed like a sales pitch.

"There is a mismatch between what marketers create and what is needed," asserted Freddie Ossberg, founder and Managing Director of Raconteur. Indeed at the heart of the matter - despite marketers using an array of new platforms and methods to produce and disseminate more content, much marketing content fails to move the commercial needle.

"When it comes to creating great content, marketers and other executives think they can do it," explained Mr Ossberg. "No other aspect in business carries this assumption. For example people in-house who are not technicians do not automatically assume they can do IT. Yet this does not apply to publishing content and it is the wrong approach - it takes skill and understanding to create compelling content."

At issue is that marketers - believing that anyone can write content - are producing bland information that does not touch upon issues readers wish to understand. Or, fearful of alienating stakeholders, marketers produce safe yet bland content which does not take a stance. So there is a plethora of information out there that is too focused on products and firms rather than wider issues that executives in that same industry would want to understand.

Speaking on the central role professional journalists continue to play in creating and curating compelling content, Mr Yardley said that a new model of journalism is emerging. Rather than viewing traditional publishing houses and companies' in-house marketing departments as two separate entities, Mr Yardley maintained that firms should look more to brand journalism. He talked about the "new newsroom" - and how publishers can teach marketers about the core pillars and principles to apply.

To that end, securing external talent to create a story is half of the battle. Indeed for content to be relevant and hard-hitting, marketers must really understand those core pillars and principles of good journalism and publishing - and, moreover, convince their fellow colleagues internally of their value. Those pillars are: the content produced must be timely, as it must touch on a relevant issue that the audience wants to know about at the time; the content must be relevant to what the reader's agenda is - rather than what the firm's agenda is; it must be authentic and not a sales-pitch; it should be written in an engaging manner and the content - regardless of platform - must be produced consistently: if it is produced daily, weekly or monthly, the timescale must be adhered to consistently.

Speaking to the importance of adopting independent agencies and journalists to create and curate content, event panellist Teana Baker-Taylor, Head of Marketing, Payments and Cash Management at HSBC, maintained that although marketers are increasingly finding that they need to hire external journalists to articulate a firms' message, securing internal firm buy-in to have an independent content creator can pose its challenges - but the rewards are great."As brands, we know that we have to be engaging as we are competing with media firms for our audience's attention", said Mrs Baker-Taylor. Indeed, for panellist Jade Tambini, European Marketing Manager of DS Smith, changing internal mindsets towards content remains a critical challenge. “DS Smith have the big challenge of redefining how packaging is managed throughout supply chains, and with this comes huge repositioning challenges. Brand journalism gives us the opportunity to talk with credibility about the wider industry issues that affect our buyers, while educating through thought leadership, under a coherent editorial framework.”

Key lessons which emerged from the event evolved around the need for firms to let go of control of their content, and let experienced journalists and media agencies design and disseminate the information. Additionally producing the content in a timely, engaging and consistent manner and embodying other important principles of great publishing are also key to building trust amongst an audience, and overcoming the major challenge of building credibility and competing for time and mindshare.

"Creating content relevant to the buyer which also touches upon the daily issues they encounter in their jobs is important," said Ms Tambini. "If you empower your readers, that is ultimately the best way to enable them to become more aligned to your brand."