"Content is king" once again, at least when it comes to marketing services (original content for many dedicated publishing brands is largely giving way to more cost-effective options such as aggregation and curation).
"What’s interesting is [clients] want our expertise as content producers, not our audience," says Dave Newcorn, vice president of digital and custom media at Summit Media, which earlier this year launched its own dedicated custom media group.
But if marketing services are where the investment is going, does that necessarily mean there is an opportunity for "traditional" editors, many of which have endured stagnant salaries (if not actual salary cuts) and lay-offs, to make a switch to something with a little more growth potential?
Maybe not, according to some experts. "Somebody who’s been editing a magazine for 20 years can’t do it," says the head of marketing services at a major b-to-b publisher. "The mindset is different."
Smart publishers draw a firm line between the authors of content marketing and authors of dedicated market-focused editorial. And many are simply applying the same bottom-dollar approach they take with freelance to marketing services.
However, there may be an opportunity for editors to morph into a new type of "content marketing specialist." I spoke with Jonah Bloom, the former Advertising Age editor who became executive director of content strategy with MDC Partners Agency Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners (KBS&P).
Granted, as editor of Ad Age, Bloom [pictured] came to his new position with an insider’s understanding of marketer life. But he also says that the skill sets for traditional editors and content marketing specialists really aren’t that different. As he previously told Ad Age, he, "started to see that all the skills required to be an editor today – the ability to synthesize, filter, make sense of data, quickly create multi-platform content that people will interact with, market that content – might be useful to brands."
FOLIO: Jonah, please discuss the major differences between your role now and your previous roles as a more traditional editor. What does your current position entail?
Bloom: I think the number one difference is that as an editor you’re trying to engage and serve the same audience day in, day out. As a content guy at an agency you’re looking to engage and serve a whole variety of audiences depending on the client’s market and potential market. In other words, one minute you might be trying to plan for and create content that engages hobbyist farmers and the next moment people who want help with, say, financial planning. The good news is that this keeps you on your toes, but it constant research into exactly what the brand stands for and what their potential audience needs and responds to.
FOLIO: On the sales side, publishers talk about how the lead times are so much longer on the sales side for marketing services. What’s the biggest difference in creating content on the marketing side?
Bloom: Publishing typically moves faster than marketing in terms of content production, partly because the processes and protocols are established and then repeated at whatever frequency is required – it’s a little more like customized manufacturing in some aspects, whereas some other marketing is more like a service business. In marketing, you’re often creating new processes and protocols for each content platform or program; you’re dealing with many more stakeholders; and you’re dealing with people who are used to extremely long lead times and extremely high production values.
FOLIO: What are the different skillsets that are required for an editorial role in marketing services or content marketing? How can traditional editors successfully make that transition? (I’ve heard some publishers say traditional editors can’t do it). What in your experience best prepared you for this new role?
Bloom: I don’t think the skillsets are that different. To be either an editor or a content strategist you need to understand your audience and what content or utility they want or need so much that they’ll give up their time to engage with it; you need to understand all the machinations in planning for and making that content; and you need to understand the best ways of delivering that in terms of media and technology. You probably also have a decent sense of design, because good content is frequently sunk by bad user experience.
What’s most different is the organization or culture in which you’re going to operate. While editorial may still have too many tiers of management in places, processes and hierarchies are still typically more linear and flatter than big brand marketing processes. Editorial operations are typically full of people who are focused on current affairs (as defined by the media) and their editorial competitors. Whereas marketing agencies are more interested in culture (as defined by customers and ad shops) and brands. They may not sound that different, but it’s certainly worth experiencing the difference before you make the transition.
FOLIO: Just about every editor is tracking metrics today but how is this different in the context of marketing services? What does the editor really need to know and how do they apply metrics to marketing services?
Bloom: Editors are typically focused on audience volumes and engagement metrics. These are certainly useful proxies in marketing too, but at its best marketing metrics are about tangible business outcomes, changing consumer behavior in a measurable way. I certainly don’t think it’d take any smart editor long to understand the metrics in marketing, but there are probably more of them.