How Infrastructure & Speed is Affecting Your Content Distribution
A Q&A With Andrew Hanelly, SVP of strategy at McMurry/TMG
Speed is critical in today’s new world of media to ensure consumers are receiving content in real time. And brands are utilizing technology to create an infrastructure that effectively distributes that content.
Andrew Hanelly, senior vice president of strategy for McMurry/TMG, explains how important infrastructure really is in content distribution for his organization. Hanelly will discuss the trend at MediaNext, Oct. 20-22.
FOLIO: What strategy did McMurry/TMG employ to redesign or adjust their infrastructure to be able to support content distribution in real time?
Andrew Hanelly: Success in today’s ultra-competitive attention marketplace requires the collective effort and collaboration of cross-disciplinary teams. Or, said in plain English: it takes a village to raise an audience.
At McMurry/TMG, we don’t think of it so much as "content distribution in real time"-we tend to think of it as audience development and activation. It’s about obsessing over your audience and understanding what their day-to-day lives look like and then determining how your organization can bring unique value that they aren’t getting anywhere else.
Before making any decisions about developing an infrastructure, you must first understand the realities of your audience’s day-to-day lives and the sea of distractions and competition that separates you from them. The steps, roughly, go like this:
• Develop a rallying cry: What is our ultimate ambition in terms of serving this audience?
• Understand the landscape: Where are they currently going for information and how are they accessing it?
• Differentiate: What unique value can we provide that serves an unmet need in the market?
• Operationalize: From a structural standpoint, how can we bring this unique value to market on an efficient, ongoing basis?
• Optimize: How can we ensure we’re collecting the right data to inform decisions on how to improve in perpetuity?
Our strategy for real-time content distribution is built around broader goals of serving and growing audiences. Once this is in place, it’s about structuring a team, giving them access to the right data, and letting them perform.
FOLIO: Why do publishers and brands struggle to embrace real-time content distribution?
AH: Relevance has a short shelf life. In order for brands and publishers to succeed, you’ve got to get comfortable with the idea that the traditional deadline is dead. That’s hard for publishers and brand CMOs.
Editors making the transition from traditional to modern media struggle with this concept because they are used to having a finish line (e.g. the magazine went to the printer or the article has been posted and we’re done).
Success is found when you embrace the fact that modern publishing is a continuum. It’s about creating the minimum viable awesome piece and quickly moving on to the next one. Each individual piece syncs up with the larger strategy and no piece stands alone.
Instead of publishing against quotas, we publish against the cultural tide. It’s a mentality shift that, once made, has significant impact on your media team and your audience.
FOLIO: Do you have a formula to follow for developing a real-time content infrastructure?
AH: Audience development is equal parts art and science. It’s about a regular predictable rhythm on one hand, but improvisation on the other. Sort of like jazz.
It was with this in mind that we built our real-time content distribution engine, which we call Content Velocity. At a high-level, it works like this:
• We create a listening station: We identify sources of industry relevant information, subscribe to them in various ways, and synthesize them into a pool of insights. Those sources include search trends, social conversations, performance analytics and what’s being published by other industry voices and competitors. This collection of varied data gives us the insight we need to activate on.
• We bring diverse perspectives to the table: Each media program we work on is serviced by a team with diverse skill sets. This means a social journalist sits next to a graphic designer sits next to an SEO engineer sits next to a front-end developer sits next to a copy editor. No, they don’t have to physically embody the same space, but the point is we build a pod-like structure around projects (think of a mini-startup) as opposed to letting silos operate and connect with each other only occasionally. This allows us to work faster and more effectively.
• We create custom content for the audience: No two audiences are alike. Based on our ongoing analysis of the marketplace, we examine what formats of content are resonating, and we build from there. Some audiences devour lists to scan because they are in a hurry. Some prefer longer-form, in-depth features because when they dedicate time to read, they want to go all in. Some prefer visual content because their industry (like fashion) may be a predominantly visual culture. It’s about understanding what formats work given how audiences are consuming content and then building a team that can quickly crank out content in that format at a high level of quality-because all audiences demand that.
• We document everything: Because marketing is changing so quickly, brands and publishers make the mistake of thinking that things change too quickly to bother documenting best practices. The simple fact is this is not true. The only way to operationalize a real-time content distribution engine is to document what works and modify as the landscape changes. This encourages discipline and routine, which are necessary for success in this business. Sure, best practices can change, but it’s easier to modify a shared document than it is to keep a running list in your head of what works and what doesn’t. Plus, it’s much more efficient to share documentation than it is to find time on calendars to transfer knowledge the old-fashioned way.
• We don’t save "reporting" for monthly or quarterly meetings: Our teams have access to data in real-time and so does everyone else. But our routines force us to consult that data throughout our daily working lives. Monitoring analytics in real-time allows your team to respond to moments of high opportunity. There’s a myth that real-time content success is about luck and timing and trying to quickly turn a cultural moment into a viral tweet with your logo on it. The truth is that big moments are the result of understanding the marketplace (which is why we install a listening station), having a team built on serving that marketplace, and having content formats at the ready for when the moments present themselves.
Because all smart real-time content strategies start with a broad vision and a unifying mission, the tactical execution comes naturally to a team that is plugged in, informed and ready to go. Because they’ve already been going.