Too many media companies are falling into the one-off trap in content marketing.
Learning of a client’s desire to own a certain topic and demonstrate thought leadership, the resulting proposal is usually a restatement of these desires—why the media brand is the best platform in that particular thought-leadership niche—and then the deliverables: a special section in an upcoming issue, content on the media brand’s website(s), native advertising, a webcast, or depending on budget, a special issue mailed and a new “sponsored” category added to the website. Maybe even a speaking spot during an upcoming conference.
Pricing? Well, that’s when confidence falls apart. “How much do you think they can afford to spend?” … “They’ll never go for that; don’t include it.” … “Let’s do tiered pricing so we can at least lock them in with one of the packages.”
This model is perfect for setting up clients to shop around the different elements of your proposal, guiding the creation of an RFP and becoming aware of other resources for achieving the same goal. With new marketing technologies and platforms, as well as an assortment of ways to gain experienced freelance talent, clients’ choices are plentiful. With a new emphasis on “owned platforms” instead of “rented platforms” like social media, a high number of companies are establishing thought leadership directly with their target audience. With heightened interest in inbound marketing and data, establishing a targeted database is easier today than during any other time in history—despite new and evolving restrictions on email usage.
How can publishers win in this environment?
1. Hire “content creators” within each media brand’s umbrella.
Have them report to the editorial leader or managing editor. This is an outstanding way to bring new talent into your organization, train them and provide a long-term career path usually missing within today’s media organizations competing with advertising agencies for talent.
Positioning benefits to clients: “You certainly can hire a freelancer or a few freelancers, and that may be the right thing for you short-term. What we provide is a content-creation machine that is tuned to a specific audience, understands how they consume content, utilizes existing digital and print products’ analytics to drive content decision-making and an environment by its very nature is submerged within the market, providing access no freelancer can gain on their own. Does Jimmy Fallon have one writer for ‘The Tonight Show?’ For long-term thought leadership, neither can you.”
2. Don’t sell products, sell services.
What does that mean? Put together a multi-year plan to achieve a client’s thought leadership goals. Incorporate performance metrics with regular reporting and team (client/media brand) meetings.
3. Price those services accordingly.
Begin with a one-time setup fee. This will include a significant audience research study (repeated annually), a social media audit, analysis of digital content usage patterns and some level of social listening. The deliverable is an actionable plan that can be tested with “pulse” studies—quick surveys designed to be conducted frequently—at predetermined intervals, so corrections can be made and progress documented.
Approach content creation as if you were a high-end salon. Customers have the choice of a “master stylist,” a “senior stylist” and a “level-one stylist.” The pricing is based on the level selected. Different levels of the content plan can utilize different experience/pricing levels, affording flexibility in pricing without losing perceived value.
With social media’s multiple platforms, posting content regularly is an absolute must. If you went on Twitter and saw that a company hadn’t posted anything in weeks, how would you perceive their customer service? Their dedication to a dialogue with their customers? Their responsiveness when something might go wrong?
Create an editorial calendar that can be adjusted after a quarterly review of analytics, other performance metrics and the pulse study results, demonstrating shifts in perception and sentiment.
Determine the most efficient way to produce content that can be multi-use and distributed within all selected channels, including your own (e.g., a series of video interviews with high-profile industry figures that are then turned into social media stories, transcribed into short form articles, sliced into pieces for use at trade shows, event sponsorships, training videos, recruitment, etc., and used in digital advertising programs). A white paper, within this strategy, doesn’t have to exist as a one-time download, but instead as a purchase-funnel experience that includes a downloadable white paper.
The agreement must be for multiple years, with payments on a monthly schedule, not unlike the SaaS platforms used in finance, operations, sales and other areas of the business.
Integration of this content usage system into a client’s company outreach, invoicing in a consistent monthly basis, demonstrating perpetual learning based on performance metrics, will make this approach difficult to unwind, certainly not the first thing cut, and turns a media company’s forecasts into a predictive model.
4. Retain the rights to the content you produce.
Why is this a client benefit? Part of the agreement includes your team’s ability to evolve and reshape all content to ensure the best performance. Yes, this means access to client’s platforms, and for them it means that a headline posted today may be different two weeks from now (not changing links, but keywords, phrasing, tags, etc.) But industry news, new product introductions, hot topics or an approaching trade show all warrant flexibility in presentation. It is a continuous production of content and its evolution—a content-as-a-service, or CaaS model.
The world is unpredictable. A phrase that resonates today may have a negative connotation tomorrow. Your ownership of the content and its performance ensures that the client doesn’t need to worry about the impact of the news cycle.
When pitching a client, you have choices in your approach: “We are one of the leaders in scientific journalism, so your desire to be incorporated into STEM education programs can be fulfilled through our brand and distribution for $50,000;” or, alternatively, “Leadership in STEM is achieved over time. Responding to changes in consumer perception, education’s evolution in specific regions and grade-levels, the need for habitual content relationships and leveraging a knowledgeable team submerged within the market you serve requires more than a single custom publishing occurrence, it requires a team of experts that only we can provide.”
Long-term sustainability requires a shift from hawking products to becoming embedded in your clients’ go-to-market strategies and execution—immersion and investment in the very success of their business model and day-to-day activities.