By Joe Pulizzi published January 26, 2013

4 Reasons Why Content Marketing is Scaring the Pants Off Media Companies

Advertising media business diagramI participated in an interview by Jeffrey Davis from Original9 last week and was asked this question for the first time ever:

“When will B2B marketers take their content programs to Pulitzer, NMA, Oscar level?”

It’s an interesting question, and one for which I don’t have a very good answer. Traditionalists will say that because brands always have an ulterior motive for their content (to attract and/or retain customers in some way), that type of content quality will never be possible.

With that, I strongly disagree. All content has a point of view; some is just more obvious about it than others (think Fox News).

I have more to add to this. But first, a few stories…

About 10 years ago, while at Penton Media, one of our publishers in the material-handling market was complaining about one of their advertisers launching a large research report. This was a problem because our magazine had a competitive research project, which required sponsorship to fund. My biggest surprise was not that this advertiser launched a research project or that it was competing with our project. What I couldn’t believe was that our publisher said that we simply could not compete with the advertiser’s resources. Hmmm.

Then, earlier this week, I keynoted the Interactive Advertising Bureau‘s town hall on content marketing. (If you are not familiar with IAB, it’s the association of media companies dedicated to setting guidelines for interactive advertising.) The day was enlightening, filled with amazing case studies about how brands are working with media companies to both create and distribute branded content. Although many of us disagreed a bit on the exact definition of content marketing, one thing was clear: Media companies now understand the new reality that is content marketing, and are incredibly concerned about the future of online content. Many in attendance spoke of the opportunities for media companies, while the majority were outright worried about the future.

And they should be.

This is not a post about how publishing is dead. Far from it; in fact, publishing has never been stronger. What is dying is the business model of ad-supported content. The dozen-plus amazing examples shared at the IAB event provided ample evidence of brand-supported content (like the example to the right, from Cisco Systems), rather than ad-supported content (as in traditional models).

There is nothing to fix here, and no toolkit for marketers or publishers. This is just the truth and, as such, it presents opportunities and challenges for both sides. But from my perspective as a publisher, here are the new paradigms that I see content marketing being driven by:

Brand publishers and media companies have the same goal

Big goal = audience that leads to subscription. Brand publishers are challenged with trying to get found in Google, drive leads, and figure out social media. At the center of making all this happen is storytelling. It’s all about brands creating helpful, valuable, and compelling stories that position them as trusted experts in their fields. That content, if worthy, will convert casual, passerby readers into loyal ones. In turn, those loyal readers may then be converted into loyal customers.

Media companies are trying to do the same thing. Exactly the same thing. The only difference in this business model is that media companies are supported by different revenue streams (paid content or sponsored content).

Brand publishers have almost unlimited resources

A lot has been made of Coca-Cola’s content strategy. The company is investing millions, but let’s put that into perspective:

Coke’s content marketing is a needle in a traditional advertising haystack. It’s simply a rounding error. If Coke ever decided to really get serious, it has more money and resources than any media entity in the world to develop world-class content.

The same goes for virtually every well-known brand. Publishers need to face the reality that brands will always be bigger and stronger than publishers (think “The Matrix”). And this is just the beginning.

Brand publishers are competing for the best talent

At the IAB event, a publisher was overheard saying, “Thank God for brands, or all my journalist friends would be out of a job.

Most journalism jobs are going to the “dark side.” It’s the new reality of the discipline and will continue to be the case — and let’s face it, most brands could use some help from skilled, experienced storytellers.

To survive, traditional media companies are trading on trust

There is a big opportunity for publishers to provide an audience for brands, whether it’s through custom content programs or native advertising and sponsored content deals. Brands want to leverage the trust and loyalty readers have for media companies and transfer some of that goodwill to their brand.

This means that publishers, not brands, need to police the branded content. One improperly labeled piece of sponsored content, or poor piece of branded content on the network, can destroy a publisher’s reputation (just look at what happened in The Atlantic situation).

Publishers need a distinct set of guidelines for how they should deal with content marketing from brands.

Today, it’s already a messy business, and the issues have only begun to surface…

Hear more of Joe Pulizzi’s perspective on the future of content marketing during his keynote address at Content Marketing World Sydney. Register now for this landmark event, taking place March 4-6, 2013 in Sydney, Australia. 

Cover image via Bigstock.

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Chuck Kent

    I’m glad the question put to you included “Oscars,” as content marketing needs to expand its self-definition beyond typical brand publishing and embrace all manner of content creation. Great, imaginative, all-about-the-reader/viewer content will enhance a brand’s reputation and reach as surely as the Atlantic-style all-about-the-advertiser “content” will diminish it.

  • Mary Ellen Slayter

    As a journalist-turned-content-marketer, I couldn’t agree more.

    The trouble is that we’ve come to expect a social function out of traditional publishers that branded content isn’t likely to deliver. As much as people like to bitch about the “Mainstream Media,” they did (and still do) provide people with civically valuable information.

    American Express does amazing content marketing that is extremely useful for
    small businesses, for example. But I don’t see them ever investing money in investigating how credit card companies’ terms are crippling small business growth. (I’m not even arguing that they do; just saying that story ain’t getting written by their content marketing team.)

    We’re going to need to find a completely different way to fund that sort of high-quality, resource-intensive journalism. Because brands are finding they don’t need to do it just to get the eyeballs they want.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Mary Ellen…In my opinion, there are some areas that brands should stay away from regarding real reporting (think BP and oil spills). The media will never go away, and media can handle certain things that brands cannot. That said, more and more content that media has traditionally covered can now be covered by brands. It will be interesting indeed.

  • Paul Sanders

    I’ve often had to fight to convince my clients that we need to move beyond just targeting narrow content related to their products and services, and expand the discussion to their industry at large. That really does help you escape the trap of content that always seems promotional, or merely functional, and really start a conversation about relevant industry issues. That puts you right in the niche you want to be drawing qualified traffic from, and has ripple effects throughout the rest of your content and social marketing strategies.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Great take Paul!

  • Andrae Palmer

    Most Brands i think rather pay to sell rather than work and build a lasting audience to sell to which would enchance the customer experience at large. But story telling is proven to be a good way to send the message. I see it first hand here in Jamaica how the goverment agencies create features and small programmes to pass on information in a simple entertaining way to get there message across. Even though they are not selling anything they still inform the public on imporatant information.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Correct…content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.

  • Consilium Global Adv

    that’s why @salesvpi advocates becoming a “publisher” in mindset and execution if you are really serious about successful content marketing for the long haul

  • DavidGermano

    “Marketers as the Media”! “Publishing” has now
    become table-stakes. This is such a provocative topic. For decades it took P&G-sized budgets for marketers to create programming that was on par, or better, to what the media industry could create. Now those barriers are all gone. And while brand investment in ‘audience-preferred’ content is still a bit latent, light bulbs are starting to turn-on in the minds of CMO’s & Marketing Directors across the industry. Whether your content marketing was born out of journalism, or out of advertising, we’re all storytellers now. Good stuff!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Amen David!

  • Jacob Stoller

    Great post, Joe. The fact that content sponsors and media are pursuing the same goal – subscribers – explains why media are running scared. I think the key to sponsored content is that publications have to maintain their editorial standards which, as you point out, Atlantic Magazine recently failed to do. I have also found that, at least in the software and professional services markets that I write for, having high editorial standards for one’s own published content is a better strategy because it engages readers and builds trust online and offline.

  • Doug Kessler

    Provocative and well-argued as always, Joe.

    I’m not sure I agree that publishers and brand marketers are doing exactly the same thing at all, though I agree there are many similarities.

    Quality publishers serve the reader first — even if the story hurts an advertiser. By spreading their funding across many advertisers, they’re beholden to no single brand.

    As content marketing explodes, reader scepticism will, too. Where will we turn? Back to the publishers we trust. We’ll always need great editors and the ad-supported model makes them possible.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      It’s a good argument Doug…I’m not sure how far down the rabbit hole this will go, or if readers will get more skeptical. All I know is that it’s getting really interesting.

  • Arnie Kuenn

    Hi Joe,

    This post caught my eye as we are working closely with a national “traditional media” company on some interesting content concepts. (Can’t disclose it just yet.) But one of the most important sentences above is “One improperly labeled piece of sponsored content, or poor piece of branded content on the network, can destroy a publisher’s reputation.” When working in the online world, this is critically important. Both media and brands need to pay close attention to this.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      So true Arnie…so true. Thanks for sharing and interested to hear more about your project.

  • James Perrin

    Hi Joe, great post – it really caught my eye and has kind of changed the way I looked at what the motives/goals are for ‘traditional media’. Whilst I’m not entirely convinced that brand publishers and media companies have the exact same goals, I have now started to realise the similarities. What I think is more important is what the two can learn from each other. As you say, most brands could use help from storytellers, but as a brand publisher it’s also important to learn about multiple sides of the story and the ability to create something of integrity, rather than blatant promotional copy. Really liked the post, cheers!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks James…if more brands would look at the similarities like you are, that’s have the battle. I guess the point is we are competing for attention with everyone, including media companies. Our content needs to be as good or better to get that attention.

      • James Perrin

        Thanks Joe, totally agree.

  • jeffmignon

    Some publishers are getting it and are starting to develop strong Content Marketing offers. Our team is currently working with major media companies to develop and help their marketing departments to develop those initiatives. One of the big competitive advantages for media reside in the user acquisition strategy process: they have existing site(s) and can drive traffic to any online CM initiatives. But, and as you mention, separation of church and state is key. It’s about publisher reputation and managing newsroom sensitivity.

  • Carl Hartman

    Good article and good info. Our organization started out as a melding 3 different companies; a network TV producer, a PR firm and technology & marketing company. The TV company president came out of TV and ways to produce to produce high volumes of killer content. He also had video game experience with top selling titles and the other parts of the team brought in the marketing. So, for us it has been easy. Most of our brands are self-generated in that we have the ability to launch our own brands and content. Most organizations don’t have that luxury.