Content Marketing

What Great Content Marketing and Football Fandom Have in Common

With the NFL season just a week away, I’m already starting to notice my Sunday night browser history is a mashup of marketing/media articles and reports from the New York Giants practice facility. It’s a reminder that at 26, I’ve come to follow the marketing and media industry—which I cover as the editor of The Content Strategist—in the same way I’ve followed the sport I’ve loved since I was three years old.

That may sound kind of weird, but I’m not alone. It’s common for writers, even those who don’t work in the sports section, to follow the beat they cover with the obsessiveness of a sports fan. Ask any dedicated reporter and he’ll tell you that spark of passion is creative kindling, igniting the best storytelling inspirations, ideas that sneak up on you when you least expect it.

Past the tools, analytics, and optimization, that spark is what makes for really good editorial content.

If brands want to become real-life publishers, they need to foster that spark. That means 1) hiring passionate editors and reporters; 2) devising a content strategy they can get excited about; and 3) giving them freedom to create the kind of content that makes people actually stop and ignore everything else on the Internet.

(Which is a freaking wild feat when you think about it. Thanks for being here.)

That’s an easy challenge for me to bring to brands, but it’s not a hard challenge for brands to tackle. Letting go of that much control seems like an impossibility for brands in the face of compliance, budget concerns, and Kafkaesque bureaucracy. But a number of brand publishers—Dove, Red Bull, Amex (full disclosure: a Contently client), HubSpot, and more—have figured out how to navigate those obstacles and build publications staffed by passionate content creators. Hard and impossible are very different things.

As I write and edit stories about content marketing every day, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if more than a handful of brands were willing to take the plunge and give passionate content creators the freedom and budget to build something meaningful.

Talking about this reminds of words spoken by Ed Gilligan, president of American Express, at a LinkedIn conference last year. He was discussing the success of Amex OPEN Forum and what compelled him to look past traditional marketing efforts and take a risk with a large-scale content play:

“There is a science of scorecards and metrics,” he said. “The art of it is knowing when those rules don’t apply.”

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