Voices

Content Marketing World: Journalists vs. Marketers

Content Marketing World recaps have become a cottage industry in their own right for tech vendors. Everyone is eager to dish about what you missed at the annual bacchanalia of hideous orange outfits, dad jokes, and content talks. Sure enough, there have been a ton of recaps already, including a few very good reads. (Here are three I’d recommend.)

Those writers did a great job capturing the insightful things said on stage. I’d like to take a different approach and share some big conclusions that came from having many one-on-one conversations with smart people about the future of content marketing.

Two ideological camps are forming

There’s a pretty clear ideological split forming. Call it the journalists vs. the marketers.

People tend to come to content marketing one of two ways. Some are journalists who decide to take a job running a brand’s editorial operation, like I did when I took over Contently’s editorial team three years ago. The other side consists of career marketers who embraced content when they realized that what customers wanted from brands had changed.

People who come from the journalism world tend to see content marketing as the challenge of creating a great media operation, just with the backing of a brand. To us, creativity is king, and the greatest path to success is simply getting a bunch of talented creators in a room and letting them do their thing.

The marketers, meanwhile, see content as more of a marketing function. It’s an output they can plug into the marketing machine to reach and nurture that perfect buyer—more science than art.

There’s palpable tension between these two camps, which came up during my session on content marketing hiring. For maybe the first time ever, a marketing panel turned into an actual heated debate. Some of us thought hiring great writers and editors was paramount; others felt candidates needed to bring serious business and marketing chops to the table.

This tension is a good thing—each camp has a lot to learn from the other. The most successful brands will hire both journalists and marketers who complement each other, and together they’ll create more effective content than they could on their own. Smart companies will organize them into agile, integrated squads, which formally pair editorial and marketing teams to solve specific business goals, like lead generation, product marketing, recruiting, and customer marketing.

We do this at Contently, and I’m trying to learn more from our marketing team every day.

There are more contenders, but even more pretenders

Content marketing is blowing up. Thirty-six hundred people attended this year’s conference. The expo floor resembled the dorkiest gold rush town ever.

Still, the industry is incredibly young. Every year, there are more talented people who figure out how to create successful processes. There are also a bunch of folks who have figured out they can make $200 an hour if they slap on a “content strategist” title to their name tag and use the right buzzwords—even if they have no idea what they’re doing.

I know it’s hard to find content marketing talent, but vet your hires. Challenge them with complex projects before you sign that full-time contract. You won’t regret it.

Content marketing’s strategy problem isn’t going away

After Content Marketing World, the Content Marketing Institute is probably most famous for its annual benchmark reports.

One stat from last year’s report that you’ve heard over and over: Two-thirds of marketers still don’t have a documented content strategy. Hopefully next year’s report proves me wrong, but I don’t think this issue is getting resolved. A lot of brands I’ve talked to feel like they’re late to the content game and just want to start creating content. They’re not sure why they need content, what business goals it will solve, or what success looks like, but they want to start publishing a lot anyway.

As analyst Rebecca Lieb and I explained in our report on content methodology best practices earlier this year, this mindset leads to disaster. Difficult as it may be, brands need a detailed strategy before they start creating content, or else they’re doomed to fail. Instead of getting better over time, they’ll just end up pressing the reset button or giving up altogether.

That’d be a shame because brands with a strong strategy in place demonstrate how content can work wonders. (Margaret Magnarelli’s upstart operation at Monster was my favorite example from this year.) As evidenced by the fact that you can get 3,600 people together to watch Joe Pulizzi hop around on stage in an orange suit, wondering what content marketing is all about.

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