If you want good branded content, get the editorial staff to do it

jackie maxted

In this guest post, website publisher Jackie Maxted argues that journalists shouldn’t just create good content, they should deliver commercial benefit too.

We all know the story by now; traditional media is crumbling. Paywalls are being hoisted as scores of journalists are being shown the door. Teams of citizen reporters with cheap smartphones roam the streets catching the news as it happens, circumnavigating traditional media and causing advertisers to run scared.

But in reality is this supposed media apocalypse really going to happen? Is the public’s appetite for news and entertainment going to disappear alongside journalist’s expense accounts overnight? Probably not, in fact in real terms publishing as an industry has never been bigger.

But even stripped back to the bare bones the business of publishing is still that, a business. Readers demand first class stories and cutting edge digital experiences, but display advertising on its own doesn’t stack up, so who’s going to pay?

Anybody with even a passing interest in advertising and marketing press has heard of the latest saviour for the industry by now. That’s right, content  marketing, native advertising or brand publishing. Call it what you want but   apparently it’s come from nowhere to save the world.

But here’s the news, content marketing isn’t new it has been around since the dawn of time, we just called it advertorial. And to follow up that killer punch, its  not going to save the media.

Content marketing in its most basic form has an inbuilt point of failure. It relies  on the old way of working, a sales-led intrusion into ‘proper’ editorial.

The uncomfortable (for some) truth is that maybe to survive and prosper media owners need to break down the final media taboo, absolute editorial independence.

To many in our industry that may just be the ultimate sacrilege and without doubt there are some areas in publishing, like mainstream news, where this won’t work comfortably, but for others areas the future lies in turning content  marketing on its head to create instead branded content.

I’m not talking about advertising copy masquerading as opinion, but good genuinely engaging content that straddles the fine line between editorial independence and commercial gain.

But isn’t this just the same old content marketing that we always hear about?

No, the difference between content marketing and branded content is to ensure success starts and finishes with editorial, not sales.

beauty heavenWhen I launched beauty news and reviews site beautyheaven in 2008, there wasn’t a lot of money about. With this in mind I started with a clear premise, that advertisers’ messages had relevance in all different forms across the site.

We employ a full time professional editorial team with a laser sharp focus on one thing, our readers and their interests and needs. But the very same editorial teams work directly with commercial partners to add value from interested brands.

How does that work in the real world? Well it’s is not just the job of editorial to create compelling content, it is also a responsibility to deliver tangible commercial value, all based on a clear definition of genuine reader value.

Of course it’s important to clearly define anything with a commercial interest, but that doesn’t mean it has to be second best. Successful branded content needs to be just as good as the rest of your content. Branded content is about engaging and entertaining while still providing value to your target audience without always being about product.

Importantly it also has to be transparent with clear brand-alignment to make it authentic. Brands can contribute to content, as long as they state their intentions upfront. But the most important key to success is the investment in spending time with commercial partners to understand how their brands can tell interesting stories without the need for an overbearing constant sell.

I’m happy with where we are now. Content is trusted and written by experienced journalists who are creating stories built on mutual friendship and respect, offering all parties real value and at the same time securing the future of our site.

Working with our partners to place their brands in the hands of experts in a highly credible environment might not be the savior of the media. However it  works for our readers and the organisations that want to get close to them.

Jackie Maxted is founder and Managing Director of Directories Group, which publishes beautydirectory.com.au and beautyheaven.com.au. She previously worked as a public relations practitioner at PPR and Maxted Thomas Public Relations


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