Social Media Week London
Our Relationship To Content

Maybe The Matrix was right. Battlestar Galatica, too. The big reveal at the end of both of those (endless) sagas show us that everything has happened before. That’s what Contently’s co-founder and CEO, Joe Coleman, told the audience at Social Media Week London today.

He didn’t really put it quite that way, but it makes for a better story to draw a surprising comparison, especially one that has a grain of truth. Storytelling, after all, is what Coleman’s talk was really all about as befits the founder of one of the reference companies for the content marketing era.


Contently is, as Coleman put it, a company that sits at the intersection of storytelling, content, and marketing. It works directly with brands and agencies to supply a full suite of content marketing services. Contently adopts a non-competitive posture toward the agency world, but no one paying attention can miss the threat Contently and its ilk pose to creative agencies. Those relationships that bind customers to brands could just as easily work in Contently’s favor.

Coleman didn’t mention that to his marketing-heavy audience, of course. Instead, he spoke about some eternal truths about stories and relationships. “Great stories,” Coleman said, “build great relationships,” and to buttress that point he reminded the audience that traditional media companies gained the most trust from us over the years because of their excellent and dependable storytelling. We know, for example, that the New York Times delivers great information, and so we have developed a good relationship with the organization.

Those traditional organizations were concerned with reaching an audience. These days, marketers want to build audiences. But why bother? Coleman believes that “content is the atomic particle of all marketing.” It is the bedrock of relationship building for brands.

Contently builds their content marketing programs over a three-part framework: Create, Engage, Optimize. As Coleman himself admitted, this framework has been around as long as the media business. To prove his point, he took the audience back to the New York newspaper wars of the 1800s.

Create: The wars began because the decreasing cost of printing presses led to fierce competition between upstart publishers. Eventually, two rival news organizations emerged—Pulitzer and Hearst. Pulitzer’s New York World was known for sensationalist journalism; it’s what we’d call click bait today. Hearst’s New York Journal had a reputation for solid investigative journalism.

Engage: The papers were delivered by paperboys who flung copies on front porches and city stoops. They had largely equal distribution networks.

Optimize: But the difference in approach also led to a difference in reader loyalty. Click bait sold a lot of newspapers…once. Readers disappointed by the distance between the promise of the headline and the poor reading experience that followed didn’t come back for more copies. Pulitzer realized that his readers were not loyal, and he knew why. He hired a prominent investigative journalist and turned his organization into national newspaper powerhouse.

Coleman focused his audience on the optimization step that Pulitzer took and then asked them to consider this in comparison to brands today. Many brands get hung up on the create piece. As the newspaper wars made clear, that’s the easy part. But if you don’t engage your audience and then optimize based on what you learn, you’ll be “shouting into the wind.”

Content strategy helps brands master engagement and optimization. Content strategy sits at the intersection of audience interest, brand objective, and market opportunity. Just as it did for two of the greatest media dynasties that ever were.

No, Joe Coleman may not have referenced The Matrix directly, but he may as well have: everything in our world has happened before.

ogilvydo caught up with Joe Coleman at Social Media Week London:

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