It seems as though we’re past the point of no return when it comes to content marketing. Brands are partnering with media and news organizations to create branded content to serve the ever-hungry masses. So what makes good branded content? How should these partnerships work? And what’s the future of content marketing? These questions and more were the theme of the panel discussion “Branding and Journalism: A Content Marketing Mashup” on Wednesday at Social Media Week in London.
Moderator Ed Williams, CEO of Edelman UK, started with a straightforward-yet-complicated question: Should journalists be producing content for brands? Aron Pilhofer, Executive Editor of Digital for The Guardian—perhaps unsurprisingly—answered with a resounding, “Yeah, of course.” Pilhofer believes that any controversy about native advertising is mainly about the deception that sometimes comes along with it—when it’s not clear from the outset that a piece is branded and tries to pass itself off as real news.
Grace Sobey, Global Media Manager for Unilever and recipient of the 2015 Cannes Lions Young Marketer of the Year award, largely agreed. If brands and publishers are, in her words, “incredibly” upfront about a piece of content being native advertising, then it’s okay. She believes that people want interesting content, so it’s up to brands to create that, in any form. This echoed an earlier sentiment from Pilhofer about native content, and content in general: “When it’s good, it’s good.” (It’s worth noting, however, that no journalists were on the panel.)
Jessica April, Global Head of Strategic Partnerships for Reuters, sees content marketing as a sort of natural next step for media and news companies. “There’s a reason our business has been around for so long,” she said, calling media a “shifting industry.” The willingness of the media industry to respond to what’s happening in the world and find new revenue streams is why it’s still afloat.
April’s point is a good one: with print on a massive, irreversible decline, it seems as though many traditional media companies will have to heed April’s suggestion and evolve. April believes that brands can benefit from partnering with Reuters and other trusted, unbiased news sources to create content.
Williams noted that in this age “every company is a media company.” David Levin, Creative Director of That Lot, talked about the War Rooms that brands now utilize. The need to be able to respond on social media to newsworthy events lends credence to Williams’ portrayal of brands and modern companies as media houses. Brands, Levin noted, are as relevant as news organizations and journalists. Why, then, should brands/agencies partner with media companies to produce content?
“Let us do what we do best, do what you do best,” April said when talking about Reuters’ partnerships. Brands can benefit from the journalistic sense and standards that a news organization like Reuters brings with it. Reuters, April said, can come to the table as an editorial resource, coming at a challenge with a sound editorial strategy that a brand alone might not be able to create. A news organization can help brands find a newsworthy angle to tackle, and figure out the right platform for distributing the content.
Sobey agreed: “We’ve got to stick to what we’re good at, right?” For a brand, media companies bring new, built-in audiences, audiences that trust the source of the content. And Sobey believes that good partnerships can help create better, bigger content. When different platforms come together to create something, different perspectives will naturally start to coalesce. With a clear, shared goal, great things can come from large-scale partnerships.
While this is certainly true, Levin cautioned that in some instances, like on social media, there can be too many cooks in the kitchen. Sometimes, the War Room can be “an absolute nightmare.” He cautioned against super-large teams “agonizing” over a single tweet. By the time it’s been determined whether the tweet should end with an exclamation point or period, the moment can very well have been missed altogether.
Sobey, though, urged everyone to remember that 10 years ago, YouTube wasn’t even a thing. While brands and media companies all would love to be on the forefront of the future, innovation is hard to predict. And it’s happening more rapidly than it ever has before. So, as April mentioned, media will have to continue to survey the landscape, and adapt accordingly.