Fake news was killing my hope for media, until I found strength in Brut

Having been a part of the media landscape now for something close to the past 15 years, I’ve watched with sadness the increasingly fast erosion of public trust in accredited outlets.

The conversation pains me because I know there are a great many talented and dedicated people who have made gathering and disseminating news their lives, and they have been swept into the “media sucks”/”fake news” swell.

But, I also don’t disregard the base reasons for why public trust has diminished so much during my professional time. As a consumer, I get it. Bait-and-switch headlines, opinions presented as facts, story lines built around viewer and reader demographics, advertorials presented as unbiased content, native advertising, content marketing, etc. I’ve been a part of all of those conversations in some fashion. (And though I agree with the public’s angst, as a marketer, I believe in many of those concepts because they work…which presents sort of a chicken-and-egg something best suited for another blog sometime.)

Much of what is produced today is “I’ll do anything for a click” garbage (a Kansas City sports radio station fell victim to the click sickness this week) that wouldn’t have received a passing grade in my media classes at Washburn University. Where they may have been useful once, I now abhor any conversation that begins with hyperbole headlines or “did you see the top 5 reasons that…”

I had very nearly given up hope that the media industry even gave a damn anymore, resigned to its untrustworthy fate, and I had become even less enthused about citizen journalism, which spiked a few years ago and has since returned to its fringe roots. (It turns out this gathering information and forming consistent, coherent copy is harder than it looks, eh citizen?)

But just when things started happening in the past 12 months. Some examples:

  • Roger Ailes and Fox News were taken to task for improprieties that numbered, I don’t know, somewhere around Bill O’Reilly’s old salary.
  • The Washington Post and New York Times have been spoon-fed so much content from Washington, D.C., that they finally, FINALLY, snapped out of their we-work-for-clicks comas and remembered just how valuable good, original, reporting is – both to the outlet and the general public. (And, God, has it been a joy to watch the two compete since last fall!)
  • And, my personal favorite, the social media giants in this world, led by Facebook, grew up because they had to (thanks, 2016 presidential election!). They decided they do have a responsibility in shepherding content, weeding out intentionally harmful or deceitful crap. But, they went a step farther than that and are backing what I hope is a long-term initiative – the Facebook Journalism Project.

From this project came a spotlight feature this week that helped reinvigorate my belief that there is still a lot of good journalism left to be done in this world – and it is being done with social platforms, digital technology, and some other things that many old-guard institutions swore were the death of journalism.

No, old guard, it is being done, and done well, by brands like Brut (which is just six months old) because they believe in two very simple philosophies: 1) deliver your media product where consumers are (i.e. digitally), and deliver it using those platforms’ rules; and 2) well, I’ll let Brut CEO Guillaume Lacroix explain:

“Today, people don’t care where the news comes from, as long as it is accurate, makes sense, and is interesting,” he said.

Sing it to me, Guillaume.

And his company is already becoming one of the largest outlets in France despite its 12-15 person staff using little more than an iPhone 7, some graphics, and Facebook Live.

It isn’t that there is a lot to learn. Brut’s principles aren’t revolutionary. They just remember what the public really wants – and that’s to be treated as intelligent communities who value content they can trust.

It is an example like this that gives me a renewed great hope for the future of journalism and the media industry, however it evolves.

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Content Marketing: From Drip to Deluge

More than ever, content is king.

It drives a never hungrier Internet. It shape-shifts from e-books and blogs to videos, newspaper articles and Internet memes. All of it combines to stuff our faces with brands, messages, agendas and even, on occasion, knowledge. It gets heavy at times, and consumers have pushed back by becoming guarded, skeptical and better informed – often quick to dismiss anything that seems pushy.From Drip to Deluge, content marketing needs time to work.

That leads to a simple question: How does one best reach and engage a savvy consumer on their turf and on their terms? The answer is that even if consumers have become extremely niched, their appetites for information have never been bigger or more efficient. They consume more info and do it faster than before, and that’s a good thing. It leaves room for your message to be on the menu, and the Internet gives you more opportunity than ever to present why your meal is the best choice.

What a glorious table setting for content marketing.

“Content marketing has always been a part of the marketing mix in some fashion, just under different names such as branded content, brand storytelling and so on,” says Kevin Briody, Senior Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer, for Pace.*

*Based in Greensboro, North Carolina, Pace was named 2013 Content Agency of the Year at the second annual Content Marketing Awards.

“However it really took off over the last few years due to how consumers are finding and sharing all that content – in other words, due to the rise of organic search (Google, Bing, etc.) and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.) and their increasing convergence.

“In an incredibly noisy marketing landscape, particularly online, having a powerful, relevant and engaging story to tell has become absolutely critical for brands looking to connect with their customers and prospects. Great storytelling content, and how it fuels organic search and social media, is the root of content marketing as a viable marketing strategy.”

James Meyers is the CEO of Imagination Publishing, which was a finalist for 2013 Content Agency of the Year. He believes the online culture has been a catalyst for content marketing’s boom.

“Unquestionably, the Internet has catapulted the growth of content marketing,” Meyers says. “The combination of needing frequent, valuable content to: improve SEO results; to encourage repeat customer visits; to engage customers; and to feed social networking streams have all become a critical necessity for marketers of all organizations. As a result, agencies of all types – traditional ad agencies, public relations firms and content publishers – have all moved to fill this need. In doing so, they have further elevated the frenzy around content marketing.”

For a marketer who has never attempted a content marketing program, the entire philosophy and process can seem overwhelming and not worth the amount of time, energy and resources it takes to get a program moving. After all, how does one go about affecting the Internet?

But, think of a dry sponge placed under a faucet that has a single drip coming from it. The drip falls, and the sponge absorbs it in quick fashion. You know the water went in; it went somewhere, even if there’s not really any good evidence of such after a brief moment. So, you spend your time and effort keeping the sponge perfectly still while waiting on the faucet to produce another drip, which it does. That drip also hits the sponge in the same spot and seems to disappear. However, this time you can feel where the drip hit. Soon, another drip and then another.

Pretty soon the water’s effect is easily noticeable as it continues to hit the sponge in the same spot and then spread out as more of the sponge begins to absorb the moisture. After a while, the sponge is soaked – all from a steady stream of individual drips.

Now, what if that sponge is your desired consumer group? What if that single drip is your first attempt at content marketing via a new blog entry, a YouTube video tutorial or Pinterest post? Nobody really noticed those first few efforts, probably. However, after some patience, sticking to a targeted approach, and having the resolve to hold your program in place, your message, which smartly has centered on and drummed home the fact that you are the expert of your industry, has saturated your target.

The most critical aspect to any content marketing initiative is, not surprisingly, to make sure you have content.

“A successful content marketing program is a complex undertaking and, depending upon scale, may require full-time resources,” Myers says. “Many organizations have made the mistake of creating a new website or social site, launching it with content and then seen dismal results as they fail to feed constant additional content in a variety of formats to their customers.

“We believe that there are three essential pillars to any successful content marketing program: strategy, content creation and distribution marketing. Without addressing and continuously focusing on all three of these area, most content marketing programs will ultimately fail.”

Briody believes in sharpening your content to the point that it can’t help but hit and impact the desired target; and making sure you can tell just how good the shot was.

“First, define a distinctive brand voice and point of view – why should somebody listen to you instead of all the others out there making noise?” Briody says. “Why should they pay attention in the first place, and keep coming back for more?

“Second, have a goal in mind, one you can measure – so many content marketing programs fail because they set out to “share lots of content” without any clear understanding of how all that content and all that sharing should lead back to measurable business results.

“Third, having a distribution strategy is as important as crafting great content; “Build it and they will come” is something that should only live in movies – it has no place in your content marketing efforts. Just because you launch the World’s Most Amazing Content Hub (or Blog), doesn’t mean anyone is going to find it.

“Lay out your SEO (Organic Search) strategy, then evaluate all the other customer touch points where your amazing content might add value – can it fuel your email marketing, make your social media more effective, add some personality to your events, or some context to your advertising? Where and how can your content be used, so that it has the most chance of being seen, consumed and drive real results?”

As consumers continue to improve their search capabilities, it will become even more vital for marketers to find ways to stand out among competitors. Developing a content marketing plan now, even if you haven’t previously, will go a long ways toward helping accomplish that goal.

“We conducted very successful content programs that have been proven drivers of audience expansion, increased sales leads or conversions, shorter decision cycles, customer engagement and improved loyalty,” Meyers says. “Unlike traditional advertising campaigns where results drop off when the spending stops, content marketing is a long-term program that continues to build over time and has a long residual value tail.”

Briody also believes in content marketing’s staying power.

“I don’t think there really is a ceiling to great content marketing,” Briody says. “If you look at trends the major, iconic brands are following, everyone from Nike to Coke and beyond are making amazing content the centerpiece of their entire digital brand experience.

“It increasingly dominates their traditional advertising and is displacing offer-based promotions in everything from email to social to digital paid media. Great content is rapidly become a de facto requirement for great marketing – so the sky’s the limit.”

*ed note: I wrote this piece in 2014 for the National Auctioneers Association’s Auctioneer magazine. I have made it part of my marketing plan and practice as Director of Publications there to educate NAA members and encourage them to use content marketing. -ck