So what is content marketing, really? That was one of the big questions last week at a major panel discussion entitled “Content Marketing: Selling Softly, Selling Smartly” hosted by the NYU Publishing Alumni Association and the NYU School of Professional Studies Center for Publishing. Alumni, students, guests, and friends gathered to hear Joe Puglisi, Senior Creative Strategist at BuzzFeed, Kristin Fritz, Senior Director of Content Marketing in the Digital Operations Group at Penguin Random House (U.S.), and Sam Slaughter, Vice President of Content at Contently, discuss the rise of content marketing (sometimes called “native advertising”) and how it can help build a business and a personal brand. The event was moderated by Jane Grenier, Executive Director of Global Marketing at Condé Nast Media Group and a member of the NYU M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media faculty.
The “CM” words are sometimes controversial as they refer to a strategy of integrating sponsored content into timelines, newsfeeds, websites, and more. Generally, this paid content delivers information rather than directly “sells,” and is designed to mesh with the look and feel of the hosting brand. In fact, when the three panelists showed examples of content marketing to the audience, there was often confusion as to what was editorial content and what was advertising.
Under Grenier’s deft questioning, the distinguished panelists explained how content marketing is quickly outstripping banner and other advertising as a way to reach customers and build an audience. Sam Slaughter opened up the event by telling us about Contently, which was created four years ago to provide freelance journalists and creative people with a platform for publishing content. Slaughter described Contently as “helping brands build high-value audiences through premium content.” He said there are three major components to Contently: talent, tools, and data, flanked by two more key elements to their business: strategy and distribution. And what is the value of CM in his view? “It’s about building relationships with potential customers,” Slaughter said.
Kristen Fritz spoke next, describing two major pieces of strategy in the corporate team for digital marketing at Random House: one is social media and the other is category verticals. The social media element gives readers what they want in addition to books, while the category verticals Word & Film, Suvudu, Biographile, and Everyday eBook, provide readers with an opportunity to look into the stories behind the books. Fritz believes these two elements give authors greater reach, and in turn, greater sales. Of course, she noted, the material has to be compelling. “If you are putting something out there with your brand, it should be the best content possible,” she explained.” Everything comes back to the greater brand of Penguin Random House. All content we are creating is going to come from what we are trying to do at our core.”
Joe Puglisi then introduced himself and BuzzFeed, saying that the company creates content they believe will be shared because people identify with it in some way, as a publisher, or as a brand advertising on the site. BuzzFeed develops content that appeals to a specific audience and has an emotional element. Of course, BuzzFeed is known for its content marketing-only approach (no banner ads), and this doesn’t always come easy, “Clients think they are interested in native advertising or a content marketing platform but really want traditional advertising,” he explained. One aspect of Puglisi’s job is to show clients the importance not only of content marketing, but putting it in the right context.
Slaughter stressed that there is a difference between “information and entertainment on the one hand and news on the other,” and that transparency is super important. Fritz said that she is constantly asking herself: “What can we offer our readers that is going to be really interesting to them and align with our brands?” Slaughter added: “It’s about building relationships so when the time comes to buy, you’re the one they think of. That’s our sweet spot, when we work with brands that understand that.”
From BuzzFeed’s perspective, said Puglisi, the first thing to remember as content marketers is that you are a service providing a solution to a problem, and that you are “leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for people with a call to action at the end.” Added Fritz: “We are not driving directly to sales. We are tapping into communities that are already there and gaining their trust so they will go for something we really want them to buy.” In fact, all agreed that tracking the direct conversion from content marketing to sales, while not far off, is not necessarily the primary objective.
To close, Grenier asked the panel what they are looking for in new hires. Fritz said that she seeks the full suite of skills, including writing clean and convincing copy and knowledge of SEO and social media. Slaughter, on the other hand, said that he seeks journalists who know one category really well. In addition, he looks for people who are able to speak the language of a journalist but also understand the problems marketers have. Puglisi added that his employees must speak the language of the media and the Web, which is a very human but also a very nontraditional language; once they understand that, they must translate that language into something brands can understand as well.
Intrigued by all this? M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students have the option of taking an Advanced Seminar in Content Marketing next summer taught by Grenier. As for everybody else? Keep checking out BuzzFeed, Contently, and Penguin Random House for that soft, smart sell.
by Randi C. Abel