For true success in content marketing… think like a journalist

We were delighted when one of our campaigns recently won the CorpComms award for best use of content.  Here our client, Ellen Bencard, outlines her take on what won it.

My favourite project, a video news magazine called Tomorrow, Today has just won its second award in less than a year: silver in last week’s Lens Awards for Best Long-Term Video Strategy. That’s on the back of the top award for Best Use of Content at the 2022 CorpComms Awards last November.

The series debuted as a live, one-hour broadcast in between the first and second lockdowns. The novelty of having people together in a studio (following all COVID guidelines) and the hunger for insight on the world ahead drove one of the largest live audiences we’d ever seen for a client event in the UK. As life and attention spans returned to normal we evolved to filming and releasing individual segments; same look, tone and purpose, but shorter and more frequent.

It’s been a long time since I’ve run something that gathered this many accolades. What’s been the secret? We delivered the same careful targeting, quality production and quantifiable results that are the table stakes for any award entry. These six elements made the difference.

1.      Think like a journalist, not a marketer

Far too much B2B marketing is driven by corporations pushing out what they want to say rather than responding to what potential clients hunger to know. The core concept of Tomorrow, Today was that we’d approach our market like a broadcaster rather than someone trying to sell something. We’d use copious Accenture research and the insight provided by our client account leads to tap into what’s on people’s minds. We’d see Computer Weekly and The Economist’s Technology Quarterly as our competitors, not other consultants. Unlike those publications, however, we knew we’d have expertise on any topic we wanted to discuss in house and ready to talk. We’d take a journalistic approach to interviews and production: ask the questions that really interest people, don’t waste time on background the audience already knows, ban corporate speak, keep conversations short and punchy.

2.      Take risks for your audience

The journalistic approach sounds logical but can be contentious in a world of corporate marketing where everyone wants complete control over everything. It was certainly different enough to be a  risk for us internally. We were also pushing the limits of corporate and government policies to bring guests and host together in the pandemic. Doing a live broadcast with BBC-style production values brought both technical and financial risk. (It was the right decision for that narrow window in time; it wouldn’t be much later). In each case, we took the risk because our audience insight told us it was a good idea, and our careful planning prepared for everything we thought might go wrong. The result? We were ahead of others in producing something unique and watchable.

3.      Brief your guests for a media interview, not a marketing video

Interviews are only as watchable as the guests in front of the camera. We knew that clients were becoming increasingly jaded by any sort of marketing spin. Yet executives expect marketers to provide key messages, proof points and “golden threads” to deliver when the cameras roll. We got around this by switching out the format of our support documents, using a style the PR team would deploy to prep for a journalist rather than the standard marketing brief. We refused to reveal specific questions in advance, only the topics to be discussed. (Not always popular internally!) And then we hired an outsider to interview them.

4.      Get a great host

Hosts make the show, and we were lucky to work with Oli Barrett. An entrepreneur, presenter and corporate host, his outsider status gave the show a credibility we wouldn’t have had with an in-house interviewer and helped our guests maintain that edge they’d have for a real media interview. Unlike a “real” journalist, however, guests knew he was always on their side. He also, critically, understood and was interested in our topics. The meat of the episode would often be refined between Oli and guests on set while they were getting miked up and waiting for the lighting to be perfected.  Whoever you use as a host, the “secret sauce” needs to be an outsider who’s supportive, and a subject matter lover who’s eager to probe for the fresh and new. Avoid anyone who’s just going to come in and ask the questions you script, no matter how charmingly they may do it.

5.      Lead with social

The longer we went on, the more obvious this one became. Long form video … and yes, eight to 10 minutes is long these days … is only for the committed viewer. You need social snippets of 30 seconds to one minute to draw those viewers in, but also to make your points in “mini episodes” to others. People who will never give you eight minutes can still get the essence of your broadcast if they see a few catchy, beautifully crafted highlights. Social, obviously, also extends your reach and is great for tracking results.

6.      Be flexible

We started with a live broadcast, and at the time thought we’d do another. When the winds were no longer favourable for that, we recorded a similar style show and promoted in segments. Then we moved to filming segments individually. Then evolved to thinking about “social first” as we filmed them. We’ll continue to learn, grow and change based on what we hear from our viewers. Which comes right back to point No. 1. I’m glad my journalism degree is still delivering value after all these years. 

This blog is also on Ellen’s LinkedIn feed.  If you liked it, you could follow her to hear more.

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