This is the 4th 2016 post in my ongoing series entitled, “Reflections On Being A Writer In The 21st Century”. Other posts in this series are available on my Pulse archive page: You can spot them by the banner pic, which is the same the one you see below.
I was trained as a copywriter in the agency business. I loved this work and successfully avoided management positions for nearly two decades. I also picked up strategic development, art direction and broadcast production skills more or less by osmosis. All of which have served me well since I extricated myself from that business.
I’m not a visionary or anything close but I saw, quite clearly the Age of Content Management approaching as far back as 1998. At the time, I was nine years into the independent phase of my career in the communications business.
After leaving the agency business in 1989, I spent a few years working with an art director partner or three, but because I was interested in working with smaller businesses, I started to accelerate the development of my own strategic, art direction and production skills.
This came about more out of necessity, since many of my clients at the time could afford me but not a team. So I ended up becoming a team.
For the first year, I worked with various Mac jockeys, quarterbacking the art direction from the seat next to them. This was the best learning experience I could have had, because the Mac Jockey, the computerized version of the assembly artist, was only interested in how efficiently they could put a layout together, and were happy to teach me a lot of tricks.
And since I was the writer to my own art director, we generally made pretty good time, because we didn’t have to go through the pesky process of discussing changes. I just made them.
Content Management In Embryo Form
About five years into this, which would have been the late 1990s, I started getting involved in email marketing and web site development and that was my first glimpse into what turned out to be the precursor to the content driven world of today.
I was taught this craft by my client at the time, Andrew Keyes, whose company Armantus, was the first ‘digital marketing agency’ I had ever heard of. One of our main clients was Fidelity Investments. I have a whole binder filled with web site and microsite content and long format dedicated emails that we would send to investors, advisers and prospects alike.
Having already had about 10 years of hard core independent B to B experience, I was used to working in longer format print, so it was no big leap for me to slide into the digital world.
When Andrew first interviewed me he asked me how much digital experience I had. I told him I had none. He was thrilled about this and told me so. I asked him why he was so happy to be hiring a guy with no ‘digital’ experience to work with him in his ‘digital’ agency. He said there were actually two reasons besides my longer format B to B experience.
1. I was a digital virgin so I didn’t have to be untrained like so many of the ’content hacks’ he had been talking to of late, and
2. I was a real copywriter. I knew how to sell, which evidently, was uphill work for the aforementioned ‘content hacks”.
This was an incredible learning experience and like all good learning experiences it got me thinking about where it was all headed.
Through many conversations with Andrew, who is a really smart cookie, I started to realize that this so called ‘digital’ world was really in its infancy and a huge part of the way forward – mostly because, for a lot of advertisers at that time, it represented ways to effectively reach their target audiences at considerably less cost than, say, a direct mail campaign or any other form of mass media for that matter.
The Couch Potato Chronicles
I actually started using some early content marketing techniques in my own promotion.
My first concept was called The Couch Potato Chronicles, which was really a kind of op/ed and review column that covered a number of different areas of my own interest. I reviewed movies, TV series, books, sports, and wrote editorials on the TV industry and the sports industry as well.
I always made sure that each column (2000-3000 wds) I wrote, and emailed out to a database of close to 1200 people, had a little paragraph at the end explaining who I was, what I did, and how to get in touch with with me.
Over the 10 years I wrote and distributed this ‘content’, I started to see that the ROI was very low – less than 1%. But in my business, any piece of new business that you got wasn’t just a project but the potential beginning of a relationship.
All I had to do was convert them, and, as it turned out, I was quite good at that. Most of them lasted quite a while and constituted a good percentage of my client base. In fact, one of them, with designer Bill Tibbles, is still active.
But the best thing was that the overall engagement levels were quite high and my circulation grew from the original 1200 up into the area of 7300. So about a 600% increase, which averaged out to about 60% per year.
This later morphed into my current blogging platform, but I still continue to write mini reviews on Facebook under the Couch Potato Chronicles banner.
So What’s The Point Here?
The ‘digital’ marketing we were doing in the early days of the century was literally a fart in a windstorm. But it has now, especially with the advent of social media and a zillion or two different platforms, arguably become a marketing necessity in today’s world.
Companies who feel the need to play this game tend to cycle through a lot of what I call content babies. Sadly, these people and their BAs in English are pretty good at assembling a bunch of factoids into some sort of passable content, which I would argue is really just part of the huge glut of faceless drivel you see everywhere.
Stuff that nobody reads. Nobody shares. And very few actually engage with.
Why? Because these people, bless their pointed little heads, have never had the benefit of the hard core experience of learning to write stuff that sells in an agency environment where everything is measured and your future employment is tied directly to your performance year over year.
Content. Love It Or Hate It, We’re Stuck With It For Now.
You can argue that the ‘customer’ is different these days. They want more affirmation. Want to kick the tires a little longer. Want to be convinced of your expertise, blah, blah, blah.
And frankly, except for a few stories I have heard here and there, this great customer paradigm shift has never really been proven to my satisfaction. But that’s a whole other argument.
The bottom line is some good advice from someone who has been managing ‘content’ since way before the concept was even created:
If you’re playing the content marketing game that so many companies have been seduced into by the way that digital marketers have reshaped the landscape, don’t hire a virgin to do a hooker’s job. Hire a writer who knows how to sell. Who knows how to craft subtle selling arguments and cajole people into engagement. You will see the difference this kind of writing can make in your content market program.
Maybe not instantly, but soon, and for the the better.
Just remember, it’s called content marketing not content-papering-the-walls. If there is not a selling component in every substantial piece of content you are creating, you are doing your own marketing program a disservice. And pretty much wasting your time and money.
Smart carpenters always buy the best the best tools they can afford and believe that every piece of wood is a thing of beauty, just waiting to be shaped.
The same is true for content marketing. You get what you pay for. But when you hire an experienced writer who actually knows how to sell, you get a hell of a lot more.
FOOTNOTE: You might be tempted to look at this as a piece of blatant self-promotion. And you would be right. But over and above that, it’s designed to get people to shift the emphasis in their content marketing more strongly towards the ‘marketing’ side. Just remember that the digital marketers out there may well be interested in your ultimate success, but they are also, in my opinion, determined to make sure that it takes a good long time. And maybe it really doesn’t have to. It’s something to think about.
I’m a communications professional. Primarily a writer. Through my own core skills as a strategist, writer & art director and with the help of a select group of insanely talented associates, I work with primarily B to B clients, large and small to create hard working communications in whatever sector of the marketing universe their strategy dictates the need to travel through. I am also a mentor, blog post editor and a pretty decent photographer.
If you have a marketing or communications challenge you would
like to discuss, I would like to offer you a free one hour conversation.
Email me to set up a time to talk. firstname.lastname@example.org
Direct Line: 416 463-3475 • Skype: jimbobmur61
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Text and Photos Copyright © 2016 by Jim Murray — All Rights Reserved
Photo Model…Rowan Thomas Murray…age 4.