The Content Marketing Craze: 7 Ways Publishers Can Fight Back

The Brighter Life website: A wake-up call for publishers?
The new content marketing push is not as scary as it seems. It may even spell major opportunity for publishers.

They’re watching us.

They’re hiring journalists, studying our methods, mimicking our headlines (e.g. “5 Healthy Snacks Your Kids Will Actually Eat”), trying to sound like us, and even playing by our rules. And if we’re not careful, they may eat our lunch.

Following the mantra “Every brand a publisher,” thousands of non-publishing companies have jumped onto the content-marketing bandwagon—in many cases publishing articles and graphics that are on a par with what us “real” publishers produce.

“Successful organizations that excel at content marketing are able to function almost as if they were a publisher or a media company,” writes Forsythe Technology’s Matthew Royse, a content marketing strategist. He advises content marketers to abide by the ethical standards of professional journalists, who “create stories that might refer to a specific product or service, but they don’t directly promote or endorse them.”

A companion article on my Dead Tree Edition blog, “Publishing Without Profits: What’s Behind the Content Marketing Craze?” provides examples of content marketing, AKA “brand journalism”, and explains why so many companies are suddenly dumping major resources into producing content that doesn’t promote their products.

But here’s what it boils down to for the publishing industry: If every brand is a publisher, what happens to publishers? What should we do now that all these companies are vying for our readers’ attention and speaking directly to them—rather than via ads in our publications and on our websites?

Here are seven suggestions:

1. Study what the best content marketers are doing. You need to understand what we’re up against and what the content marketing craze could mean for your business.

Sure, non-publishers have produced a lot of crap under the banner of content marketing. And don’t you just love it when a company’s homepage header prominently displays “Blog” even though it’s posted nothing there for more than a year?

D. Eadward Tree is a pseudonymous magazine-industry insider who provides insights on publishing, postal issues, and print media on his blog, Dead Tree Edition.

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  • Samuel Bonfante

    Thank you for this comprehensive analysis. Like it or not, content marketing is now fully ingrained into the publishing ecosystem. While I don’t disagree with any of your seven suggestions, I’d more overtly emphasize an eighth as part of any publisher’s plan to deal with this phenomenon. That would be to constructively "partner" with top-level content marketers, and not necessarily in the manner you suggest in #6.

    To "white label" your editorial content without providing transparency to readers is not much better than allowing a marketer to anonymously add to content on a publisher’s site. Transparency is important in both directions. Without it readers could be misled, and whether that occurs via marketers content on your site, or yours on theirs is splitting hairs.

    Top publishers should actively engage with content marketers as they would any other source. My advice to publishers is to capture relationships with the savviest and most professional content marketers. Develop channels for exclusive content, and be open and honest with your readers. Your readers are going to find marketers content anyway, it might as well be on your site, and on a regular basis.

  • DeadTreeEdition

    These are insightful comments, Mr. Bonfante. Just to be clear, I was using the term "white label" to mean a publisher creating content for a client’s web site or publications without the content bearing the publication’s name, just as the name of a PR agency doesn’t always appear on content it creates for clients. Transparency is indeed an issue if the same people producing that content are also publishing content about that client for the publisher’s web site or publications. So here’s the challenge: How do we create the deep partner-type relationships with clients, as you rightly advocate, without compromising our editorial integrity? Some publishers address this issue by setting up a content-marketing team that is separate from the editorial department.