June 19, 2013

Sorry, what’s your title?

funny_business_card

Here goes a typical conversation at a media networking event:

Them: Hi.

Me: Hi.

Them: What do you do ?

Me: Write some words and stuff

Them: For who?

Me: For brands and for a few publications

Them: Ah! So are you a marketeer or a journalist?

Me: I am both…

Them: So you’re like a social media slash digital journalist slash social media content manager?

Me: Kinda.

*Of course this is written with editorial jest and probably isn’t completely reflective of my overall tone at such events, of course I am a highly engaging and enthusiastic individual upon meeting new acquaintances*

So why I am boring you to death with this snap shot of reocurring small talk? Because PR/marketing has grown and changed and developed so much, that brands online strategies now cross over with some aspects of editorial journalism, embrace the news and certainly the networks that are based on news delivery (i.e Twitter). But it’s a still a bit of a grey area. Social marketing has become so savvy and intricate that adverts actually blend with social content, whether it’s through Facebook ads or nifty sponsored articles on Buzzfeed or Huffington Post. Adverts are all around us, but they no longer live on billboards above the motorway, they are everywhere. But this isn’t just bombarding, this is clever targeting. The stuff that Amazon is famous for. This stuff definitely is not PR and it’s not completely advertising. It’s a new breed of modern marketing and old systems are quite clearly crumbling.

I recently stumbled across an interesting article written by Ben Fenton a senior consultant at my old place of work (Edelman). When I read the title “Journalists and content managers: ‘the same but different?”, I thought that the comparison between content marketers and journalists would be discussed as being a good thing, that finally people have realized that ‘brand strategists’ and ‘journalists’ were actually not from different planets, but actually these skills were transferrable and actually a real benefit to each other. Instead, he questions why we now call website editors/writers or social media editors/writers “content managers” and how it is kind of a sad state of affairs, boiling all the cool ideas and clever copy down to solely being “content”. Although I think the fact that people are now making an established connection between brand content strategy and journalism is a good thing (hardly any agencies are fully embracing it), I also agree with Ben that this word ‘content’ is putting people off. We don’t think of newspapers as a “sheets of content” or a novel as “chapters of content”. We think of it as a place I like ‘read cool and interesting stuff’. The more brands and journalists stick to ‘cool and interesting stuff’ the better.

I believe social media agencies need to treat their content processes much like a publishing house would. This means creating roles for specialists. A newspaper or publishing house would not expect ONE person to be the all-seeing all-dancing writer/editor/advertising manager/photographer.. It’s just not feasible. To create a slick system where you are creating amazing content on behalf of a brand I believe you need specialist areas of expertise assembled as one team, collaborating and creating together. The days are long gone where some sort of all-in-one-manager is running the show. They will be spread too thinly, gaps and cracks will be begin to show and then other specialists will be hired in his/her place. Do what you do best and do it well. Too many cooks spoil the broth process, but one cook wouldn’t be nearly enough.

When I started working in PR, I was told that managing brands was the polar opposite to journalism, it was us and them. Our job was to ring journalists (and also took them out for ridiculously expensive meals at Dean St Townhouse) and then subtly ask them to write about our brand. Now, with the social media boom  brands have owned channels which often have a bigger following that a blog or magazine. We know need our own illustrators, photographers, graphic designers, artists, models, writers, editors, asset managers. Big brands now have owned platforms such as millions of fans on Facebook, or their own snazzy blog, or a non-stop Twitter account. Some times these fan numbers match a TV audience. They can put out their own messages in their own quirky way. A lot like journalists, ey.

Social media agencies are now hiring editorial teams and editorial directors. Some great ones already have them in place. The days we use to send hi-res imagery and a press release to the media are limited, now we write our own stories and we publish them too. It’s never been a more exciting time to be “a social media slash digital journalist slash social media content manager”. In my view.

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