Five things I took from the Brands as Publishers talk at London Tech Week

By Joey Green

Sarah and I headed down to Hackey House during London Tech Week to listen to Mary Ellen Dugan, WP Engine, Paul Mikhailoff, Forbes, and Scott Wilkinson, Virgin Media talk about brands as publishers, all moderated by the very personable Julian Blake, Digital Agenda.

Quality content and placement is critical

You might think ‘well, duh’ but it’s surprising how many brands a) don’t produce enough content and b) don’t put enough effort into it and c) don’t think about where and what time they’re placing it. As Mary said, brands need a unique perspective, they need their own content and it needs to be delivered continuously to build customer loyalty. Forbes famously said ‘publish or perish’ before launching a place where brands can publish their content onto the Forbes website. A conversation will happen whether a brand is involved or not and so brands really should get involved.  The success of the content is down to its quality and audiences expect effort to be made if they’re going to engage with it.

In terms of placement, grown-up brands understand human psychology and will respect the demographic of the audience and where they’re consuming the content – whether it’s their own customers on their own channels or whether it’s Forbes’ readership. Forbes also help brands to learn to use data, something which is critical if you want engagement. Understanding channels and timings is also vital and comes with using data correctly - long-form content doesn’t work late at night when everyone’s on their phones instead of their desktops and posting ten Instragram shots in a row is an unwritten no no.

Don’t try and bullshit your audience

Although people are more willing to engage with a brand’s content (providing its of a good quality) they certainly don’t like it when you try and bullshit them with fake stuff. Audiences are savvy nowadays, more than ever before, and they know when content has an agenda so don’t bother to try and trick them. Paul said that brands need to move away from a glossy façade and start representing the people – he clarified that brands he sees that publish the best content are the ones who allow their employees to be thought leaders. We agree. Having Jeff from HR take over the brand’s Twitter for the day and post pictures of his cats and terrible yet great puns will make content more authentic and more real and in return audiences will trust the brand more. On of our clients, Tesco Mobile is great at having a funny, personable Twitter presence and often gets covered in the likes of Buzzfeed for it.

Equally, the likes of Forbes doesn’t try to hide anything from their audience and doesn’t dress up a brand’s content as journalism. If content is coming from a brand then they make that clear – according to Paul this doesn’t affect results either, a recent article from a brand received over one million views and counting.

Red Bull sets the bar high

All panellists agreed that Red Bull is at the forefront of brands as publishers. People are not only willing to engage with the content Red Bull produces but actively seek it out. Every campaign is a success – people want to know about it and journalists want to write about it – it’s one of the best examples of how decent content can deliver earned media and results.

Branded content’ is not the same thing as brands delivering content

The term ‘branded content’ doesn’t sit well with Scott as it suggests that its self-serving to the brand, not the audience, which isn’t the case anymore if you do it properly. Scott believes, and we agree, that the future will see branded content become smoother and smoother moving toward brand’s producing content as a natural thing. Could certain brand’s blogs overtake news sites? We’re not sure but it’s certainly possible. On one side, a journalist is still more trusted by the public than a brand’s employee but Red Bull, for example, regularly releases news and is arguably no less of an online publication than a sports or music site. It also boasts around 850k users per month yet isn’t listed on the PRs best friend, Gorkana. There’s still two sides to the story but we could see this changing in the next five years.

Content should be at the heart of everything

Content should be at the heart of your campaign, according to Scott from Virgin Media Business and we at Fanclub couldn’t agree more. Scott talked us through how the ‘Pitch to rich’ (now Voom) which produced tonnes of user-generated content and took Virgin Media Business from 12pc awareness to 45pc awareness over just two years.


The humble newsletter: our guide to producing the best

By Emily Barnes

External communication is imperative to a company- its what keeps us in a job, at least. Email newsletters are a great way to share content and a powerful tool for positioning an agency as leaders in their field, giving clients assurance by mapping agency thoughts on their needs, what they’re producing and the work that inspires them; and can be an impressive marketing tactic to showcase agency culture to potential business.

Nevertheless, we've all received a newsletter that we've sent straight to the trash. Why? Because, well…its easy for them to be dull, too long, irrelevant and everything in between.

Apart from a good database of recipients, a slick design and good copywriting, what makes bloody good newsletter content?

We've come up with some nifty guidelines for creating an effective company newsletter, with some helpful advice from a couple of our B2B clients who have a particularly impressive track record for creating some exemplary readable content, if we do say so ourselves.

Valuable content: balancing education and self-promotion

The most obvious start is to make sure, above all else, that your newsletter has value. Like most things, you have to ensure that you're not producing content for the sake of it. Fanclub’s client Emily Maginess, Marketing and Communications Manager at The App Business, explained that the mobile transformation agency ‘Wanted a platform to be able to share not just our own stories, but to give clients access to the knowledge and thinking that we share routinely here.’

Subscribers are going to be bombarded with regurgitated, lazy newsletters, and will just blacklist your offering if its seeping with self-promotion. Whilst you certainly have to weave a bit of narcissism in there (10% is a good rule), the best content will do that work for you, by marking your company as thought leaders and a hub of education and inspiration. Genuinely. For marketing technology agency Techdept, Chief Executive Dan Kirby quite simply produces a newsletter that will ‘give readers good quality content that helps them understand tech’.

It’s sensible to consistently follow a vague structure of a concise spread of original thinking, interesting finds from the industry and beyond, and company news. That way, readers can cherry pick the most interesting parts.

Newsletters should aim to be a voice in a wider conversation, and be generous with their commentary and insight. Think about how you communicate the passion and breadth of thinking that goes into your work; tell the world about how the things you’ve seen, heard or places you’ve been have influenced what you produce or will produce in the future.

Make it personal with ear (and eye) candy

You want people to know who you are and what you're about, beyond the industry realms. What are you watching or listening to? Getting the team to recommend music, podcasts and TV shows, for example, or share personal interests is a great place to start to share your enthusiasm both in and out of the office. You don’t have to stick to company and industry news and thoughts for value; positioning individuals in a wider conversation is simply more engaging. ‘Our strategists are just as likely to talk about conditions and experiences in prisons improving as discussing mobile trends’ adds Emily at The App Business.

That said, keep it succinct

The difference between a newsletter and a blog is that the newsletter offers a quick read through of inspiration without getting too bogged down with content. Link away to your favourite pieces, but leave the in-depth stuff to the blog and keep content short and sweet. Think commentary rather than analysis.

The best newsletters keep content simple but address it very well. Again, a concise structure, headlines an’ all, as well as great copywriting is important in nailing this smart simplicity.

Consistency and process

Bit of a no-brainer, but as with any communication, consistency is key to success and will reap the most rewards.

It’s useful to employ the same tools, individuals and processes for curating your newsletter, or a simple system for delegating who will be

For The App Business, their #TABUpdates issues are curated by strategists, engineers, designers and agile coaches, who work to an effective timeframe. ‘We picked a tool called Curated which allows us to collaborate in house, and work fluid in a 10 day sprint. For the first 5 days we are swapping ideas, thoughts and links, and the following week we’re polishing and crafting. Keeping it narrow in those timescales has kept the content fresh and current’, says Emily.

Get everyone to chip in with ideas for content; whether a completely organic suggestion or request to contribute to a topic or thinking hotspot. Don’t get preoccupied with thinking too long-term: ask people what they’re interested in right now, to keep it timely.

Shareability: the office and beyond

More than their marketing abilities, newsletters are a nice method of internal engagement that can inspire and motivate the team. Company news and goings-on can make your team feel valued and part of the end product, as well as inspiring each other with musings from a variety of places, producing a final piece of work that acts as a feel-good resource.

So, there we have it: Fanclub’s suggestions for newsletters that will get people’s ears pricked just enough to please a whole host of the most time-conscious subscribers.

We’ll leave you with the following thought from Techdept’s Dan Kirby: ‘Newsletters should have good content that is genuinely useful to the person receiving it. NOONE WANTS TO READ PR PUFFERY.’

Never a truer word said.


4 tips to fine-tune content to drive business leads

How much of your week do you dedicate to creating content for your business? Blogs, tweets, LinkedIn posts, email campaigns, website copy, credentials, reports. The list goes on, and if you’re going to invest time into making them, they should work as hard as they can for you. So we’ve come up with these little tips to fine-tune your content to make sure that they’re driving new business leads for your company.

  1. Host an event around your content. Nothing beats getting face-time with your prospective clients. So if your content is hot enough, launch it with some drinks for your clients and an opportunity to network with their peers. You’ll be surprised how well this works. One of our favourite events is the one hosted by the guys at Techdept. The Tech Off, a “Fight Club for Geeks”. It’s very creatively packaged (check out the website) and is aimed at marketing technologists and was so in demand, the Cannes Lions invited them to host a Tech Off event there.

 

  1. Eat, Sleep, Index, Repeat If you can create valuable insight into something your customers want and that changes all the time, do it over and over again and get famous for it, like The Economist’s Big Mac Index, to measure X. Our favourite example of this is from Prestige Purchasing, which works with the procurement directors of food service companies. As you can imagine, these guys are always interested in what’s happening with the price of things like cheese or fish. So Prestige Purchasing creates the annual Food Inflation Index, which it launches at an event. It’s so good, the BBC, Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror, along with all of the hospitality trade press have written about it (with our help, of course). Another one is Urban Airship’s Good Push Index, a report on which brands are using push notifications well.

 

  1. How you doin’? Bench-marking reports are lovely opportunity to name-check your prospects, if your team can invest the time. Pick a list of companies (the FTSE 100, the top 5 supermarkets or whatever) and benchmark them against something your company does. Use this to place feature articles, host masterclasses and for new business outreach to the companies mentioned. Who doesn’t want to hear how they’re performing against their peers and tips on how to beat their competitors? We love this banking app benchmarking report from Adaptive Labs. Simple and effective. 

 

  1. Seek and ye shall find – There are some topics that your customers are searching for all the time. So, why not provide a shot of inspiration with a blog post? Use Google’s Keyword Planner Tool, to find search volumes and create some content to fill that gap. Often, your customers are looking for examples of best practice, so a gallery format can work well. Here’s one from e-commerce platform Shopify, which lists 30 Beautiful and Creative e-commerce website designs. It appears top of Google when you search for ‘Best ecommerce sites’. Smart. And what’s that you say? This blog post? No, we wouldn’t do that, would we?