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While written content has always been important in communications, it has now become a business in its own right, largely because of the reduced number of journalist roles in traditional media and the voracious appetite of social media with unlimited space to fill.

The two developments have seen many journalists without a job re-invent themselves as content providers, and the development of content production businesses.  Simultaneously, “paid content” has become a major income source for e-newsletters.

Some of the written word content provider business models were initially very profitable but have since come unstuck. One of the reasons for this was that content providers didn’t know enough about the industry they were writing for. Also, some journalists weren’t very good writers but in the print media days this wasn’t always critical if they were good at finding stories. Sub editors could massage the copy.

There have always been advertorials in the print media, but the demarcation between it and editorial was always fairly clear.

These days, while the line between paid for and unpaid content is still there, it is more blurred and the benefits of each do not always seem clear to communicators. Nor do they take best advantage of the content they can access or develop.

Earned content trumps paid

With paid content marketing departments love the ability to place content where they want it. But are they getting the best value from their content development?

While paid content does mean that your message can be placed exactly where you want it to reach target audiences, there are both development and placement costs.

A major benefit of unpaid (or earned) content, in addition to “free” placement, is that it appears with third party endorsement. An editor had decided the content is worth running in their publication, be it print, on-line or some other medium. Consequently, it is always more influential.

Maximise your content strategy

Many content placement programs seem to lack a strategy that looks at how and where content can be used in the right way and at the right time to reach the desired audience. Making it interesting to them is sometimes overlooked in favour of emphasising the company message.

Opportunities can be lost because these basics of communication are ignored, or not applied.

Take timing. Paid content is absolutely under the control of the organisation placing the article or blog. But can it also be used elsewhere? Is there an angle buried in the content that would make a good media release? If so, why not develop it separately and distribute it before the paid content appears. There’s no point in scooping yourself and missing out on reinforcing a message or position and increasing the exposure simply because the paid content is seen as an end in itself.

It surprises us that people develop speeches for a particular event without thinking about how else the content can be used. There are more effective approaches than forwarding copies to a few favoured journalists and hoping they might actually read it.

Avoid ego in audience targets

As to audience, paid content should hit the target every time. But does it? There is increased talk about Tier One media and the like. But is this ego talking? Feeding ego rather than communicating to greatest effect can be a major cause of wasted opportunities. An opinion piece in a metropolitan paper might be nice, and garner the attention of your peers, but is it being seen by clients or potential clients? Similarly, a radio interview might seem appealing but if it’s in the middle of the day, is your audience listening?

Would two or three articles at less cost in the trade press, where it is read (not just seen) by your service users – the precise people you need to reach – be more effective?

Ensure content is relevant

It’s not just placement that is sometimes ineffective. It is also what is said. Content developed solely to promote a company view, position, person or product, is likely to be boring to the audience.  What’s in it for them? It has to be interesting. They must relate to it, be engaged and hopefully be influenced.

To paraphrase Lord Leverhulme, one of the 19th century’s entrepreneurs who invented marketing, 50 per cent of communication and marketing budgets are wasted. But as Leverhulme said, he didn’t know which 50 per cent. Today, ways to get maximum impact and value for money from developed content is an issue not always addressed.

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