The “Content” Question: Where Branding, Marketing and Publishing Blur

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ADOTAS – This past Thursday, March 29, was the day of the Post Advertising Summit, an event hosted by the professional and buttoned-up content marketing agency Story Worldwide.

But first, a flashback:

Four articles. Four was the number of articles required to become an official staff writer at my college newspaper. I had scraped together three. The fourth one, apparently, involved something about “collusion.”

“A collision?” I may have asked my editor six or seven times.

“No.” he said. “Collusion. We want you to investigate allegations of collusion in the admissions office. You may want to bone up a little bit on antitrust law.”

And that was that. Journalism, at least practiced according to the standards of my college newspaper, seemed like an awful lot of hard work. I never made it to the masthead: Even then, I couldn’t in good faith lay claim to the title of “journalist.”

I am, in fact, a principal at another content marketing agency, Movable Media. And in the way of content marketers, and the many brands that are becoming publishers, I now occasionally find myself writing featured author posts for publications like this one on the topic of content marketing.

Which is why a PR person thought it would be a good idea to invite me to attend Story Worldwide’s Post Advertising Summit as a journalist.

You begin to see the problem? As brands and individuals become publishers — and individuals begin creating and distributing content for their own purposes rather than direct compensation — things are going to get quite confusing. The “journalist” your PR team recruits to cover your event might, in fact, work for a competitive firm. (MovableMedia isn’t really competitive with Story Worldwide, since we focus exclusively on featured author programs for brands –but that is a pretty nuanced difference.) At any rate, at least I’m not in PR, because figuring out that business is about to get really hard.

I am glad to report that the moment I donned the gray tag reading “Press,” I instantly felt all possible bias drain away, while a palpable sense of journalistic integrity and objective neutrality washed over me.

Perhaps it has always been this way.

The underlying message of the Post Advertising Summit is this: Brands are going to become publishers and content creators, because advertising driven publishing is increasingly vulnerable and possibly completely broken (for evidence of this, see above).

As Simon Kelly, the COO of Story Worldwide, explained to me, the purpose of the summit was a thought experiment.

“We thought it might be cool to see if Story Worldwide could make a piece of useful and a piece of entertaining content in a live environment,”said Kelly.

A fair amount of the day, therefore, was an interactive dog-and-pony show that demonstrated Story Worldwide’s capabilities and content development process. By the end of the day, SW had brainstormed and built a pair of useful and entertaining pieces of content (respectively) for two potential partners: The Weekly World News, and Blue Man Group.

As a neutral observer, I thought both the dog and the pony looked great, if a bit similar. In both cases, Story Worldwide came up with an iPhone/iPad application that encouraged fan participation.

If I had to quibble, I’d say they had picked pretty easy targets with two well-defined and successful content creators. The Weekly World News and Blue Man Group understand their audience and their core appeal at an incredibly deep level, an understanding honed and refined over decades. So we were, at best, turning publishers into publishers. This, admittedly, is an easier task than turning brands into publishers.

But all in all, if you were a brand that needed a talented and professional group of creatives to design and build a content strategy from the ground up (which might very well end up including an community-involving iPhone app), you would do well with Story Worldwide.

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