Ben Elowitz made a case for how brands should become publishers in Ad Age this week by saying they should NOT become publishers. For the most part, we agree with him because not ALL brands SHOULD be publishers but ALL brands should create content as though they are.
Elowitz points out that publications are hard businesses to run because you can't always maintain objectivity or take a stand and still get the stuff passed the marketing department. Totally agree. That's why we maintain that to truly have a successful content operation you need to keep content strategy separate from marketing and sales. Here's why:
For any company to be successful in its promotion, all communication has to have a foundation of trust. That has been provided by an independent press over the past half century. The independence and ability of the press to provide that trust has eroded significantly over that time to the point that 80 percent of the American public don't believe the press accurately reports news and information. You take away that trust and everything a marketing and sales executive comes up with is useless. So if your marketing efforts are not trusted and the independent press isn't trusted, what do you do?
You start a content program that runs like a publication. You staff it with people who know how to run a publication, who understand the ethics behind it and who understand how to engage an audience and build their trust. You don't populate the program with rewritten press releases and contributed articles extolling the virtues of your products and services but with video and articles showing real-world problems and solutions. If they happen to include your product and service, great, but that's not the purpose. The purpose is to build a foundation of trust.
Lots of people like to say that corporations can't do that; that it is entirely against their DNA. Let me point something out in answer to that: NBC, CBS and ABC are major entertainment corporations with news and information production being a relatively small part of the operation. Jeff Bezos runs the biggest retail organization in the world and also owns the Washington Post. There have been corporations running news organizations for decades (General Electric) that have nothing to do with their core business and for decades, people trusted their content. What we are seeing now is the expansion of that model from a handful of corporations to multitudes of corporations.
The fact is, however, that not every corporation can do this, financially. But no matter the size of the corporation, all of them can produce content that is trustworthy and fits within the ecosystem of a larger corporation that can afford it.
The question is not whether it CAN be done. The question is whether you are willing to do it, before your competitor wises up and takes you out.