In a recent LinkedIn post, Kyle Cassidy proposed Why ‘Content Marketing’ Needs to be Killed Dead and Buried Deep. Cassidy is a former ad agency content marketer who has grown tired of the term and wants to see it retired. His well-written – and somewhat tongue-in-cheek – post gives some solid reasons why the term should be put out of its misery, including over-inclusive usage that renders it meaningless, not unlike the cutesy names that are now applied to departments that used to be called “personnel” and “marketing.” Given that our hosts both come from a long-standing journalism tradition in which the quality of our words was Job #1, he does have some salient points to consider.
I had an opportunity to discuss this on a recent podcast that I do with Paul Gillin here. If you don’t know Paul, he is cut from the same cloth as I: a long-time technology journalist who has started numerous pubs and websites and has written several books.
Cassidy writes about the “hot mess of skills” that can be found in the typical content marketer, who as he says is “a steaming pile of possibility” that combines “a savvy copywriter, editor, and brand strategist” all rolled up into one individual. True enough: you need a lot of skills to survive these days. But one skill that he just briefly mentions is something that both Paul and I have in spades. We consider ourselves journalists first and marketing our “content” a distant second.
Cassidy has a good point: “Content Marketing is a meaningless term. PR is content. Product is content. Blogs and social are content. Emails are content. Direct mail is content.” Yes, but. Not all content is created equal. Some content is based on facts, and some isn’t. Without a solid foundation in determining facts you can’t market anything, whether it is content or the latest music tracks. You have to speak truth to power, as the old Quaker saying goes.
Of course, fact-based journalism – what we used to call just “journalism” – is under siege as well these days, given the absence and abuse of facts that is streaming live every day from our nation’s capital. The notions of fake news – what we used to call rumors, exaggerations, lies and misleading statistics – is also rife and widespread. And even the New York Times seems to have trouble finding the right person to quote recently.
Part of me wants to assign blame to content marketers for these trends. But the real reason is just laziness on the part of writers, and the lack of any editors who in the olden days – say ten years ago – used to work with them to sharpen their writing, find these lazy slips of the keyboard, and hold their fingers to the fire to make sure they checked their quotes, found another source, deleted unsupported conclusions and the like. I still work with some very fine editors today, and they are uncanny how quickly they can zoom in on a particular weak spot in my prose. Even after years of writing and thousands of stories published, I still mess up. It isn’t (usually) deliberate: we all make mistakes. But few of us can find and fix them. Part of this is the online world we now inhabit.
But if the online world has decimated journalists, it really has taken its toll on editors who are few and infrequently seen. Few publications want to take the time to pass a writer’s work through an editor: the rubric is post first, fix later. Be the first to get something “out there,” irregardless (sic.) of its accuracy. As I said, you can’t be your own editor, no matter how much experience you might have and how many words a week you publish. You need a second (and third) pair of eyes to see what you don’t.
When I first began in tech journalism in the mid-1980s, we had an entire team of copy editors working at “the desk,” as it was called. The publication I was working for at the time was called PC Week, and we put the issue to bed every Thursday night. No matter where in the world you were, on Thursday nights you had to be near a phone (and this was the era before cell phones were common). You invariably got a call from the desk about something that was awry with your story. It was part of the job.
Several years ago, I was fortunate to do freelance work for the New York Times. It was a fun gig, but it wasn’t an easy one. By the time my stories would be published in the paper, almost every word had been picked over and changed. Some of these changes were so subtle that I wouldn’t have seen them if the track changes view wasn’t turned on. A few (and very few) times, I argued with the copy desk over some finer point. I never thought that I would miss either of those times. They seem like quaint historical curiosities now.
So let’s kill off the term content marketing, but let’s also remember that if we want our content to sing, it has to be true, fact-based, and accurate. Otherwise, it is just the digital equivalent of a fish wrapper.
Going back to our podcast, Paul and I next pick up on the dust-up between Crowdstrike and NSSLabs over a test of the former’s endpoint security products. Crowdstrike claims NSS tests didn’t show its product in the best light and weren’t ‘authorized’ to review it. It’s even taken NSS to court. Our view: too bad. If you don’t like the results, shame on you for not working more closely with the testers. And double shame for suing them. David has been on the other end of this scenario for a number of years and offers an inspiring anecdote about how a vendor can turn a pig’s ear into a silken test. Work with the testing press, and eventually, you too can turn things around to benefit both of you.
Finally, we bring up the issue of a fake tweet being used by the New York Times and Newsmax in regards to the firing of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn earlier this week. The Times eventually posted a correction, but if the Grey Lady of journalism can be fooled, it brings up questions of how brands should work with parody or unauthorized social media accounts. Lisa Vaas has a great post on Naked Security that provides some solid suggestions on how to vet accounts in the future: Look for the blue verification check mark, examine when the account was created and review the history of tweets.
You can listen to our podcast (23 min) here: