Content marketers receive an apology. Now they must work to deserve it.
In the fall of 2011, when Joe Pulizzi got six hundred people to schlep to Cleveland, Ohio, to talk about content marketing, you knew that the concept he had coined was beginning to take hold.
Around the same time, the brand giant Coca-Cola announced and described its “Content 2020” strategy in such manic detail that the video needed an intermission. That was a big deal too.
And then earlier this month, The New York Times did a story about the merger between McMurry and TMG Custom Media. The story said the custom-publishing industry is “being revitalized as part of a trend as advertisers increasingly become involved in the creation of content aimed at customers, known as content marketing.”
So hundreds and thousands of marketers practice it, the world’s best-known brand endorses it and The New York Times acknowledges it.
If content marketers didn’t feel legitimized by all that, then they surely did last week, when they were apologized to by one of the most prominent people in the marketing business.
“It’s not that I think Content Marketing is evil,” the social media guru Shel Israel had written last month on his blog at Forbes.com. “Instead, I think it is lame and ineffective as a strategy.”
Israel, the coauthor of the landmark social media book Naked Conversations, was publicly, promptly and politely schooled in his comments section, first by renowned content marketing consultant Lee Odden, who pointed out that nine out of 10 B2B marketers are using content marketing, and many of them are using it intelligently: “The content marketers I know use customer insight, interests, goals and pain points to create editorial plans and that provide utility, not noise. It’s meaningful storytelling, not just mechanical spray and pray.”
Then came Pulizzi himself, who used his usual mild-mannered style to basically say, Duder, I invented content marketing. “I chose to use content marketing as a term for the industry a decade ago because CMOs and marketing executives understood that term easier than the others … and it has stuck.” And as he always hastens to do, Pulizzi acknowledged that content marketing has been around for “hundreds of years” and is simply “the idea that companies, instead of attracting and retaining customers through distraction, create relevant, valuable and helpful information on a consistent basis to maintain or change a behavior.”
“An Apology to Content Marketers” was the headline of Israel’s Jan. 6 Forbes post. “I did not bother to research just what the term [content marketing] meant,” Israel wrote. “I ranted and, by doing so, displayed an area of personal ignorance.”
In a phone conversation with Odden, Israel discovered that content marketing is actually what he recommended in Naked Conversations and what he does for a living, writing white papers or guest blogs for clients. “The longer we talked, the larger the foot in my mouth felt,” Israel wrote. “So I apologize to all the content marketers I have offended.”
A civilized exchange all the way around, wouldn’t you say?
But now that content marketers have been apologized to, they must continue to earn the respect with which they’ve been treated. In the course of his correspondence with Israel, Odden acknowledged, “Of course there are opportunists in every industry including PR and journalism that take shortcuts with shortsighted intent. But that does not define the entire channel or industry..”
But it can. Content marketing is a new name for an old practice, and the fresh term gives us a brief window where people will to take our word when we define ourselves by our best work, not our worst.
So let’s make our best better.
And our worst?
“Don’t do bad work,” a wise adman once told his staff, “and bad work won’t get done.”
David Murray is a longtime commentator on communication. The editor of Vital Speeches of the Day, he also writes for magazines and newspapers. And he blogs about his work and his life at Writing Boots.