Guest blog: 'Journalists - take a trip with me to the dark side'

By Martin MacConnol, chief executive officer of content marketing agency Wardour

It wasn’t just Luke Skywalker who had to battle with the lure of the dark side.

There was a time in journalism when your roving reporter had to fight it too: stay with the side of light in the newsroom, or move to the more lucrative shadowland of PR spin.

But now the boundary between light and shade is a lot less sharply drawn – and one sector in particular is helping to make it so. It’s called content marketing.

Not heard of it? I’m not surprised. It’s the new name for customer publishing, and it is a sector that should be on every journalist’s radar – for a wide variety of reasons.

The first is that, unlike the world of newspapers and newsstand magazines, it is a sector in growth. Indeed, if you look at the ABC figures for circulation you will find that a lot of the top ten magazines in the UK now belong to brands.

It’s where the journalism story is moving – and as well as the content agencies, we are seeing FTSE companies looking to hire editorial teams.

Of course there is still the stigma that these brand titles are nothing more than a combination of sell, spin and hype. But to think that is to be out of date, because in the last 10 years the sector has become very credible indeed.

Take one piece of my own agency’s output. The work we do for Ernst & Young includes a global magazine that goes out in ten international versions twice a year. Each magazine is crammed with in-depth interviews with leading business people: people such as Howard Schultz the boss of Starbucks, Michael Dell of Dell and Alessandro Benetton of, err, Benetton.

There is no push of EY services involved, it is just implied: it’s an EY magazine and they can bring you the insights from these global business leaders. The content is simply aimed at inspiring business people and is written by leading international business journalists as a result.

So why do the likes of EY take such a seemingly altruistic approach? It’s because they have come to value the insight that you and I learned on local papers.

If you want to connect with people, then it all comes down to good content. On top of that there is now a wealth of research to show that brands which position themselves as information services, which give impartial, added-value content that goes beyond the hard sell, do far better than those that don’t.

Which is all good news for journalists looking to further their careers.  Yes, there is a worthwhile alternative to the dying newsroom. And if you still wonder about having to tow the company line then think about this: at least if you are writing on personal finance for someone like HSBC, then it’s clear exactly what the underlying agenda is.

How much murkier to be working for, say, News International, and having at some level to be conscious of the party line on things like Leveson.

Come to the dark side. You’ll find that actually it’s filled with light.

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