Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.

Tom Idle
29th March 2018 - 8 mins read

I couldn’t bear to sit around on the sidelines any longer while some agencies just messed things up,” is how James puts it when I ask why he’s decided to venture into the world of content marketing.

In his six years as MD of Media First, James and his team have been asked more and more to help with different communications challenges – to present better, to deliver more impactful messages, to shoot and edit film, to hone communications. “We’ve been naturally moving towards helping with content marketing over the years. Now, with Thirty Seven we will get to help our amazing clients in a much more involved way.”

James is joined by Mark, an ex-Microsoft application development consultant, who has been running his own content and design agency for the last five years. Having worked together enhancing Media First’s own content marketing and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) performance, the pair decided to team up.

“We’ve built a loyal following and I enjoy knowing that what we are producing is worthwhile and entertaining,” adds James. “I knew that, so long as we kept enjoying the creative process and stayed true to our journalist-led concepts of always putting the audience first, then there was a good chance that people would continue to enjoy reading, watching and listening to the content we were making.”

Enjoying the frisson of their new business launch, the pair were keen to tell me how and why they plan to do content marketing better.

 

It seems that your decision to establish Thirty Seven was based on a belief that most content marketing is poor. What’s wrong with it? 

Mark Mars (MM): So much content is produced without any strategy behind it and the quality just isn’t there.

When it comes to SEO, there has been such a focus on creating pages that rank for certain keywords. What you often end up with is lots and lots of content which might create a decent search ranking, but the quality is so poor that visitors don’t stick around for long. Google has caught up with that and now has more quality measures in place.

James White (JW): SEO and content are still considered by some agencies to be separate pieces of work. But they need to be considered together. You don’t produce good SEO with poorly developed content; it just doesn’t work.

Also, the content marketing industry seems to be in a race to produce the most amount of stuff. Quality is coming second to quantity.

 

But clearly your customers are increasingly aware of the need to improve content quality. How have you evolved to cope with changing client needs?

MM: A hell of a lot has changed in the last five years. Back in 2014, spend in content marketing was about £125 million a year. By 2020, it is set to jump to around £350 million, so brands really understand that this is the best way to reach their audiences.

There is also more appetite from consumers to digest content in many different forms, which opens up plenty of opportunity for publishers and content creators.

But that is not to say that it is being done particularly well. About 80% of B2B marketers claim to use content marketing. But 70% of them lack a consistent or integrated content strategy—and that’s a big problem. There has been too much focus on quantity over quality.

JW: ‘Quality’ is such a generic term because it’s all subjective. You need to develop the right content, for the right audience, in the right format, at the right time and in the right place.

Brands need to think more like publishers to really get the value out of content.

 

You use journalists to deliver content for your customers. The benefits of doing that might be obvious, but what is it you’re getting from journalists that you might not get from other content creators?

JW: Well, content should be more than just marketing. It’s not just good enough these days to tell good stories. You have to educate, entertain and excite audiences. You have to give people a reason to care.

Journalists inherently get this. They know how to sniff out unique stories that make people stop, sit up and listen. My wife is a journalist and she has a great ability to be brutally honest. I could spend all day coming up with, what I think is, a great idea. I’ll go home and tell her about it and she’ll challenge me by saying something like, “Who cares? Why will your audience give a damn?”

And that’s what’s great about journalists. They can easily put themselves in somebody else’s shoes and work out how people tick. That’s why I’ve loved working with our team of journalists at Media First these past six years.

 

Back in 2014, spend in content marketing was about £125 million a year. By 2020, it is set to jump to around £350 million...

 

All of your customers will have very different needs. How do you approach each piece of work to deliver the best results?

MM: Well, you need to get into the mind of the client to find out what they want to achieve, rather than just blindly creating content. You need to help build a cohesive and coherent plan that includes not just what content you will create, but also how you are going to publish it and promote it.

JW: It’s all about meeting objectives. Is this content to raise awareness? Or is it to convert lurkers on a website into buyers?

It’s also about looking at data to find out what types of content a client’s audience wants and how it wants that delivered.

When we get into content creation mode, we work like an editorial newsroom to script, write, edit and sub-edit. That then goes through a cycle of refinements until we are happy for it to leave our office and reach the client for sign-off.

 

There’s a continuous debate about the virtues of long- versus short-form content. Which do you think is best?

MM: It’s not really about what’s better. It’s about what’s most appropriate.

We do live in a fast-paced world, but to say that nobody wants to read more than 500 words just isn’t true. Long-form content has always received more shares and links than shorter pieces. People do appreciate the time that goes in to creating quality long-form content. And Google does too, with their algorithm generally favouring longer content.

 

So, are there rules for creating great content that you stick to?

JW: We like to use the simple TRUTH test – that the content is Topical, Relevant, Unusual, Trouble (solves, raises awareness of or discusses) and importantly, contains Human interest.

But it has to be delivered in the right format as well. Many people were surprised to hear that Media First and Thirty Seven have joined forces to create this magazine. Yes, it might seem a bit retro but not all audiences are the same; not everyone wants to read a blog or get their information from social media. I have a Kindle and iPad at home but still buy books, newspapers and magazines.

 

The General Data Protection Regulation is coming, giving individuals more control over how their personal data is collected and used online. What will it mean for the content marketing industry?

JW: It’s certainly something our clients need to be aware of, not least because the new regulation is so far-reaching. It will affect not just marketing but internal comms and even supplier contracts.

You can either hide under your desk and pretend it’s not happening. Or you can see it as an opportunity to be proactive.

I personally think it’s a great thing. I will have more control over my data and who markets to me. And as a content producer, I will know that we are providing our audiences with information they want.

 

So, what does the future look like for content marketing?

MM: We are drowning in content and it is getting harder to get results. The average number of shares of any content has been steadily falling over the last few years. So the whole practice does need to evolve.

That means content marketers need to be a lot more strategic about the type of content they create, backed by better research. And instead of asking inexperienced or new writers to churn out low-quality pages of blogs for long-tail keyword targeting, content teams will be comprised of creative designers, developers, AI experts, videographers, as well as plenty of experienced writers and journalists too.

JW: We also know that it’s going to be important to work closely with our customers’ teams. I hate the concept of a full-service marketing agency, where everything is outsourced. I hate to see comms teams dwindling in size. We want to support our customers to retain in-house teams because we’ve seen just how important they are during the last 35 years working with Media First.

 

What’s with the name, Thirty Seven? How did you come up with that?

MM: Well, if you ask somebody to pick a random number between zero and 100, a disproportionate number of people will choose the number 37. The more you delve into the number – the fact that it appears more regularly than any other number in films, for example – you realise just how special it is. It’s attractive and we’re in the attraction game, so it made sense.

 

What’s it like working with each other? Do you always get on or are there things you disagree on?

MM: We’re very similar. We’re both ambitious and want to succeed.

But our work lives have been very different so we have different ideas about how things should be achieved.

JW: Sure, sometimes Mark and I approach things from a different angle. Occasionally this leads to disagreements. But we complement each other. If we were both the same, we wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as a team.

Ultimately, we both want to deliver projects that excite and motivate us. That’s the reason we get out of bed in the morning; not to just earn money to pay the mortgage. It’s about more than that.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper. 

Marketing

10 tips for mastering a Twitter Q&A

Aimee Hudson 3rd October 2017 — 8 mins read
B

ritish Gas, Seaworld, JP Morgan and author EL James are among those who, to put it politely, have seen their social media chats trend for the wrong reasons.

So, what can we learn from these social media disasters? How can you do it right?

 

Timing

Timing is a key component for social media Q&A success. Holding an interactive session when you are already creating headlines in the traditional media for the wrong reasons is a recipe for disaster.

British Gas was the victim of one of the more memorable scheduling disasters, opting to give customers the opportunity to ask Customer Services Director Bert Piljls questions on the day it announced a 9.2 per cent price hike.


The #AskBG hashtag was used by thousands of customers airing their grievances and those who took the opportunity to poke fun at the energy giant.

The lesson here is clear - these social media sessions should be restricted to when you either have good news to tell or when you are not in the news at all.

 

Right person

In the same way you need the right person for media interviews, you must think carefully about who you are going to put forward for question and answer sessions.

You need someone who is senior enough to make decisions so that bland, generic responses can be avoided.

And some natural humour can be helpful.

But you also need someone who you can trust and who will need little moderation.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary is no stranger to controversy and a Twitter question and answer session a few years ago predictably created plenty of headlines.

Most controversial was his comment of ‘nice pic. Phwoaaarr’ to a question from a female customer, which led to allegations (and headlines) of sexism.

 

Memorable hashtag

Memorable hashtags can promote and create a buzz about your question and answer session. Ideally you want something short but still descriptive.

You should also check the hashtag is not being used for anything else.

And perhaps most importantly of all, make sure it can’t be misread – a lesson the promoters of singer Susan Boyle could have done with before they opted for #Susanalbumparty.

 

Show some self-awareness

Not every post you receive in these sessions is going to be on the subjects you want and some may mock what you are trying to achieve.

The key is to not take yourself too seriously and to respond with similar humour.

Although not strictly a question and answer session, Waitrose responded cleverly when its #WaitroseReasons hashtag was hijacked by posters making fun of its upper class reputation. It said it had found the tweets ‘funny’ and had ‘enjoyed reading most of them’. 

 

Prepare for the negatives

As with media interviews it is important to spend time considering the negative issues which could arise during the question and answer session.

Prepare lines to take which can be given in response and consider creating a page on your website which you can link through to for answers needing more than 140 characters.

 

Wider issues

As well as possible negative topics, it is also worth considering the wider issues which could arise during the question and answer session. These could be issues affecting the wider sector or perhaps some new Government policy which could have an impact on the industry. Currently, you could face questions about the impact Brexit or Donald Trump might have on the sector. Prepare some lines to take for these wider issues.

 

Not suitable for everyone

While a question and answer session may seem like a great way to boost engagement and get positive messages out, it is not a format that is suitable for everyone.

If your brand or area of work is divisive, the session will act like a magnet for critics and keyboard warriors.

When 50 Shades of Grey author E.L James held a Twitter Q&A it is fair to say it did not go to plan. As well as plenty of users taking advantage of the opportunity to question her writing ability, the author was also faced with more serious questions about her books promoting an abusive relationship.

Similarly, when SeaWorld held a #AskSeaWorld session it backfired massively, with people taking the opportunity to bring up animal welfare concerns and ask when the park would be closing down.

 

Promote

You need to promote your question and answer session ahead of the event. Begin posting about it a few days in advance using the hashtag you have opted for - this has the added benefit of enabling you to see any questions which come in early.

Also use your email lists and other social media networks to raise awareness of the sessions and encourage your employees to tell their friends.

 

Don’t be afraid to walk away

About the only thing JP Morgan got right about its infamous Twitter Q&A session was deciding to abandon the idea 24 hours before it was scheduled to take place.

The company found itself inundated with negative posts when it promoted a live chat with one of its executives, which was intended to be about leadership and careers advice.

 

With questions including ‘did you have a specific number of people’s lives you needed to ruin before you considered your business model a success?’ it was clear it had completely lost control of the hashtag.

Sensibly it took the decision to prevent further damage by returning to the drawing board.

 

Crisis plan

If your question and answer session does go ahead and goes horribly wrong, make sure you have a crisis plan in place to limit the damage, including how you will manage the media if it sparks their interest. 



We realise that these examples of social media Q&As could put you off holding one of your own. But that is not the aim. The idea is to make you aware of risks so that you can prepare for them and avoid making similar errors.

We firmly believe Q&As can generate highly productive conversations which can develop excitement around your brand and products. It just needs considered planning to avoid the pitfalls.

Mark Mars, Managing Director of Thirty Seven, said: “Just like an in-person press conference or an open discussion, Twitter Q&As provide a way for the audience to ask questions and hear responses directly from the host. But, all you need is Twitter. And anyone can do it.

"A Twitter Q&A is a great way to engage with your audience as it allows them the opportunity to talk to you in real-time conversation, in a more human way.

"Twitter Q&As are a great opportunity to get insightful feedback and for your audience to know you are taking their views seriously."

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Adam Fisher
2nd February 2018 - 5 mins read