Tom Idle
24th April 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

Are you striking the right tone?

Graham Jones 19th February 2018 — 5 mins read
A

fter all, I might be saying this with a smile on my face, in a light-hearted way so you’d know that I was mucking about. On the other hand, I might have a stern look, wagging my finger at you and making you realise I was rather forthright about this topic.

The written word can only communicate part of the way. Without vocal tone, facial expressions and body language, it’s all too easy to get the wrong end of the stick when we read something.

These days we write and read more than ever before. Emails, tweets, Facebook posts, blogs—the list goes on. Nowadays, the typical office worker actually writes around 20,000 words a week. That means you are writing the equivalent of a novel every month.

The result is that every office worker will have developed a style of their own; a way of writing that is unique to them. And therein lies the problem for business communication.

It means that the way in which one member of the team writes on social media, for instance, can be vastly different to the style used by another staffer. That leads to inconsistency among the readership and the followers; they are confused about your company’s personality.

Many firms realise this and so they develop a corporate style guide or tone of voice document. And that can often lead to another problem; the company’s communication on social media in particular is no longer human. Corporate style allows things to be consistent but it turns most text into boring, business-speak.

Companies are often afraid that if they allow their style to be more human they’ll be in danger of trivialising themselves on social media. They get a sense of the more human approach devaluing their operation.

These firms worry that you might get maverick behaviour, with staff saying things in all kinds of negative ways on Twitter or Facebook. They don’t want to be like Channel 4, for instance, that Tweeted “BREAKING: It's definitely better to be nice to people and not be a dick. We'll update you as and when we have more on this story.” Or, perhaps, the Tweet from KFC in Australia which said “Something hot and spicy is coming soon” above a picture of a woman looking down at a man’s genital area.




Social media activity like this seems fun and human, but it is the kind of tone of voice that puts off the corporate style police. That, though, is a problem. It means that millions of social media messages are just plain boring. People skim straight past them, meaning they are a complete waste of time for the companies in the first place.

So, is there a way out of this conundrum? How can your company come across as human without people going bananas?

One way is to train people in writing skills. Given that the typical office worker is producing a novel’s worth of material each month, it’s worthwhile taking stock and thinking “are they trained for that?” People get trained in the technical skills of using email, for instance, but how much training do people get for writing? These days, writing is one of the most common activities for office workers and few are trained in this skill.

A key feature of learning to write well is understanding how your material sounds, so that even though the reader cannot see your facial expressions they can still get a jolly good idea of your meaning through the way you use phrases, sentences and punctuation.

Staff that are well-trained in writing are going to be much less likely to make the mistakes of businesses trying—and failing—to strike that human tone on social media. That’s because trained writers tend to stop and think more before they commit finger to keyboard.

It’s also about seeing the reader in your mind’s eye. Professional writers visualise the people for which they are writing, rather than just focusing on the words. Skills like this can be taught and learned and can create a significant advantage on social media. That’s because, with everyone trained, the personality of the company can shine through and the maverick behaviour can be diminished.

Essential to getting it right is understanding your audience very well indeed. Taco Bell, for instance, does this brilliantly. Its social media posts are light, fun and humorous, reflecting the fact that what the company offers is a fast snack that is usually eaten socially.

Similarly, the airline JetBlue manages to strike a good balance between fun and being serious. It doesn’t trivialise air travel but it does emphasise that travelling itself should be fun and enjoyable. Its Twitter feed is consistent in that it contains a sprinkling of humour among the more serious tweets.

Another good example is the bookstore Waterstones. It provides informative social media posts as well as humour and conversation with its followers. It has a consistent tone that is light when needed and serious when talking about something that demands it. In other words, it understands the connection between the topic and the reader very well.

Fundamentally, what these companies share is a solid understanding of their readership. They may well be using trained writers, but their social media posts reveal that they truly understand their audience. You can only write in the right tone if you understand who is going to read your material and their motivations.

For some companies this will mean you can be light, fun and entertaining. For others it will mean that you need to be conversational and witty. And for a few it will mean you need to strike a balance between serious and light. The only “right answer” about tone of voice on the internet is “it depends”. It depends on your product, your sector and your audience. Two things will help you get this working properly—trained writers and a solid, well- researched understanding of your target audience. 


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
20th July 2018 - 5 mins read

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.