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

Magazine Guide

Aimee Hudson 20th March 2018 — 4 mins read
C

ompanies have become their own publishing houses, producing regular magazines aimed at informing, entertaining and evoking loyalty in their customers.

And the ones who do it well produce compelling content which is a long way from the sort of advertorial type material you may traditionally expect from branded print.

One of the great strengths of brand magazines is that if they are good, people will keep hold of them for longer than other promotional material. They also offer something different from the digital bombardment many customers face.

Here are some of our favourites:

 

The Red Bulletin

The Red Bulletin has all the high-octane, adrenaline fuelled and adventure packed articles you would expect to read from a brand which makes energy drinks and runs Formula One teams. 

But among the stories on extreme sports, like cliff-diving and rock-scaling, are features on more sedate pursuits, lifestyle activities and interviews with high-profile actors and musicians.

The monthly magazine, which is illustrated with stunning images, is distributed in London alongside the Evening Standard newspaper and is also available at universities and gyms.

Subscriptions are also available, while the magazine is backed by its own eye-catching website.

 

The Furrow

 

John Deere began publishing The Furrow long before the term ‘content marketing’ had first been used.

The first issue was published back in 1895 and is widely regarded as being the oldest example of content marketing. The publication is still going strong today with around two million global readers.

The magazine focuses on the farmers themselves and the current issues in farming, providing informative content, rather than promoting the equipment John Deere sells.

Such is its enduring appeal that it is now printed in 14 languages and is available online.

 

ASOS

 

You might think that a printed magazine is an unlikely fit for an online only fashion retailer aimed at the 18-34 crowd.

But ASOS began producing its self-titled magazine in 2007 and celebrated its 100th issue in February this year. It has proved a huge success reaching around 700,000 people globally, 450,000 of these in the UK.

It has attracted stars such as Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lawrence to its front page and interviews like these prove it is far more than a catalogue.  

This glossy publication is backed by an online audience of more than 120,000.  

 

Traveller

 

In flight magazines first started appearing in cabins more than 60 years ago, when they were introduced by Pan Am, and are one of the oldest versions of brand magazines.

Despite smartphones and Wi-Fi increasingly creeping into planes, these magazines continue to go from strength to strength with around 150 printed around the globe.

United’s offering, Rhapsody, is often cited as an example of a good brand magazine, but unfortunately you’ll only get to read it if you book first class.

Despite its somewhat unimaginative title, easyJet’s Traveller magazine is our pick from the in-flight market.

It is a stylish monthly publication, packed with a wide range of content. A recent edition, for example, ranged from looking at the latest crop of bands to emerge from Liverpool to an article on the charms of Comporta, in Portugal.

And if you miss a copy they are all available digitally on the magazine’s own section of the easyJet website.

 

Waitrose Weekend

 

This breaks the mould of the other publications we’ve mentioned as it is printed in a newspaper format—in fact, when it was first published in 2010 it was the first free newspaper published by a retailer.

The 48 page publication, free every Thursday, has the look of a quality Sunday supplement and all the articles on food, drinks and cooking you would expect in a publication produced by a supermarket and aimed at Middle England. 

But it also features celebrity interviews, a health and fitness section (with Pippa Middleton no less), a guide to events taking place around the country, a gardening section and TV reviews.

And like any good newspaper, it features an impressive number of high-profile columnists including Jeremy Vine, Clare Balding, Stuart Maconie, Jonathan Agnew and Mark Kemode, while Phillip Schofield has a ‘weekend wines’ column.

 

Pineapple

 

This was Airbnb’s glossy move into the world of publishing.

The coffee table production, which came in at a hefty 128 ad free pages, was distributed to the app company’s host network.

It had rather vague aims of being a ‘crossroad of travel and anthropology; a document of community, belonging and shared space’, but nonetheless was well received and covered a wide range of topics, including art, food, culture and style.

But here’s the cautionary tale; despite plans for Pineapple to be published quarterly, there was only ever one edition before the magazine was quietly shelved.

 

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.

 

Aimee Hudson
20th March 2018 - 4 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.