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

Podcasts are the business

Mark Mars 3rd October 2017 — 5 mins read
G

etting people to listen to your story or message for 15 minutes to an hour is challenging when you think about how short our attention spans have become (just eight seconds according to recent research). But businesses are increasingly realising the power of podcasting.

Savvy brands are recognising that well produced podcasts differentiate them from many of their competitors.

The most successful are those where products and services are subtly woven into the story the podcast is telling rather than being pushed as a hard sell.

Here are some of our favourites:

 

InterContinental Hotels

The hospitality chain launched its podcast series exploring unique features about its hotels with the goal of tapping into a traveller’s passion for new discoveries.

For example, one episode revealed that deep within the InterContinental New York Barclay Hotel’s basement there is a hidden tunnel which was used to transport wealthy travellers to and from Grand Central Station in the 1920s.

The 20-minute Stories of the InterContinental Life podcast is aimed at reigniting the guest’s passion for travel and intrigue in discovering new places. It is produced to inspire travellers to experience the world and create their own stories.

The podcasts were created as part of a global marketing campaign to drive engagement by connecting the InterContinental brand to what is relevant in culture.

There are now a series of videos to go alongside the podcasts to really bring the stories to life.

 

General Electric

This multinational company which operates in many sectors including aviation, digital, healthcare, oil and gas etc. launched its first podcast series, The Message, in October 2015 and garnered 4.4 million downloads.

The sci-fi podcast show managed to reach the No. 1 podcast spot on iTunes and fans called for the series to be made into a film.

It was a huge success with an average of 450,000 people tuning into each episode. When the podcast series ended the episodes were collectively listened to another 90,000 times.

A new series, LifeAfter, was launched in 2016 and explored the question of what happens to our digital identity when we die, and the role AI can play in the grieving process.

The goal of the podcast series is to tell a really good story that touches on a theme that reflects General Electric’s work in science and technology.

It’s clear to see General Electric saw an opportunity in the story telling space and took it. They learned that quality generates an audience reaction and being clear on their objectives and not naming General Electic and its products in every other word builds value and trust. Something that clearly brings listeners back again and again.

 

Tequila Avión

The Rich Friends: The Elevated Conversation podcast by spirits firm Tequila Avión, launched in 2016 in association with GQ associate editor Mark Anthony Green and The New Yorker nightlife editor Matthew Trammell.

Its podcast explores current affairs, music, lifestyle, art, culture and fashion in New York.

Both men bring their own unique tastes to each episode with their experience in fashion and lifestyle magazines. The dynamic, enthusiastic and opinionated hosts make this podcast feel like you’re with them exploring the best of what ‘the city that never sleeps’ has to offer.

Tequila Avión’s forward thinking attitude combined with Matt and Mark Anthony’s cultural backgrounds makes this the perfect podcast partnership which has resulted in a unique piece of programming.

Topics are always discussed with a cocktail in hand and in any way the duo see fit. Founder of Tequila Avión, Ken Austin said “When we came in, we said, we’re willing to sponsor this thing, but I said to the guys, I don’t want to tell you what to say […] it was more about the audience and the listener versus a brand dictating anything”.

With 24 episodes under their belt, it seems the elevated conversation continues.

 

Slack

The Slack Variety Pack podcast launched in 2015 and is held to be the gold standard of branded podcasts. This is down to the fact it understands its audience very well.

As a result, the company – a cloud based collaboration tools and services firm - has grown dramatically, predominantly due to word of mouth in Silicon Valley and among other American workforces, and it is now slowly making its way across The Pond.

The podcast drew in the ‘tech-savvy, young, curious and light-hearted’ with their stories about ‘work, life and everything in between’.

The 20-40 minute long episodes that included work-life anecdotes and self-contained stories, as well as Slack’s signature quirky and curious personality, enabled the podcast listenership to grow with every episode.

With success like this, we can only assume that Slack will continue to create podcasts.

 

Shopify

‘Thank God it’s Monday’ is not something everyone utters as they walk into work (although we do, in case you are reading boss), but this is the title of Shopify’s podcast.

It was created for ambitious entrepreneurs who can’t wait for a new week to begin. Shopify aimed to inspire listeners by telling success stories of like-minded innovators.

In addition to a very successful blog, Shopify created the podcast in order to capture a part of this growing marketThey identified that many people prefer audio to text as a learning format, and as portable content, anyone can listen to it wherever they are.

By interviewing high-powered businesspeople including marketing guru Seth Godin, Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes and serial start up entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk in 30-45 minute episodes Shopify creates quality content that people want to listen to.

Mark Macdonald, content manager at Shopify, said: “We would much rather be the content than the advertising. We are creating something that people want to consume, rather than interrupting them with something they wish to ignore.”

 

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content marketing 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 a podcast or blog post.

Adam Fisher
23rd May 2018 - 6 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.