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.

Adam Fisher
23rd May 2018 - 6 mins read
I

’ve written three blogs a week for three years now for our sister company Media First.

During that time I have often wondered where the next post is going to come from, yet I haven’t missed one yet. Of course, it helps to have a great team of inspiring people around me – including an amazing editor who is not only uber talented but exceptionally good looking (Ed – is this getting obvious now?)

Anyhow, here’s how I get my ideas for regular content: 

 

The news and trending topics

News sites are a great source of material and inspiration for the content I produce.

Whether it is news from your own sector or industry, or national or international news, current affairs and events are a source that cannot be ignored.

Sometimes the content I produce will be a direct commentary of these stories, but on other occasions, it will just help me find a way into writing about a wider issue I want to discuss.

I once used a news story about stoned sheep as a hook for a blog about media training, which, to prove one of my points you will read about shortly, was written in an A&E waiting room while waiting for my wife to be seen by doctors (ever the supporting husband).

When you are sourcing stories through social media sites, it is always worth looking at how people have reacted. This will give you a ‘voice of the people’ perspective and these thoughts can trigger an equally strong source of creativity. Via: @37agency

The other great thing about using this source as inspiration is that your content will be timely – often a key factor in motivating people to read.

 

Ideas come when you least expect them

One of the things I have found is that content ideas often come to me when I’m not really expecting or looking for them.

Some of the better ideas I have had have come to me on the commute, while playing with my children, in the middle of the night and even while sat on the loo (possibly too much information, but it is true).

Whereas it can often be a fruitless, smash-my-head into-the-desk kind of frustrating experience if I’m sat in the office trying to forcefully generate ideas.

The key for me is to make sure I make a note of these ideas when they pop into my head, even if it is just on my phone, because they can often quickly be forgotten.

 

Interview people

Carrying out interviews can be a great source of content and they can breathe fresh life into your blogs.

Not only can they be written up in a variety of ways, from a straight Q&A style to quotes throughout an article, but they also often generate additional content ideas.

People in your organisation, key influencers in your sector and people you have recently worked with could all make good interviewees and help you produce something a bit different for your readers.

My one word of advice would be to avoid the word ‘interview’ – it tends to make people nervous and cautious – not what you need for producing interesting content.

Make it sound informal by referring to it as a ‘quick chat’.

 

Recycling

This may sound unintentionally arrogant, but I find combing through the archives of content I have produced before a good source of material.

By that, I mean I find ways of repurposing that content into something new.

It could, for example, be as simple as updating an old blog. For our sister company Media First, I once wrote a blog that looked back on the best interviews of the year. Now I do that every year.

It may be that the topic has moved on and developed and that I’m now in a position to write to follow-up post capturing that new thinking.

Or perhaps I might now focus in on a specific part of a previous post and take a look at it in more depth.

I’ll also look back at the blogs that have been particularly successful in the past and think about how that content could be freshened up.

 

Your colleagues

The people you work with can be a great source of content ideas.

And they are often better placed to know the issues and problem your customers are experiencing and want answering.

The challenge, however, particularly for larger organisations, can be to get wider team members to buy into the content strategy.

There are two approaches here. One way is to hold formal brainstorming (I hate that word) meetings with a few people from different parts of the organisation. This can be a good method, but some people may feel reticent about coming forward with ideas which are not fully formed, particularly if there are more senior colleagues in the room.

The other approach, and one I generally find more productive is to speak to colleagues informally and more regularly and remind them that I am always after ideas for blogs. With this method, I tend to find people regularly send me an email or a text when a content idea comes to mind.  

 

The competition

Chances are some of your competitors are producing a lot of their own content, which could provide an inspiration.

I will do this very occasionally, but it is not something I’m a big fan of.

This isn’t because I think my content is better, but because I fear it can be too easy to fall into the trap of producing something similar.

Originality is a key factor for me in content that stands out so I prefer to find my inspiration in other sources.

 

Ask the audience

What better way to find out what your readers want to read about than by directly asking them?

If you feel you are approaching the end of your content supply, ask your readers what issues they would like you to address in future posts.

Or put the question out there through your social media channels.

Even if you only get a handful of responses, it could generate some fresh ideas.

Whilst I’m on this point – why not let me know what you’d like to see me write about next by emailing hello@thirtyseven.agency.

 

Turn to the tech

If all else fails, you can always turn to the tech.

There are plenty of blog topic generators available on the internet where you simply need to type in a few phrases and the algorithms do their magic. Hubspot has a pretty decent one for example and I used it to type in the words ‘content’, ‘marketing’ and ‘writing’. It came back with the following:

15 best blogs to follow about content

Think you’re cut out for doing marketing? Take this quiz

7 things about writing your boss wants to know

20 myths about content

What will marketing be like in 100 years?

 

As you can see, the ideas they generate aren’t always relevant or unique, but they are free and they may just come up with something you can work with and develop.

 

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

Content should be more than just marketing

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. 

Adam Fisher
20th July 2018 - 5 mins read