News & Views

Over the past few years both marketers and media companies have become more focused on sponsored/branded content (or native advertising if you prefer), the former as a new way to connect with audiences, and the latter to replace revenue lost with the decline of traditional ads. This a trend we welcome, both for the obvious commercial reasons and because we sincerely believe content marketing at its best—i.e. an organisation sharing genuine insights backed by data or thoughtful research—is far preferable to the shouty, saturation-based approach to marketing that dominated in decades past.

That said, having emerged from the media world, there are aspects of the sponsored content explosion that give us cause for concern, chief among them the difficulty sometimes of distinguishing between articles that are honest journalism or opinion, and the paid-for variety.

To be clear, we’re not calling out Forbes or the PR firm in question here; Forbes is an old hand at the sponsored content model and its branded content is typically clearly labelled as such. The views in the article (since apparently removed) may well have been genuine. But the fact it attracted scrutiny is troubling enough. There’s no shortage of other examples of the lines between editorial and advertising being blurred, from the merely questionable to the sanctionable.

Too many of those examples, and media outlets will find themselves completely discredited by audiences convinced they’re bought and paid for. Companies, meanwhile, will see most of what they publish crashing against a brick wall of cynicism. And of course, eventually audiences themselves will lose out, as a revenue/publishing model that has every shot at being sustainable breaks down and more publications close. Not a good situation for anyone, in other words.

So while we couldn’t agree more that brands need to start thinking, and publishing, more like media companies, it’s also vitally important that the ‘walls’ between brand and media don’t disappear completely, and that all sides practice complete transparency—especially at a time when the highest powers are only too happy to call the media and what constitutes truth into question.

At the very least that means clearly and visually distinguishing paid from editorial content, via unique logos, altered formats, even different colour schemes or backgrounds.

Ideally for media companies, it also means ring-fencing editorial and commercial staff, and limiting the participation of journalists in commercial projects (a practice we know some of our former employers have adopted).

In the end, there’s little to be lost from this approach. Few people will dismiss well-reasoned, credible views or intelligence from commercial sources. After all, journalists contact companies for their perspectives on industry or market issues all the time. And (we hope) no one would begrudge a publication the opportunity to earn the kind of revenues that will allow it to pay its journalists a living wage. In the media/ad business at least, honesty really is the best policy.


One of the most dispiriting things about political discourse these days is the readiness of some people to shout “Fake news!” when confronted with facts they don’t like. Misinformation and propaganda are as old as human communication, of course, but there is such a thing as a credible source of information–as well as plenty that don’t qualify.

Using credible sources is crucial when it comes to creating content that will impress a discerning audience (the aim of all of our clients). n/n founder Jon Hopfner recently set out how data alone isn’t enough to get your message across, and I’d underline that with the point that using any old data won’t do, either. At a minimum you have make sure you can trust where it’s coming from.

Trust…

Sometimes it’s pretty obvious who has the right stuff. For economic, social and demographic data you can’t beat the resources and diligence of multinational NGOs like the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, OECD and the like. (OK, so extreme conspiracy theorists would say these guys have some nefarious agenda too, but let’s assume you’re not interested in trying to convert flat-earthers or David Icke fans.)

Stats from news sources with long, hard-earned editorial credibility (think Reuters, the Financial Times, New York Times, Economist, Wall Street Journal etc) you should also feel comfortable quoting. They typically go to great lengths to ensure the reliability of their data, and they have fact-checking quality controls without which their brands wouldn’t have gained the cachet they have. (OK, they make mistakes; to err is human. But to wheel out an old maxim, you should never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence.)

…and verify

We admit to some bias here: n/n was founded by two former Reuters journos, and I was an editor at The Economist Group for 10 years. Being aware of potential bias is of course crucial when judging the credibility of sources, especially if you’re looking for a stat to help prove a point you want to make.

I could tell you, for instance, that 70% of people would rather learn about a company through articles than an advert. How credible is this? I found it midway down a (frankly intimidating) infographic from “Point Visible”, a Croatian marketing agency. They’ve included sources at the bottom, but none actually has that stat in it (and some merely cannibalise other cited sources, including a hefty CMI study.) Googling “70% of people would rather learn about a company through articles than an advert” reveals that the same stat was used in a 2013 blog by someone at inboundmarketingagents.com, but the source they give leads to a 404 error. I could go on, but my patience has already worn thin.

There are credible sources on marketing out there: Edelman and LinkedIn’s survey of 1,300 senior executives, for example, has an impressive sample size and clear methodology. Just using one stat from that study–that 9 in 10 respondents think thought leadership is important, for example–carries much more weight than a shotgun blast of factoids with no or dubious provenance.

So it goes for statistics in any content. Be judicious and transparent in sourcing your stats and they will work much harder in your favour.

 


There are reams of material written about the importance of content marketing for brand development. Unfortunately, most of it is not aimed at the people that need the most convincing.

These days most marketing professionals are alive to the advantages of thought leadership, but at New Narrative we have plenty of conversations with clients who have to work hard to convince ‘the business’ that it’s worth their time and effort.

This is especially true in financial and professional services, where support functions such as marketing and communications can be seen by front-line staff as a cost centre.

It’s quite common to hear reports of marketers being told by fee-earners that they resent having to spend time on something they don’t see as contributing directly to the bottom line. In some ways this isn’t surprising, as the fee-earners’ performance is measured in financial terms. But it’s also a mindset that has to change if a custom content plan is going to succeed.

To help, we have compiled our top tips for marketers looking to win over the cynics:

Engage early and often

One of the regular complaints we hear from finance professionals is that the marketing team only reaches out to them when there’s a deadline approaching and they are expected to drop everything to write an article.

As a marketer, you will be effective if you involve thought leaders and experts early in developing a content calendar. It’s then important to check in with them regularly to find out the ideas they are talking about with clients. This should help you develop a better relationship with them and should mean last-minute requests are less likely to be met with silence. It will also help improve the marketing team’s industry knowledge, which leads us on to our second point…

Do your research

As former journalists, at New Narrative we understand the importance of research before an interview. All it takes is single comment that shows an ignorance of the subject matter for an interview to go sour. It’s the same when engaging with your thought leaders.

As part of the in-house marketing team you will have a good understanding of the firm’s strategic goals but it’s also important to understand the specific business or practice area of the person you are talking to. This does not necessary mean hours of research, but a few questions based on the latest article in the business press or the most recent piece of research on the topic will get you off on the right foot. And it will also help with the third piece of advice…

Be specific

Nothing is more likely to infuriate your experts than asking them to write something where your topic suggestion is too general. For example, asking for an opinion piece on China will give the impression of a lack of industry knowledge within the marketing team and is also likely be met with a degree of frustration. But asking for something targeted — such as an article on the significance of China opening its financial markets or the impact of a rising renminbi on capital outflows — will encourage greater engagement.

Minimise the workload

Even with the best will in the world, there will be time when your expert will not have the time to generate the content you need by the deadline. But if she can’t spend an hour writing a blog post, maybe she can spare 30 minutes for a phone call? Or 15 minutes putting the main arguments in an e-mail? These can then be used as the basis of an article to be written by the marketing team or content consultants and reviewed by her later.

Use empirical evidence

It always helps to have some statistics up your sleeve to prove a point. This could be in the form of engagement metrics for a previous campaign. Alternatively, there are plenty of surveys on the effectiveness of content marketing. One of New Narrative’s favourites is the recent survey from Edelman and LinkedIn that asked 1,300 business leaders and C-suite executives how they viewed B2B thought leadership. The results include the fact that over 60% of the respondents think thought leadership is one of the best ways to vet an organisation and understand the caliber of its thinking. Armed with stats like that it should be easy to convince even the cynics that producing thought leadership is time well spent.


A couple of interesting articles that caught our eye recently got us thinking about the growing importance of — perhaps even dependence on — data in media and marketing. Data is now the foundation for a lot of journalism and increasingly fuels publishing and marketing campaigns as well, both as a source of insight (on audiences and how to reach them) and collateral (by demonstrating an organisation’s knowledge or expertise).

This piece from Germany’s C3 references a couple of great examples of the latter, including dating site OK Cupid, which trawls through its data to produce interesting tidbits on the contemporary dating scene (shock finding: older men are more inclined to message younger women than vice versa) and Expedia’s crunching of data to generate sound travel advice for the jam-packed US Labor Day weekend.

We could add others with which we had the pleasure to be involved, including this groundbreaking report from Philips, which combined the results of an ambitious international survey with third-party data to develop a roadmap for the future of healthcare.

So far, so good. But as C3 rightly points out, whether you’re a journalist or marketer, in approaching and using data it’s important to be aware of its limitations. Data is no more inherently conclusive or free of bias as any other source of information, and should be subject to the same levels of scrutiny.

This isn’t a new story, of course: the phrase, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics” was popularised by Mark Twain more than a century ago. Which means that if you’re not questioning your own data, someone else very likely will; a recent survey by KPMG and Forrester Consulting found that most decision-makers don’t even trust the data insights their companies generate internally.

Beyond the issue of trust, there’s the question of whether data really connects on an emotional level. As one of the most powerful quotes in this excellent Vanity Fair piece on how data has transformed decision-making puts it:

“No one ever made a decision because of a number. They need a story.”

Having seen firsthand what data can (and can’t) do, we’re staunch advocates of putting it to good use. But as our recent reading has underlined, it’s important that data is used with principles in mind. Here are those that we see as the bedrock for any solid data-driven storytelling:

*Strive for transparency: Being as open and specific as possible about where the data comes (without sacrificing privacy standards) will add to its credibility; avoiding the matter will do the opposite. In publishing the results of a survey, this would include details such as the methods used and the number and composition of respondents.

*Practice acceptance: Maybe you’ve commissioned a poll and the data doesn’t quite tell the story or support the thesis you had envisioned. That’s okay, and no reason to discard the results — surely they contain other information worth sharing, and if they’ve confounded your expectations chances are other people would find them interesting as well. Also avoid cherry-picking findings to fit a pre-generated thesis, as it’s almost always obvious when this tactic has been adopted and it risks discrediting the whole exercise.

*Be selective: At the risk of appearing to contradict the above point it’s also important to be at least somewhat selective about the data you use and share. The ‘big data’ term exists for a reason; any data-gathering exercise inevitably produces a staggering amount of statistics. Rather than attempting to ‘go broad’, pick one theme or issue to target through research or a survey and ‘go deep’; the results will inevitably be more interesting. And when you do have findings, don’t plan to publish them all. Instead, look for consistent patterns or data points that seem to challenge conventional wisdom, and concentrate on examining and sharing those if they stand up.

*Remember data is a starting point: Regardless of the topic (yes, even the wild and wonderful world of online dating) audiences aren’t engaged by data alone, and a page chock-full of statistics or charts, no matter how tastefully designed, will cause a lot of eyes to glaze over. Proprietary data should be seen as a starting point for stories and campaigns that are fleshed out with anecdotes from internal and external experts, case studies and research from other sources, to build credibility and bring the numbers to life.


Given the nature of our business, you’d think we welcome the news that content marketing is the top priority of marketers in Asia Pacific this year, even beating out getting return on investment — at least according to this study by consultancy NewBase. And don’t get us wrong — it is indeed good to see the industry reaching new levels of maturation, with (as NewBase says) most enterprises now fully accepting that producing “relevant and engaging content is a necessity.”

But (there’s always a but) the report contains some troubling findings as well. Content itself might be seen as important, but content quality and content relevance, less so, taking a dismal number seven and number eight on the priority list, respectively.

There’s no shortage of possible reasons for these low showings. Things like audience measurement may simply be seen as more pressing. Perhaps good content is so abundant that most organisations aren’t in the least worried about finding or producing it (though what we hear from our clients, sadly, suggests otherwise).

More likely is that some are more concerned with being seen publishing, or saying something (anything!), rather than the substance of what they’re communicating. Another possibility is that content has attained enough critical mass as a buzzword that marketing departments feel like they should be prioritising it, and say so, even if they’re not quite sure why, or how.

We wouldn’t be so bold as to deny the importance of some higher-priority items on the list. Or to potentially discourage marketers from exploring a field that means a lot to us. But generating content for content’s sake, or to populate different channels without careful consideration of the audience and how pertinent the information is to them, probably won’t yield the desired results, and can in fact be counterproductive.

That’s because though ‘content marketing’ might sound new, it’s been around in various guises for a very long time. And even if it’s produced with reputational or commercial goals in mind, content is subject to the same laws as any other creative endeavour. Less is sometimes more. Quality is infinitely more important than quantity. Audiences will quickly sniff out the vacuous or fake, and learn to look elsewhere. The smartest, most respected voice in the room doesn’t need to drone on, or to shout, to be heard.

It’s also important to keep in mind that just like any other business function — whether corporate social responsibility, human resources, or, well … the rest of marketing, content is most effective when it’s part of a bigger strategy or vision, and makes the most of internal expertise and resources. Achieving that alignment, and making the most of those resources, can take time, but it’s not a process to be avoided.

So by all means, create, publish and experiment. Pay keen attention to the possibilities of emerging formats like mobile video. Ensure anything you publish is distributed in the optimal way and carefully tracked. But don’t forget quality is the ultimate differentiator, and the soundest of all investment strategies in the long run — even if it means you’re slightly slower out of the starting gates.


By now it’s almost a cliché to talk about how ‘disruptive’ technologies are redefining global commerce.

There’s FinTech, RegTech, WealthTech, LegalTech, MedTech – and yes, so help us, take a deep breath, even MarTech (marketing technology, for those few still not in the know). Are you tired yet? Perhaps pining for a return to a simpler time? Not going to happen. The tech genie is out of the proverbial bottle, and it will impact us all.

MarTech platforms are designed to enhance efficiency and drive better ROI across the marketing discipline. Tried and tested solutions include MailChimp (email campaigns), HubSpot (inbound marketing) and Marketo (marketing automation). According to digital marketing experts CMSWire, MarTech platforms fall into one of the following categories:

  • Advertising and promotion
  • Content and experience
  • Social and relationships
  • Commerce and sales
  • Data
  • Management

And, take another breath, there are more than 5,000 on the market. That’s right: 5,000! Where to begin? How to choose? Your guess is as good as ours.

But here’s something to keep in mind, gleaned from experience with our roster of Fortune 500 clients over the past few years: You can buy the best MarTech in the world, but that investment will be wasted without the right content.

MarTech solutions generally aggregate, analyse or distribute rather than create. Quality content – or, insightful information, if you prefer – is the oil that flows through the MarTech pipes. What good is fancy piping if you don’t have high quality Texas Tea to pump?

It’s also important to remember that a lack of technology is typically not the main cause for the failure of content campaigns or publishing strategies. In our experience the following factors are more common — and difficult for MarTech alone to address.

  1. Content takes considerable thought and time to produce. You need to be left alone to get the job done.

This runs counter to the culture of many big organisations, where employees tasked with content production often juggle multiple and at times competing obligations, or are expected to be in meetings or on teleconferences all day long.

  1. Quality publishing requires an at least partially objective and journalistic mentality.

Marketing departments are often called upon to ensure content campaigns explicitly support commercial goals, or focus exclusively on the organisation’s achievements, when expert insight and credible, relevant information are far more effective generators of client loyalty and audience engagement.

  1. Immediate results are not guaranteed. Payoff is usually gradual following a series of quality campaigns.

This also runs counter to corporate culture, where quarterly earnings targets often drive the action, and where executives must constantly justify their budget allocations.

These are important realities to consider as you decide to allocate budgets to either MarTech or editorial campaigns. In other words, MarTech might reshape the marketing practice — but it won’t save it.


The news of Anthony Scaramucci’s sacking as White House communications director after only ten days certainly grabbed the attention of us here at New Narrative. The drama at the White House is second only to that in the new series of Game of Thrones (never fear, this article is spoiler free) as we catch up over the morning’s first cup of coffee.

But once the shock had worn off, the discussion turned to the soundness of the move. The ‘Mooch’ may have only been in place for less time than it takes to learn how to spell his name correctly, but after his expletive filled rant in the New Yorker, it was clear this appointment was not a good fit and better to end it sooner than later.

And — tenuous link alert — it’s a lesson that CMOs can learn from.

Here at New Narrative we’ve lost track of the amount of conversations we have with marketers who struggle to make the most of relationships with their external partners and providers, including content agencies. Sometimes they have difficulty accessing the right people or expertise, or are sold a programme or campaign that fails in the execution phase; other times there are fundamental quality issues or the agency struggles to understand their business model or goals.

But despite months, and sometimes years, of wasted time, money and opportunities, there is at times reticence by CMOs to jettison practices, and agencies, that are repeatedly failing to deliver. That may seem a surprise when so much is at stake but inertia is not just limited to the customer experience – it’s a powerful force on companies when it comes to managing their marketing and agency relationships.

The reasons are understandable and are the same ones that lead us to put up with bad customer service from banks and mobile providers. Relationships or systems may seem too embedded to move on, or too much hassle to change. But if you’re a CMO it’s important to remember you are a customer, and that agencies and external partners can and should be held to account for the way they interact with you, and what they deliver.

From our perspective, when evaluating content agency relationships here are some of the key questions you should be asking:

  • Is this a genuine partnership — does the agency view the successes or failures of your content-driven marketing initiatives as their own?
  • Has the agency taken the time to understand your strategic and commercial goals and craft an overarching programme or narrative that supports those aims?
  • Does the agency help you navigate challenges and setbacks, whether they come from changes in the market environment or internal processes?
  • Has the agency helped you build a content pipeline and to keep it on track?
  • Is the agency producing content you are proud to publish?

If the answer to more than one or two of these questions is ‘no’, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship — either through a ‘reboot’ that reassesses communication processes and goals or targets, or by simply moving on.  There are arguably not too many good lessons that can be drawn from the Trump White House, but one is that when someone who’s hired to communicate on your behalf isn’t doing so effectively, inertia is not the answer.


We’re very happy to announce two new additions to our expanding team: Mohamed Abdelbaki as Global Project Manager and Head of Middle East, and Katrina Oropel as Director of Business Development.

Mohamed joins New Narrative from Thomson Reuters in Hong Kong, where he acquired nearly a decade of project management experience building multimedia hubs – including Trading Middle East and Trading China – that connected portfolio managers with news and thought leadership across global markets.

Katrina arrives from The Economist Group in Hong Kong, where she led integrated sales initiatives in custom research, events, thought leadership and advertising for a client base of multinationals. Previously, she produced investment forums and other events in Asia for Euromoney Institutional Investor.

In his new role at New Narrative, Mohamed will provide global operational support while also driving the development of New Narrative’s business in the Middle East, where our growing list of clients includes banks, asset managers and leading corporates in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Katrina will lead New Narrative’s business development initiatives across Asia and North America among our expanding client base of multinationals, investment banks, asset managers, healthcare and technology firms, and media groups.

Both Mohamed and Katrina bring a wealth of experience to New Narrative, including deep knowledge of the financial and media markets in Asia and the Middle East, and an understanding of how top-tier content and thought leadership shapes the market conversation and helps drive business results. We’re fortunate they both chose to join us at this pivotal time – and we know our clients will benefit from their professionalism and expertise.

Mohamed holds a degree in Financial Management from the Arab Academy of Science & Technology in Cairo and is a native Arabic and English speaker. Katrina holds a BS in International Business, and a Minor in Economics (Honours) from the University of San Francisco.


HONG KONG/NEW YORK, June 13, 2017 — New Narrative, Asia’s leading custom media agency, today announced that Lorraine Cushnie has joined the firm as a partner in its Hong Kong office.

New Narrative creates custom research, thought leadership, multi-platform editorial content and publishing campaigns for top-tier corporations and media organisations worldwide.

Cushnie, an award-winning financial journalist and editor, has spent 15 years covering financial and professional markets in Europe and Asia. Drawing on her extensive experience in banking, asset management and the legal industry, Cushnie will consult on, devise and execute market-leading content campaigns for New Narrative clients across these sectors.

Cushnie joins from Euromoney Institutional Investor where she was the managing editor for the banking and capital markets group in Asia. Based in Hong Kong, she oversaw the editorial teams and publishing schedule for the company’s financial titles including Asiamoney and GlobalCapital.

While at Euromoney, Cushnie established the first news site dedicated to covering the internationalisation of the renminbi, which now publishes under the brand GlobalRMB and is the leader in its field. She also produced custom reports and content for the region’s leading banks and has been a regular moderator of panels and roundtables at major industry conferences.

Cushnie holds a degree in German from King’s College London and a postgraduate diploma in Newspaper Journalism from City University London for which she received a bursary from the Guardian Media Group.

Cushnie joins at an exciting time for New Narrative which launched an office in New York in February and is expanding its operations in Hong Kong.

“We are delighted to welcome someone of Lorraine’s calibre,” said Joseph Chaney, Hong Kong-based co-founder of New Narrative. “Her joining is a tremendous boost for our team from both the editorial and business development standpoints.

“Since its founding by experienced financial journalists in 2013, New Narrative has shown consistent growth in a wide range of sectors, particularly financial services. Lorraine’s credentials as an experienced journalist and editor mean she is ideally positioned to drive the company’s expansion in this field in Asia and beyond.”

About New Narrative

New Narrative Ltd. (n/n) is a content consultancy and custom media agency founded in Hong Kong in 2013. The firm conceptualises and creates tailor-made content campaigns that drive value for a range of global companies, media organisations and research institutions.

New Narrative partners have decades of experience as senior editors and executives in leading media organisations, reporting on market-leading events and producing insightful commentary and analysis for an audience of senior decision-makers.
Press enquiries:

US:

Glenn Mott, Partner
glenn.mott@new-narrative.com
+1 646 330 3282

Hong Kong:

Joseph Chaney, Partner
joseph.chaney@new-narrative.com
+852 9411 7441

 


HONG KONG/NEW YORK, Feb 8, 2017 — New Narrative, Asia’s leading custom media agency, today announced the expansion of its operations to North America with the opening of an office in New York City that will be led by Glenn Mott, a former executive editor and publishing director at Hearst.

New Narrative creates custom research and thought leadership, multi-platform editorial content and publishing campaigns for top-tier corporations and media organizations worldwide.

Mott, an award-winning editor, publisher and journalist, joins New Narrative as the founding partner of its North American operation. Mott will draw on his extensive experience and industry network to lead the firm’s North American expansion, as well as the development of new production and distribution solutions that will enhance the reach and impact of client content and media projects.

In his previous role as editor and publishing director for the Hearst newspaper syndicate, Mott oversaw an array of syndication partnerships with global media organizations, including The Guardian, The Toronto Star, Bulls Press, Univision, Tribune Content Agency and Gannett. As publishing director he was responsible for printed book, digital and mobile publishing across all Hearst syndicated features. Mott built a diverse catalogue of titles in all formats covering a broad range of categories, including finance, healthcare, memoirs, travel, food and wine, and graphic art.

In these roles Mott also created syndication and editorial marketing strategies for a broad range of clients, including, The Atlantic, the Gallup Organization, Democracy Now!, Gatehouse Media and Lonely Planet.

Mott is a graduate of the Hearst Management Institute, conducted by the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, and Medill School of Journalism. He was a Fulbright Scholar at Tsinghua University in Beijing (2008-09) and a Kathryn Davis Fellow for Peace at Middlebury College (2013).

“Since its founding by experienced financial journalists in 2013, New Narrative has shown consistent growth in a wide range of sectors including professional and financial services, media, healthcare and technology,” said Joseph Chaney, Hong Kong-based co-founder of New Narrative. “In North America, we will expand into new fields such as education and build the highest-quality customized media services for clients in need of tailor-made editorial content, syndication, and press and publication infrastructure.”

“Given his credentials as an executive editor and publisher with deep expertise in multi-platform product creation and development, syndication and media partnerships, Glenn Mott is ideally positioned to lead the company’s North American journey.”
About New Narrative

New Narrative Ltd. (n/n) is a content consultancy and custom media agency founded in Hong Kong in 2013. The firm conceptualizes and creates tailor-made content campaigns that drive value for a range of global companies, media organizations and research institutes.

New Narrative partners collectively have more than 50 years’ experience as senior editors and executives in leading media organizations, reporting on market-leading events and producing insightful commentary and analysis for an audience of senior decision-makers.
Press enquiries:

In the U.S.:

Glenn Mott, Partner
glenn.mott@new-narrative.com
+1 646 330 3282
In Hong Kong:

Joseph Chaney, Partner
joseph.chaney@new-narrative.com
+852 9411 7441