News & Views

It’s no secret that large corporations have a tough time recruiting for internal editorial positions. And even if they get lucky and find the right candidate, retaining the newcomer for the long haul is often even more of a challenge.

In fact, some of n/n’s clients readily admit that they first approach us simply because they are unable to build an internal editorial team of their own.

Why is this the case? After all, some estimates proclaim content marketing will become a US$400+ billion industry by 2021, up from US$195 billion in 2016. If ‘content’ is now so important, and consuming ever larger chunks of marketing budgets, why is the discipline so hard to hire for?

Here’s our two cents on this issue, given what we’ve seen over the years from our perch as one of Asia’s largest specialist content agencies. Every situation is different, or course. But according to what our clients tell us, the following patterns have emerged as relatively consistent across a number of organisations.

1. RESOURCES

Content creation is hard – and takes more than one person
Editorial production is a team effort, and very time consuming. That’s why top newsrooms are staffed by numerous specialist journalists and editors.  But in corporate life, the ‘content team’ is sometimes a team of one reporting into a larger marketing department — which is also responsible for many non-editorial initiatives, such as event planning and sponsorships.  Problems quickly arise when business leaders make competing content demands on one content executive. For example, the Head of Greater China wants a 5,000-word overview of Belt and Road investment opportunities, while the Head of Debt Capital Markets wants an op-ed series on the evolution of risk pricing in China. Both business heads want the work finished in just two weeks.

The result? Frustration all around. The content executive throws his or her hands up and says it can’t be done – the deadlines are unrealistic.  The business heads are frustrated that their requests are denied; and the marketing team wonders if they’ve wasted their money hiring the content executive in the first place.

2.TALENT

Top editorial talent is often in the newsroom — or working at an agency
Often times those who have dedicated their lives to content want to be in the centre of the action – and that means they want to work for the world’s most prestigious newsrooms, whether that’s the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal. They dream of Pulitzer prizes, shaping WTO policies with brilliant analyses, and taking down corrupt politicians with hard-hitting investigations. The corporate life simply can’t offer the buzz of a newsroom – or even the workflow variety offered by a top agency, for that matter.

The result? Corporate hiring managers are often left with slim pickings, as they are unwilling to pay enough to attract senior editorial professionals. Those willing to take the internal corporate job often don’t have the skills or experience to shape editorial strategies and marshal sufficient resources from the ground up.

3. WORKFLOW

Lack of diversity (and controversy) in the work itself
Corporate content managers are required to think about the same entity everyday: his or her employer. The topics may change, but the end product is always the same – i.e. this is my company’s views on X and this is my company’s views on Y. Just compare that to life in a newsroom, where there is a never-ending buffet – refreshed daily — of projects on offer. On Monday you’re covering a shareholder scandal in a technology company; and on Tuesday breaking news on an industry changing M&A deal.

The result? Boredom sets in. The corporate content executive feels underutilised. S/he struggles to exercise news judgement because that judgment is always constrained by other corporate priorities and plans. Meanwhile, a range of internal actors – from business heads to compliance officers – seek control over the editorial agenda to manage legal risks and protect commercial interests, exacerbating the content executive’s feelings of powerlessness.

4. OFFICE ATMOSPHERE

Writers and other ‘content creators’ need ample amounts of alone time 
Although editorial planning and production requires a team, getting down to work on a white paper or infographic or video script is often a solo affair. Door shut, phone off, and headphones on. The problem is corporate life doesn’t really support such solitude. Executives at every level are often required to join teleconferences and group meetings – and those that refuse risk being branded a stubborn outsider.

The result? The content executive grows tired of asking to be left alone; while his or her colleagues wonder what the big deal is and why they can’t join the team lunch like everyone else.

—–

So, what to do? Give up and stop searching? Not necessarily. But at n/n we think it’s best to keep the following principles in mind:

  1. RESOURCES
    Allocate enough budget so the editorial leader can hire a small team for support – either internal employees or an external content agency. Explain to business leaders very clearly and without apology that quality editorial production is hard and time consuming: a tiny team simply can’t produce the volumes produced by large newsrooms.
  2. TALENT
    Accept that you pay for what you get. If you want the Wall Street Journal’s former Beijing Bureau Chief, you must entice him or her away from that exciting life with substantial incentives and rewards.
  3. WORKFLOW
    Allow the editorial executive to utilise his or her core competency – news judgement. That means they get to significantly influence the editorial agenda. Also, accept that they’ll likely recommend topics that are ‘controversial.’  While you can tone down these topics to suit your corporate strategy, the fact remains that asking editorial professionals to churn out corporate pablum won’t work if you want them to stick around.
  4. OFFICE ATMOSPHERE
    This one is self-explanatory: let the content executive get on with it — and accept that they aren’t likely to have the time to participate in every teleconference or team building event and exercise. If they absolutely must join each of those activities, ensure they have external resources on call to produce the work while they are pulled away from their desks.

That’s it for now – I’ll leave you with the Content Marketing Institute’s guide to building a content team, which includes far more tips than those outlined above. Happy CNY to all, and best of luck building your content teams in 2019 and beyond.

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If you’re anything like n/n’s editorial team, by the end of the calendar or lunar year you will have had a mental list of the most well-used thought leadership topics in your field. For core B2B sectors like financial and professional services, this list might include AI, cyber-security, sustainability, and, inevitably, digital transformation (again).

With many firms in the region still firming up content calendars for the new year, the temptation is to stick to these safe fields, especially given the anxiety over geopolitical and macroeconomic risk. (Indeed, saying anything about China is proving a real challenge, now references to the macroeconomy, trade, or outbound investment are often deemed too controversial for many compliance teams to approve. This is arguably the first time in a generation that the underlying narrative to China’s macroeconomy hasn’t been that the country is getting richer, fast.)

Yet the trick to effective thought leadership is the second word of that somewhat overused phrase: leading the pack by coming up with something novel. It’s not “thought followership”. Of course, we know that coming up with entirely new umbrella topics is not always realistic. The fact that the year is porcine rather than canine has no bearing on what matters to our clients (or, more crucially, their clients), or on what it makes sound editorial and commercial sense to discuss.

What is required is a new take on an underexplored or emerging sub-issue that will pique readers’ interest. The greater focus in 2018 on AI, for instance, was an evolution of the overarching fintech theme that has been running for some years, gaining mainstream relevance as once-limited technologies found broader commercial application. (Consultancies like McKinsey, as might be expected, were ahead of the curve here: ideally the topics you highlight today you’d like everyone to be talking about tomorrow.)

With that in mind I canvassed our team to find some B2B angles that we thought were underexplored (at least in the Asia-Pacific context) and ripe to feature more in the Year of the Pig. Consider them n/n’s thought leadership thought starters, perhaps…

  1. The ethics of AI: the dominant narrative last year was about how AI could help companies cut costs and deliver better service to their clients. The hot debate now is about its governance and ethical application – in everything from loan applications to help-request chatbots. Can we be sure that AI won’t incorporate the biases of its programmers, leading to problems down the road? Most B2B businesses that want to use AI (i.e. all of them) will also want to know how to protect themselves against making AI mistakes.
  2. Cross border data ownership and governance: Banks in the UK and EU are opening up their data up to third parties, creating “ecosystems” of service providers; the same is happening (with regulatory encouragement rather than coercion) in plenty of Asia-Pacific markets. Not enough analysis has been done on what this means for cross-border businesses in one of the world’s most fragmented regions. How can firms be prepared to be responsible data managers (and what commercial impact will initiatives like Australia’s Consumer Data Right have if adopted more widely)?
  3. A corollary of this is What will B2B tech ecosystems look like? Thanks to China’s digital behemoths you don’t need much imagination to see how consumer-focused tech platforms in the region can evolve. But what about the prospects for B2B ecosystems, involving fintech, insurtech and a whole raft of professional services? Sure, there are plenty of discrete innovations in the region, from trade and SME finance to new approaches to professional services, but who will bring them together? Speaking from painful experience, a one-stop shop for SME professional services would be a major boon…
  4. How will an ageing workforce affect APAC’s B2B companies? To date most commentary on ageing (in APAC at least) has been by hand-wringing actuaries or wealth managers warning about insufficient pensions. But actually ageing will affect every sector, and B2B employers are in prime position to lead on the issue of how workforces can make best use of their experienced, knowledgeable and not-ready-to-retire experts. Who’s ready to make ageing a bigger diversity & inclusion issue?

Naturally the more you drill down into different B2B sectors the more ideas bubble to the surface, but in the interests of brevity I’ll leave it there for now. Here’s hoping we see some ambitious firms ready to lead thinking on these issues in the Year of the Pig. In the meantime, Kung Hei Fat Choi!

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Not a week goes by when some of the New Narrative content team isn’t writing about fintech. So we know how tricky it can be to keep up with all the lingo and understand what new terms mean. With that in mind we’ve put together a fintech jargon buster that explains some of the ideas that are most discussed but often least well understood — such as blockchain, opening banking and initial coin offerings — while also examining some of the current discussions and developments around each topic.

Sandbox

This may seem a strange term to use about regulation, but it’s actually a helpful metaphor. A child’s sandbox creates a defined, safe space to play in, while a fintech sandbox provides allows companies to test out new technology and services under a controlled but more relaxed regulatory environment. Regulators have been keen to set up fintech sandboxes to promote innovation in financial services while also giving innovators the chance to figure out any regulatory issues that might arise. It’s also a way for regulators to ensure that they keep-up-to-date with the technological changes which are likely to affect future rules.

For firms, the advantage is usually that they get a chance to test their services using real market data and information, while being in dialogue with the regulator. It should mean their service is quicker to market and has a better chance of success. In Asia-Pacific, countries with a fintech sandbox include Australia, Japan, Hong Kong Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

fintech regulatory sandbox
Regulatory sandboxes provide a controlled environment for fintech innovation

Open banking

Open banking describes the process by which banks share data with third parties with the aim of improving the financial services and products available to customers. In many countries, such as Australia, Hong Kong and UK, banking services are dominated by a few major institutions which can limit choice and competition. The idea is that open banking solves this problem by getting banks to share their data with non-banks, which are then in a stronger position to launch new products.

Many banks are embracing open banking and creating platforms for third-party developers to offer new innovations to their existing customer base. In that way a bank can be seen to be offering the best range of products and services while also retaining the customer relationship. For customers — business and retail — some of the oft-discussed benefits include having a single application that contains information from multiple bank accounts in one place, easier switching between bank providers, and quicker payment methods.

It’s not always up to the banks, though. Many countries have created open banking regulation that compels them to share data with other regulated providers, as the authorities seek to encourage competition and innovation. Key regulatory initiatives include PSD2 in the European Union, CMA Open Banking in the UK, Open API Framework in Hong Kong and Open Banking in Australia.

The sharing of data is usually achieved through an application programme interface (API), essentially a way for two systems to communicate with each other and share data. In some publications the term API is used interchangeably with open banking, even though this is not strictly correct. APIs are also not a new technology — well-known examples include Google giving access to its Maps data to use in the Uber app, or a flight search website communicating with airline websites to provide a list of flight options — but the term has come to greater public prominence with the push towards open banking.

Robo-advisors

This has been one of the most discussed themes in wealth management over the last few years. While the name conjures images of androids telling people which funds to buy, it is probably more accurate to speak of greater automation of wealth advisory services. In most cases this means using algorithms and artificial intelligence to guide clients to the best investments through a series of questions and options (a process that also in theory makes it easier to work backwards from desired outcome to optimal investment strategy). For now, it is rare for robo-advisors not to be used in conjunction with some level of human input.

The advantages for both the wealth manager and the client are that robo-advisors are more cost-effective than humans alone, and can often provide better outcomes as they are capable of crunching more data. But like any automation technology, it is only as good as the information that supports it, and the algorithms that provide potential solutions.

robo-advisors
Robo-advisors are more cost effective

Blockchain

It can be easy to get terms Blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) confused as they are often used interchangeably. Blockchain is the most well-known example of a type of DLT. Part of the reason it is so high profile is because it is the technology behind Bitcoin.

Blockchain works by allowing users to enter information — a stock trade for example — into encrypted electronic blocks known as ledgers, with everybody in the chain receiving updated information at the same time, which speeds up transaction processing. This means there is no central database or record, and once information is entered it is immutable. This is why is it often viewed as a way to reduce fraud and prevent cyberattacks in financial transactions — you will often hear people talk about ‘a single source of truth’.

In financial services, most of the focus has been on so-called private or enterprise blockchains. These are blockchains that are only open to participants that are invited to be part of the platform. The underlying technology remains the same but they tend to be limited to regulated institutions and be more structured than public blockchains.

blockchain how it works

Initial Coin Offerings (ICO)

ICOs are a way for companies to raise funds for projects. They are often likened to initial public offerings (IPOs) and while they do have some similarities, there are some key differences including the fact that ICOs are not issued on a regulated exchange and do not have the same investor protections. ICOs can also be sold directly to investors without the requirement to go through a licenced intermediary.

So how does an ICO work? A company that wants to launch a new product or service will publish a whitepaper that explains the project and how it plans to use the funds from the ICO. The company will then issue and sell a set amount of crypto-tokens to investors, much like the shares a company issues during an IPO. The capital raised is used to fund the new product or service, and investors look to make returns from the rise in the value of the token. Like shares, the value of tokens can fall as well as rise.

In most countries, ICOs operate in a regulatory grey area. The sharp growth in ICOs (see chart), means regulators are taking a closer look at the instrument. Some countries, including South Korea and China, have banned ICOs, and the sector is likely to face stricter oversight in major markets in the future. The crypto-industry is also trying to meet the challenge presented by greater regulatory oversight by evolving the product. One potential answer is Security Token Offerings (see below).

For more on ICOs, check out the excellent Investopedia page.

initial coin offering volumes

Security Token Offerings (STO)

Security Token Offerings are a response from the crypto-industry to the need for a better regulated method of fundraising. Unlike ICOs, STOS are classified as securities (at least by the US Securities and Exchange Commission; China has already banned the instrument) and so must adhere to securities regulations. This means they offer more investor protection but correspondingly are more expensive for companies wishing to issue them.

As well as being regulated, STOs can be and are often backed by a tangible asset such as bonds, stocks or property. By ‘tokenizing’ these assets, they can be traded using distributed ledger technology (see blockchain section above). 

 

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Also on offer: a highly competitive base salary, commensurate with experience, benefits such as a company medical plan and paid holidays, and a flexible and progressive work environment that puts a premium on work-life balance.

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