News & Views

HONG KONG, Apr. 24, 2018 — New Narrative Ltd., Asia’s leading content consultancy, today announced that Arjun Kashyap, former Hong Kong Bureau Chief at S&P Global Market Intelligence, joins the company as Managing Editor.

Kashyap will help the Hong Kong-based firm expand its growing business producing strategic content for leading financial institutions and corporations in Asia, the Middle East and beyond.

Kashyap, an analyst turned journalist, has over 15 years of experience at publications in the US, India and Asia. As a correspondent he has reported from around the globe, interviewing investors in New York and Washington, technocrats in Silicon Valley and Bangalore, central bank officials in Mumbai and Nairobi, and women entrepreneurs across rural India, among others.

As an editor, he has led coverage of major business and geopolitical news from around the world, with a focus on Asia and the Middle East. Among other initiatives he helped launch and scale up audience engagement platforms for Thomson Reuters and overhauled IBT Media’s newsroom operations in India.

Kashyap’s work has appeared in various outlets, including The New York Times and CNBC. He has also been an invited speaker, panelist and moderator at numerous industry events.

Kashyap holds Masters degrees in Journalism from Michigan State University and Columbia University, and a Masters in Management Studies from Mumbai University.

“As Asia’s importance as a driver of the global economy grows, New Narrative, with its deep content expertise, is perfectly placed to help companies raise their brand profiles in the region,” Kashyap says. “I’m very excited to be part of such a great team.”

About New Narrative

Founded in 2013 by former financial journalists, New Narrative works with leading professional and financial services companies to give them and their executives a distinctive voice. New Narrative helps them communicate their views to clients, employees, investors, governments and regulators through sustained, compelling content campaigns in a variety of written and visual media.

Press enquiries:

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

 

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Those of us in media businesses are surrounded by freelancers. In fact, many of us at one time or another have chosen to be freelancers ourselves, until other opportunities arose (or the need for job security got acute).

Whereas freelancing was once seen as a risky decision, today it is a major feature of the ‘gig’ economy. Many new firms aim to link freelancers with clients: Upwork and Fiverr are just two that come to mind.

In the gig economy, the view of freelance life has changed: it’s now less about going it alone, and more a celebration of individuality, flexibility and the entrepreneurial spirit.

(Full disclosure, n/n – like most businesses — hires freelance contributors on a project basis from time to time. But the issue is knowing when and where to use them.)

One crucial area of media work not suitable for the ‘gig economy’ is the task of developing a coherent, detailed and cutting-edge content strategy for large companies. This takes more than one freelancer – or even a group of them.

It takes a unified team of media consultants who are able, and willing, to formulate an overarching publishing program that is aligned with the client’s messaging goals over a long time horizon.

At n/n, we find some marketers assume that whomever is writing the report or designing the infographic should also formulate the vision behind it. They ask a writer to guess what works, without a coherent strategy in place before writing begins.

This is the proverbial ‘throw something at the wall and hope it sticks’ approach. It’s a waste for everyone – a waste of both the writer’s and client’s time, when, after four weeks of drafting a 5,000-word white paper (or whatever), the client decides it’s not what they wanted.

This isn’t how professionals create good content. When you walk into any newsroom you will see there are journalists cranking out the stories and bureau chiefs and other news planners driving the broader agenda.

The same should apply to companies aiming to make an impact with their content. The business heads, working in collaboration with marketing and editorial consultants, should formulate the broader agenda before the writer or designer works his or her magic on the blank page.

The first step in devising a high-impact publishing program is to conduct an ideation workshop in which campaign stakeholders identify key campaign goals, analyze what’s already been published to see what has worked (and what hasn’t), and try to carve out a unique voice in their sphere of influence. Only then will a long-form campaign have a chance at succeeding in the marketplace of ideas.

Without a doubt, some of the greatest journalism is produced by freelancers, as they are mostly (and blissfully) free of the office politics and corporate constraints that inevitably shape the work of full-time employees.

But the fact remains: effective content strategies can’t be worked out on the fly by a team of disconnected individuals. Rather, such work requires the sustained effort and consistent analysis of a unified team, whether that team sits in-house or out.

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“I know half my marketing budget is wasted. The trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Any marketing professional will have come across that quotation by Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker. Or it might have been said by Henry Ford, JC Penney, or any other of a half a dozen early twentieth century titans of commerce.

Its dubious provenance is only part of the problem I have with it: its superficial folk wisdom doesn’t bear much scrutiny (as WPP’s Jeremy Bullmore wrote in a thoughtful essay on the sentence in 2013.) Its biggest problem is that it is has never been true. There has never been a good excuse for marketing expenditure to be “wasted”, as long as campaign goals and metrics are defined in advance.

In Wanamaker’s heyday (or Penney’s, Ford’s, whomever’s) it would have been a straightforward job to establish the impact of a marketing campaign, especially since most such pre-mass-media spending was geographically isolated. By taking the gross sales for a defined period after a campaign, subtracting the pre-campaign average, and dividing the difference (hopefully, a positive figure!) into the marketing dollars spent, Wanamaker could work out, say, whether billboards in Harrisburg did better than those in Wilkes-Barre, or if radio spots in either city beat print ads. Of course, other factors might have played a role in sales performance over time, but Wanamaker wouldn’t have been flying half-blind in calculating the return on marketing investment.

Maybe the quotation bemoans the fact that many people who saw the billboards or ads, or heard the radio spots, would have been unmoved to buy. That’s not really the point, though. Other things being equal if, after a campaign, sales went up, the marketing expenditure would have been amply justified.

Made to measure

Today it’s doubly more pointless to wheel out this maxim as a get-out-of-the-CFO’s-office-free card, for the simple reason that you can be much more targeted in your marketing—and since our bread and butter is B2B content, I’ll stick to that—on platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, together with old-fashioned media.

There are also many thousands more ways to measure the impact of that expenditure, through numerous engagement and brand impact metrics—as well as the plain old top line. Of course, too much choice isn’t exactly helpful here. That’s why for all content campaigns, marketers need to establish the precise business goals and what kind of measurements would constitute success, before pulling the trigger.

The key thing to remember is that every campaign is different. Among our clients, for instance, a tech firm selling a specific solution to a specific decision-maker in a specific industry measures the impact of their content in terms of its power to earn marketing qualified leads, benchmarking the marketing budget against their average cost per lead.

A major bank, meanwhile, seeking to raise the profile of its senior staff among corporate treasurers in a certain country, prefers to track LinkedIn engagement as the most important figure to focus on. Select other social media stats are used as supporting evidence, along with brand awareness studies.

It’s important to get the buy-in of the budget decision makers on these metrics in advance. Otherwise, when it comes to talking about the impact of your content, the temptation is to wheel out every stat under the sun to justify its success—which won’t win you any friends among time-poor senior management. And they certainly won’t accept the excuse, given with a shrug, that half the marketing budget has always been wasted, so what are they worried about anyway?

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New Narrative recently celebrated its fifth birthday, and though we’re still not quite sure where the years went, we decided to mark the occasion with an evening of drinks, canapes and good cheer at LOT88 in Central, Hong Kong. Some photographic highlights from the event are below. A massive thank you to our clients, colleagues and friends old and new who took the time out to join us — we couldn’t have done it without you.

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Last time we checked, the New Narrative headquarters were staffed by an entirely human team of writers, editors and other creative types … which is why recent research showing a third of marketing teams in Asia Pacific are already using artificial intelligence (AI) to create content — well above the rates in North America and Europe — made us a touch uneasy. Most of the media’s biggest names, of course, have been experimenting with automated news writing for a while. The tech gurus at Gartner predicted a while back that a full 20% of all business content this year will be authored by machines.

Never ones to back down in the face of competition, we decided to put these pesky robots to the test. In this case that meant experimenting with AI Writer, billed as a service that’s able to research and write an article for you from scratch — all it needs is a few keywords. Better yet, trying it out is free of charge.

Choosing a relatively straightforward subject close to our (and our clients’) hearts, we asked for an article on “investing in Asian emerging markets.” Just a few minutes later it arrived in our inbox, as promised.

The first thing we noticed was that ‘AI Writer’ apparently doesn’t do headlines. Score one for the humans. Bracing ourselves to be sucked in by a riveting lead paragraph, we read:

Strategists at multinational corporations can draw on a rich body of work to advise them on how to enter emerging markets, but managers of local companies in these markets have had little guidance.  

Hmm. We were thinking investment in asset markets, but fair enough. Keen to find out more, we read on.

Like Bajaj, most emerging market companies have assets that give them a competitive advantage mainly in their home market.

Wait, where did India’s renowned maker of auto rickshaws come from? And isn’t the fact that companies tend to enjoy a home-market advantage, well, not much of a revelation? But lest we be accused of robophobia, we indulged our circuit-based scribe a little longer.

As protectionist barriers crumble in emerging markets around the world, multinational companies are rushing in to find new opportunities for growth.

But … don’t we get to hear more about Bajaj? And protectionist barriers crumbling? Evidently this robot thinks it’s 2005.

It sort of went downhill from there, with the conclusion of the article cheerily informing us that Taiwan is one of the four markets “that are part of the acronym TICK.” Has anyone else heard of this, or did the robot make the whole thing up?

It’s worth pointing out that AI Writer was nothing if not rigorous in its sourcing — it cited the article created on our behalf to Harvard Business Review and Nasdaq, among others. But proper sourcing is a legally delicate process that again argues for some degree of human oversight.

All that said, we admit AI Writer appears to be able to trawl the web for views or factoids on a topic with uncanny speed. So perhaps expect to see more AI-assisted research powering content, AI-informed approaches to areas like content distribution and analysis and perhaps more AI-authored content that’s heavily data-based or follows standard formats — earnings reports, for example. Okay, okay, we’re biased, but we came away from this exercise confident generating genuinely insightful ideas and analysis will be the domain of humans (like us) for some time yet.

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When searching for an effective thought leadership strategy, many of our clients ask us: “Where do we begin? How do we know what to publish?”

That’s a fair question. Publishing with impact is hard no matter who you are.

And then there are those clients – admittedly far fewer in number – who have the exact opposite problem: they simply publish too much. That’s to say, they saturate the market with commentary on every little development, trusting that volume alone will win the battle for more influence.

What these clients forget is that discernment and balance are also vital factors in any sound publishing strategy. We all know that friend who talks too much, much to the annoyance of his fellow dinner guests. After a while you begin to nod mindlessly at the sound of his voice – or tune him out completely.

Another parallel is found in the world of luxury travel. Five-star service is not only knocking on your door at evenly spaced intervals to inquire if you need your shoes polished or desire another complimentary fruit basket. Five-star service is also about knowing when to leave you alone.

These same principles apply to the world of thought leadership publishing. If you don’t publish at all, well – you can’t become a thought leader. If you publish too much, clients and consumers will tune you out.

So, at risk of talking too much and ignoring my own advice, here’s a few tips to help you find that elusive balance.

1. Clean your internal publishing pipes
Clients who publish too much often suffer from the same problem: they lack a formal publishing process and everyone internally – from VPs to MDs – wants a piece of the action. They simply turn on the tap and hope what flows out is good enough. This results in too much content from too many voices – much of it mediocre at best.

Solution: Identify who internally owns which pieces of your company’s editorial output, and give them the authority to set the tone. Have the confidence to say no to those who shouldn’t be publishing – and also resist editing everything you publish via committee. The more editors involved, the more you water down your output.

2. Allocate clearly-defined content budgets
Knowing how much you have to spend on thought leadership (as opposed to other types of marketing) encourages you to make strategic decisions and take a structured approach. It also helps you figure out what’s possible with the budget you have, forcing hard decisions about expenditures and desired ROI.

Solution: Mark the budget at the beginning of each year (or the beginning of each quarter) to establish a clear view of the potential size – or limits – of your publishing programme. And then work backward to define and shape your editorial calendar.

3. Be honest about what you’re qualified to talk about
Let’s be honest – no one is an authority on everything. Take Amazon for example. The e-commerce giant can easily talk about literary trends, because it has the sales data to back up its observations. But it’s better qualified to talk about e-commerce, or internet book retailing in general. More traditional publishers are better positioned to talk about literary trends.

Solution: Be honest about where you stand in the market and pick your sweet spot. Be confident enough to let others – even quasi competitors – to lead a conversation that you aren’t uniquely qualified to speak about.

4. Know what else is out there
Far too many aspiring thought leaders don’t know their place in the public conversation simply because they aren’t aware of what has already been said and what needs saying.

Solution: Read up on the best out there – whether that’s on Bloomberg, Reuters, or in the Financial Times – and do so frequently. That will give you a better view on the value of what you’re saying, and how it is likely to be received in the marketplace of ideas.

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Earlier this week fellow n/n Partner Lorraine and I gave a perhaps ambitiously titled talk at the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about B2B Content Marketing”.

After we’d finished, a former journalist colleague approached me, perhaps remembering what we’d said about being careful with statistics, and said that although it didn’t quite deliver “everything”, it covered at least 84.6% of what he wanted to know. (Unfortunately he didn’t tell me what the missing 15.4% was…)

We’d be happy to share the entire talk of course (watch this space for a webinar) but one part in particular had most of the audience reaching for their smartphone cameras: this diagram, which set up the rest of the talk.

B2B Content Marketing Decision-Making Flowchart

This isn’t rocket science, but it bears repeating. If content marketers follow this flowchart – with each step ranked in order of priority – and get buy-in on each decision before they embark on a campaign, then they are much less likely to go wrong (in terms of strategy at least; as to actually producing quality content, that’s a different matter.)

Everything flows from the business aim of the campaign, whether this is broad brand-building at the top of the sales funnel, lead conversion at the bottom, or anything in between. That decided, the next most important decision is the audience: nowadays you can be very precise indeed about specific “personas” you might want to target and, of course, which channels are suited to reach them.

Only then should marketers think about the type of content to produce. Easier said than done, of course, but it’s crucial to remember that this is subordinate to those first three decision points. In our experience, content campaigns that don’t follow this decision-making hierarchy are far less likely to succeed.

This brings us to the last decision point: how will you define success? Since the commercial aims of a campaign may vary, so too do the means to measure ROI. There are hundreds of thousands of potential KPIs to choose from (not least metrics from social media) but this doesn’t make the job easier, since budget decision makers won’t be impressed with a disordered jumble of stats.

That makes it doubly important to agree on this in advance. Of course, you need the flexibility to adapt, especially in a long campaign. But getting stakeholders’ buy-in on all five points from the outset should get you at least, I estimate, 84.6% of the way to success.

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Content marketing remains a nascent, if growing, industry in Asia so it’s always great to have to chance to hear the opinions of other professionals working in this area. That was one of the pleasures of a recent panel discussion I attended in Hong Kong (as well as the complimentary wine…) In addition to providing plenty of insight, it brought into sharp relief some of the miscommunication common between marketing teams and the agencies that serve them.

So in the interests of bringing greater harmony to Asia’s content market industry, here are some of the main talking points from the night and New Narrative’s assessment.

Budget or no budget in the brief?

This question produced the biggest divergence in opinion on the night. The agencies speaking at the event felt very strongly that clients needed to provide a budget when commissioning a project. If not a precise figure, then they needed at least to give a range or upper limit to give some sense about what the agency should be aiming for.

Marketers, though, were quite opposed to the idea. In part, this was borne out of their previous experience of agencies far exceeding the budget limits given to them. It also came from a feeling that agencies would inevitably pitch a solution that used up the whole budget regardless of whether it was justified.

New Narrative’s take: While an unscrupulous agency might be looking to squeeze their clients dry at every opportunity, the best ones are trying to build long-term, strategic partnerships. As part of that, they want to understand a client’s needs — and that includes budget. Having a budget allows agencies to recommend the correct mix of content at a price the client can bear. Otherwise they are left guessing, which means their proposals might be rejected multiple times before they meet a client’s requirements, leading to frustration all round.

Clients need to trust agencies to come up with the right solution at the right price. Likewise, if a budget is available up front, agencies need to accept that not every project needs to max it out to succeed. Of course, trust on both sides needs to be earned!

Information vs instruction

How much detail is the right amount for a project brief? A lively discussion on this was prompted by a question from the audience. For the agencies, it was felt that having as much information as possible about the context for the campaign meant they were able to present better ideas to the client.

More information doesn’t necessarily mean more instruction, though. Marketers and agencies agreed the key was for a client not to be too prescriptive in which ideas could be put forward. In addition, both sides viewed the process as one of evolution, where ideas can be discussed, adapted and revised until the best outcome is reached.

New Narrative’s take: Generally speaking more information is better, but let our creative juices flow! That’s what you’re paying for, after all. On top of that, we always advise clients not to view a proposal as the final say, but rather as the beginning of the conversation. As a strategic partner, we understand a client’s need for a flexible and collaborative approach and it’s also how we prefer to work.

Trust me, I’m an expert

Finally, during a discussion about pet peeves, one frustration clearly voiced by agencies was not being treated like the expert. This was less about ego and more about asking clients to recognise they had hired an agency for its expertise (and, as mentioned, its creative talents), and should listen to the offered advice rather than force through bad decisions that weaken rather than strengthen campaigns.

The marketers took this on board but didn’t look happy!

New Narrative’s take: This is one of the biggest challenges for agencies and marketers. At New Narrative, we always advise clients on what we think is the best course of action and will be clear if we think a decision will undermine the project objectives. This is especially crucial when it comes to creating a credible editorial voice, an issue content marketing (as opposed to plain old marketing) always has to grapple with.

But we also understand that marketers have internal relationships and pressures to manage that sometimes no amount of good advice can overcome. And we are always willing to help marketers craft a convincing argument to use with internal stakeholders to get the best outcome.

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2017 was a year of expansion for New Narrative with the launch of our New York office and three new team members in Hong Kong. And we’re continuing this growth into 2018. We are pleased to be hiring for a talented financial writer and editor to join our team. Full job details are below. Interested parties, please email a CV, cover letter and two examples of your writing to careers@new-narrative.com.

JOB DESCRIPTION

New Narrative, Asia’s leading financial and professional services content marketing agency, is expanding and looking for a talented financial writer and editor to join its growing team in Hong Kong.

From our offices in Hong Kong and New York, New Narrative delivers compelling content to the world’s leading banks, asset managers, law firms, fintech companies, consultants and others. Our clients rely on our unwavering dedication to editorial quality and our deep understanding of their businesses–and what resonates with their target audiences–to help them publish world-class research and thought leadership.

New Narrative’s management team has decades of experience in senior editorial roles in leading international media organisations, reporting on major events and producing commentary and analysis for an audience of senior decision-makers in the financial and professional services sectors.

Role: Editor, Financial Services

The company is looking for a dynamic and ambitious writer and editor to create content across a range of media for discerning and demanding clients. The role calls for a motivated and confident writer and editor with experience of covering financial markets, and the ambition to show what they can do at a young and fast-growing company in a new and rapidly evolving industry.

As Editor you will be responsible for producing content on a range of topics, in a range of formats, and to a range of deadlines. One week you might be writing a blog series on blockchain; the next you could be crafting tweets live from an asset management seminar in Shanghai; the next setting down to write the agenda for an event on the economics of the Belt & Road Initiative. The appeal of the job lies in its constant variety: no two client briefs are alike!

Skills and Experience Required

The successful candidate should have:

— A minimum of three years’ experience in an editorial role at a major publishing business

— Experience producing high-quality content across a range of formats, including long- and short-form written content, infographics, video and other digital formats (NB: we are looking for editorial quality; graphic design and video production skills are not required)

— Experience writing about the financial and professional services sectors for audiences of senior executives (samples of both unedited and published work will be required)

— Knowledge of the traditional, new and social media communications strategies of financial and professional services firms

— Impeccable written English skills and a commitment to editorial quality in everything you do, from text messages to tweets to treatises

— A network of contacts among marketing and communications decision-makers in these industries would be a distinct advantage

— The right to work in Hong Kong

— The willingness to travel overseas for work

Salary

The role offers a generous base salary, based on experience.

Other benefits include medical insurance, paid holidays and a company mobile phone.

Why work at n/n?

New Narrative offers a progressive working environment. While the hours don’t always fit easily into 9-5, we actively pursue a policy of work-life balance for all staff.

As a small but fast-growing company in a nascent industry in Asia, we offer unmatched opportunities for advancement. The right candidate can help shape the future direction of our business and the region’s content marketing industry.

New Narrative is an equal opportunities employer.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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

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We don’t usually blow our own trumpet at n/n; we’re usually too busy helping our clients blow theirs via the content that we create on their behalf. Nevertheless, it’s gratifying that our work sometimes gets recognised, even if by proxy.

In the 2016 International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) awards, held in London earlier this month, FleishmanHillard Fishburn (FHF) and Ketchum Research took the prize for the World’s Best PR Campaign in the Healthcare sector, for the Philips Future Health Index.

This groundbreaking campaign benchmarked countries’ readiness to meet emerging healthcare challenges by examining perceptions about the accessibility and level of integration of healthcare services, and the adoption of connected care technology. This was based on an ambitious survey of healthcare professionals and patients conducted by a team led by FHF and Ketchum Research.

Where did n/n come in? We analysed the findings and used them to craft the core FHI report, turning the extensive research data into a trenchant and compelling editorial product that contained insights and calls to action for a broad audience of healthcare practitioners, policymakers and experts. Far beyond a simple marketing exercise, this programme puts Philips at the centre of a global discussion that will have profound implications for how countries and populations worldwide address emerging healthcare challenges.

We’d like to extend our congratulations to Philips for recognising the transformative potential of content backed by solid research; FHF and Ketchum for devising a great campaign … and, okay, ourselves. We’ve always believed that our work sets new bars at the highest international levels, and that editorially impeccable content will be increasingly vital to help firms burnish their brands. This is solid evidence that we’re not wrong on either of those counts.

Here’s to an award-winning (and content-rich) 2017!

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How can you tell content marketing works? When even the marketing companies are using it. The ‘State of Inbound 2016’ report from sales software specialist HubSpot is a good example, and an insightful piece of research in its own right.

HubSpot being an inbound sales platform, the neutrality of its conclusions might be called into question, but the firm’s certainly done some legwork, polling 4,500 marketers globally and 800 in Asia Pacific alone — most non-HubSpot customers in small and mid-sized enterprises. Not surprisingly, the report shows inbound marketing (that is, getting customers to come to you via a website, content or referrals) is far more effective in terms of return on investment than the ‘outbound’ variety (shouting at customers to come to you with display, banner or other types of ads). Here are some of the other key findings from our perspective:

Content is a must — and a struggle

Creating content was the second-biggest inbound marketing priority for Asia-Pacific companies, just under enhancing their website search engine optimisation. But it doesn’t necessarily come easy; nearly a third (31%) saw targeting content for an international audience as a major challenge.

Content can also be exhausting — 66% of marketers said they develop their own content in-house, and almost a quarter (23%) spend four hours or more crafting one short blog post. It’s great that so much thought and care is going into the process, but (depending on subject matter) it really shouldn’t take that long — and can’t, if small marketing teams hope to generate content at a rate (and on a level of quality) to fuel ambitious campaigns and long-term engagement. Simple lack of capacity may result in more enlisting the help of (ahem) outside agencies to support their content needs, which a mere 21% those polled did currently.

Distribution: The classics reign (for now)

While HubSpot concentrated on blogs in this study, next year’s will almost certainly have to encompass video — YouTube and Facebook video were the most popular emerging content distribution channels, with 51% and 40% of those polled respectively planning to add them to their marketing programs in the next 12 months. Instagram was a distant third (28%) while few placed much emphasis on Snapchat (11%) or Vine (5%). This indicates to us that marketers plan to focus their content efforts on a couple of key formats or platforms, and that’s a sound strategy — far better to master one or two distribution channels than to do a half-hearted job of populating all of them.

The study also shows most people continue to draw a line between social and business networking. Only LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are seen as ‘professional’ platforms; others, including Instagram, WeChat and Weibo, are still used almost exclusively for personal purposes. That doesn’t necessarily mean these channels should be disregarded by businesses, but does suggest that LinkedIn and Facebook are still the places where ‘serious’ content is most likely to connect with decision makers, and have the most impact, particularly in the business-to-business context. This might change as more organisations refine their visual content offerings, or turn their attention to the mainland Chinese market and its homegrown networking platforms.

All in all, it’s encouraging that content and not ad spending is viewing as the new marketing currency, and we look forward to seeing how the results change next year.

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We’re very happy to announce today the formal appointment of n/n’s new Hong Kong-based director of business development, Elizabeth Kwong.

A veteran of top-tier media brands such as Asiamoney, Time and the Economist Group, Elizabeth boasts a formidable combination of sales skills and serious publishing and project management chops, and has helped shape content strategies for a range of clients in industries from technology to retail. We expect Elizabeth to play a major role in our future growth (and perhaps keep the rest of us in line in the process).

For more details on Elizabeth and the rest of the expanding team, please see our People page.

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Many of the events of the second day of RISE, Hong Kong’s tech-startup-focused conference, were devoted to disruption in marketing and media (how could we not attend?) One of the most interesting panels was entitled “The media-driven brand”, but as one panellist noted the discussion could equally have been about “brand-driven media”. Which is driving which? It’s not a new question, but it has become more pointed as traditional publishers struggle to revamp their subscription and advertising-dependent business models, and as companies are producing more high-quality content (which is where, *cough*, we come in) alongside pure brand advertising.

Publishers have traditionally won or lost on the size and quality of their audiences, but now–in competition with behemoths like Facebook and its endless free newsfeed–they face difficult choices about how make their businesses sustainable. “Media needs to be rebooted,” said Rob Fan, co-founder and CTO of Sharethrough, a native advertising platform, on the RISE panel. He cited Buzzfeed, which has parlayed its mass appeal to the digital native crowd into some serious journalism.

Coming at it from the other direction is harder. Traditional publishers will find it hard to build Buzzfeed-level fanbases and are unlikely to see subscriptions or old-style ad sales recover lost ground. Sadly, great content alone is not enough to make them solvent. (Just ask Alan Rusbridger.) There are some innovative attempts out there–including in our home town–to crowdfund news reporting, but however commendable such efforts are, it seems media and brands will have to keep collaborating to make the most out of their target audiences’ evolving proclivities.

One solution–that Mr Fan’s platform was founded to enable–is to allow native advertising; that is, embedding and integrating a brand’s content alongside the publisher’s own. This can help independent publishers survive, Mr Fan claimed, warning that without them we’d risk a world where “everyone is a blogger” and no one does any serious reporting. But there is a risk with native advertising that companies and publishers alike recognise: if it isn’t clearly demarcated, the audience may start to lose trust in the credibility and authority of the publisher–and by extension the brand paying for the content. (The Onion, itself no stranger to the concept, made a good, and very crude, point about this a few years back. Only follow that link–or read The Onion–if you’re not easily offended.)

Trust is hard-won and easily lost. But as another panellist, Lara Setrakian, co-founder and CEO of NewsDeeply, explained, there is a way to build it and simultaneously make high-quality independent publishing sustainable in collaboration with corporate partners. First, and above all, establish that editorial goals are paramount, and do good work. This will generate loyal and passionate communities of followers that companies will want to reach. Then use this experience to create custom projects on related themes. (It’s also a model that The Economist Intelligence Unit has used to good effect when conducting sponsored research.)

Of course this means walking a fine editorial line, but it is one that it pays both media platforms and corporate brands to adhere to–if they want to build trust in their audiences. Ceding a degree of editorial control is uncomfortable for some brands, but given they share with the publisher the objectives of building a sustainable business and pleasing a discerning audience, it’s a step that must be taken.

 

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We’re very pleased to announce we’re seeking the next addition to the n/n team, in the form of a Hong Kong-based director of business development. A full description of the role is below — please e-mail applications or any questions to info@new-narrative.com

Title: Director of Business Development, Hong Kong

New Narrative (n/n) is looking for a dynamic sales director to help scale the company and drive its growth from phenomenal to incredible. With responsibility for new client acquisition as well as deepening relationships with existing clients, the role calls for a dynamic, motivated and confident sales leader eager to grow professionally in—and alongside—an ambitious and rapidly expanding enterprise.

Skills and Experience Required

The successful candidate should have:

— A minimum of five years’ experience in media sales or a senior corporate communications or marketing role

— Experience working in the financial or professional services sectors

— Knowledge of the traditional, new and social media communications strategies of financial and professional services firms

— A deep network of contacts among marketing and communications decision-makers in these industries

— A gregarious personality and a keen desire to expand his or her network of contacts

— Awareness that success depends on timely action and tenacity in adversity

— Fluent English; Cantonese would be an advantage

— The right to work in Hong Kong

Salary

The role offers a generous base salary and attractive commission, based on experience.

New Narrative is an equal opportunities employer.

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So, according to Fortune, computers are taking over the reporting of breaking financial news, and are in some respects better at it than human journalists. As former financial hacks, we saw the early stages of this transformation, and find it both intriguing and slightly troubling. We’d agree that human judgement will always be required to determine what raw numbers actually mean, and to steer clear of the kind of language that might inadvertently sow market panic. But leaving aside the implications for the journalism industry, the article raises an excellent point:

“The role of reporters today should be to act as ‘silo busters’ who can acquire information from diverse sources and present it in context … for journalists, it’s now about connecting, synthesizing and analyzing.”

This, in a nutshell, is how data should be viewed and treated by everyone. With data collection and analytics now vital to any business, most companies generate data as a matter of course that can tell compelling stories about their organisation or industry. However in addressing the media or a wider audience, simply cherry-picking a few figures is unlikely to have much impact, as numbers in isolation are essentially meaningless. For example, sales might have rose 125%, but off what kind of base? And 70% of your customers may be repeat clients, but how does that compare to the industry average?

An organisation that sifts through data to identify and shed light on longer-term trends, however, can use it to position itself as an authority with plenty to say not only about its field, but wider issues. And this applies to just about everybody; a logistics firm, for example, will have intelligence on the state of infrastructure where it operates; an online florist could easily produce some tongue-in-cheek findings on the state of romance in the various markets it ships to. Teasing a story out of data doesn’t necessarily require computer scientists or costly analytics engines; often it’s a more matter of working with the right partners to highlight, repurpose and present existing information in the most engaging possible way. We’ve used company data to develop everything from research reports to ongoing proprietary indexes, which often produce the kind of rankings and headlines that can compete with the most blatant clickbait (with, of course, a lot more class and intellectual heft).

In a crowded content market, intellectual property is one of the most valuable currencies there is — and most companies are sitting on a mountain of it. We’d humbly suggest ‘connect, synthesise, analyse’ works equally well as a mantra for business journalists and the best content programmes.

 

 

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There’s a deluge of content about creating content out there. Inevitably a lot of it is mediocre (you could say the same about content in any field) but, like the temples hidden around the otherwise aesthetically disastrous city of Kyoto, there are diamonds if you know where to look.

Gartner, where the always dependable Jake Sorofman provides regular, and regularly good, analysis on trends in content marketing, is one such place. We were struck in this post not by the snazzy London-Tube-Style map of digital marketing hubs and channels, but by the first comment on the page, by David H Deans, Texas-based technology, media and telecoms consultant. It’s worth quoting at length—we’ve added emphasis to the bits that really stand out:

I wonder if one of these Hubs will ever really help the typical B2B CMO solve their top challenge in 2016 — that being, digital marketing talent development. Having enough skilled and experienced staff that can ‘create’ meaningful and substantive content is an unattainable goal for way too many B2B marketing leaders.

Case in point: I recent worked with a large software vendor on Cloud market strategy. It typically took their Product Marketing subject-matter experts ~2 months to create a distinctive PowerPoint presentation and ~6 months to create a forward-thinking white paper. Content ideas were never an issue. However, when you asked a meeting of a dozen or more staff “who can start to write the core narrative for this project?” — everybody looks around the room; nobody is confident that they’re qualified.

This puts a common problem—one that New Narrative was founded to help solve—excellently. You might be confident you have all the right pipelines and distribution channels in place, but who’s actually going to create content that your audience wants to read, watch or engage with to fill them?

The issue can be one of training staff, as Mr Deans goes on to note. To be sure, there are many ways you can lead people through the necessary steps to tell better stories, write punchier scripts, design more eye-catching videos, become more confident presenters and so on.

But editorial nous, the kind learned in the newsroom, is harder to pick up. Astute consumers will always spot the artifice in content created by someone who isn’t confident of their own editorial acumen—or who is too beholden to the marketing department. After the pipelines are built, content expertise needs to be brought to bear—and that’s not always something that can be found or fostered internally. As with all strategies, part of a successful approach to content is knowing when to seek outside help.

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As we step into 2016, content has moved from buzzword to the boardroom. Leading companies are more prepared than ever to allocate large budgets to content marketing campaigns, and some are going one step further and hiring internal CCOs, or ‘Chief Content Officers.’

As a company that lives and breathes content, we at New Narrative (n/n) are excited to see the way the business has developed over the past couple of years, and we’re optimistic about the year ahead–though there are a few pitfalls to avoid. With that in mind, here’s our take on the trends that should drive content marketing in 2016:

Gourmet dinners trump fast food

First and foremost: quality must (and hopefully will) trump quantity. To be effective in 2016 and beyond, marketing departments must engage the people or partners that have the intellectual capital to produce compelling content, and be prepared to take calculated risks.

The Internet has given every company the ability to publish as they wish. But that freedom, while intoxicating, is often abused: some companies rush to publish even though they may not have anything compelling to say. They end up like the annoying guest at a dinner party who adds nothing of value to the conversation but keeps talking anyway.

How does a company ensure what it says is compelling? That’s the million-dollar question. One rule of thumb is to make sure something important is at stake in any piece of published content–just like in the movies and novels we all know and love. Content consumers have to care about or be invested in the story, emotionally, intellectually or financially. Many companies instinctively shy away from expressing opinions or taking a clear stance in the content they produce, but that makes it difficult for an audience to draw inspiration from or identify with it.

This also means content creators need to care about caring. The issues they address in their editorial output should matter to their key stakeholders, but also resonate beyond their company and its immediate goals and interests. Put plainly, companies need to talk about something beside themselves. Corporate narcissism is no more appealing than its human counterpart.

Take a global investment bank for example. Bragging about its size or capabilities probably isn’t going to get the bank very far in the world of content marketing. But sharing a prediction about the future of market reforms in China, and how companies and investors can benefit by adjusting exposure to China’s currency, the renminbi? That’s a story that an external audience is also invested in, and positions the institution as a voice of authority on a topic that matters by many definitions.

Let’s see that editorial calendar

The second content marketing trend in 2016 will be the rise of the editorial calendar. Although quantity should never be a goal in itself, it’s a fact of life that clients, investors and customers expect regular engagement in this sleepless information era. The trick is to produce a steady stream of content without sacrificing quality.

On that note, one-off items like lengthy white papers, no matter how insightful, will no longer have the impact they once did. These projects should be part of a broader editorial calendar rolled out over a longer time horizon, typically six months to a year, that builds the image of the company as a consistent and informed voice in the marketplace.

These corporate editorial calendars, much like news planners in the world’s top media companies, should include a diverse mix of content types in order to keep audience engagement fresh and compelling. Content sets could include everything from op-ed columns to infographics to animated videos.

Flexibility is a requirement. The editorial calendar needs to respond to current news developments, and output adjusted accordingly. Again, back to the dinner table conversation analogy: no one invested in Asia’s financial markets would be interested in your views on the latest developments in Indonesia if Hong Kong were to drop its currency peg.

Focus on distribution – and results

Once you’ve got the content, what do you do with it? In 2016 more focus should be on the answers to this question. Companies will need to find partners who offer comprehensive distribution plans for their content to make sure the effort doesn’t effectively float out into space, never to return. Distribution is where companies will be able to unlock and evaluate the return on the investment they are making in their content.

The first step toward an effective measurement of content ROI is audience definition. Just as companies must have a compelling story to tell, they also need to know who the story is for. An existing customer? A potential customer? An investor? A regulator? Many companies fail to spend enough time considering these questions before they launch their campaigns, and hence struggle to produce content that’s relevant and insightful.

All content is not equal for all audiences, and no one piece of content is likely to appeal across a firm’s stakeholder groups. A bank’s insights on China’s interest rates may be of interest to currency investors or CFOs, but irrelevant to everyone else.

Once the audience is defined, however, the content can be crafted accordingly, and the right distribution machinery deployed. The options have never been more numerous. There are paid-for distribution options on LinkedIn; dedicated content publishing platforms such as Outbrain; and all-in-one marketing software solutions such as HubSpot, all of which allow content to be channeled towards certain audiences with a high degree of accuracy.

Use of these platforms will give marketers an overview of who is consuming their content, where they are based, and to what extent the content is reaching the target audience. This data, in turn, should be used to refine future content outreach and converted into sales leads, making it easy to establish the links between content and the bottom line.

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We’re delighted to announce today a new addition to the New Narrative ranks — David Line, former Asia managing editor for thought leadership at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), who joins us as an operating partner. Needless to say David’s significant experience overseeing major content campaigns on everything from the future of the renminbi to the ‘quality of death’ (eek!) in the region, as well as his talents as a panelist and pitiless pool shark, should stand us in good stead as we head into 2016. For more information on David and the rest of the team please see: https://www.new-narrative.com/about/people/

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There’s no disputing the power of crowdfunding. It’s birthed some pretty nifty things that probably otherwise wouldn’t have seen the light of day, and that the team here at n/n just can’t do without, like card games featuring exploding cats (www.explodingkittens.com) and old-school video games (http://eternity.obsidian.net/).

But can crowdfunding save and sustain journalism? Probably not, argues one of our managing directors in the current issue of the Correspondent, the official magazine of Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (http://fcchk.org/hkfp-leads-crowded-field-online-news; under ‘Crowds to the Rescue?’).

This might seem overly cynical, especially just after a couple of much-needed independent media sources have successfully launched through crowdfunding in our hometown of Hong Kong. But it’s less the ability to get a publication off the ground than keeping it going for the long-term that we’re worried about. At the same time, there’s good reason to believe journalism shouldn’t be left completely to the mercy of market forces, and that crowdfunding could serve as one pillar of a revenue strategy that also includes subscriptions, advertising and content partnerships. Donating to get a publication started is great, but what a media outlet really needs is a dedicated audience — and one that’s willing to shell out consistently in some form for what it consumes. Thankfully in the current environment there are many ways to be a long-term supporter — from regularly paying a few cents to read individual articles, to sharing good content across your personal or professional networks.

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To the list of great ethical debates of our time – cloning, capital punishment, pre-emptive strikes – we can now add … ad-blocking? At least if the general uproar over Apple’s decision to enable software that blocks online ads in the latest version of its operating system is anything to go by. Fortune frets that this state of affairs may be ‘morally wrong,’ (http://for.tn/1LKqUAx) while the slightly more hyperbolic The Verge equates it with ‘hell’ and the ‘death of the web’ (http://bit.ly/1NzuvWC).

That’s an awful lot of fire and brimstone for the hundreds of millions of people who have already downloaded ad blockers to enjoy a less intrusive web browsing experience. The basic arguments remain the same: ad blocking opponents worry it will deprive content providers, online-only media outlets in particular, of a crucial source of revenue; to the tune of $21 billion this year, according to one recent study (http://bit.ly/1DHGnnd). The publisher of consistently excellent online journal The Awl estimates ad blockers could zap up to 85 percent of its earnings (http://bit.ly/1FPqUgO). On the other side are fed-up consumers who find online ads disruptive or even invasive, and are quite happy to nip them in the bud given the option.

What’s different this time around is that Apple’s move brings what was primarily a PC phenomenon squarely into the mobile environment. Some also see it as a cynical ploy to hit Google – which makes most of its money with targeted ads – where it hurts. The controversy has already produced a few casualties; the developer of one popular ad blocker recently pulled it from Apple’s app store after having a change of heart about its possible impact on publishers.

This is a tough one. On the one hand, publishers and content producers have an unquestionable right to be compensated for their work, just like everyone else – and every click counts in an era when many previous sources of revenue (like print ads) are drying up. But it’s also hard to assert that people should be forced to endure marketing that in many cases has grown more aggressive — think blinking banners, full-page hijacks, and autoplaying videos — in its efforts to claim attention. There are also completely justifiable concerns about the tracking and data collection around web ads, which these days act more like programs than the passive billboards of yore.

Beyond the moral question, it’s important to look at what the rise of ad blocking means — and we’d hazard a couple of guesses:

*Leaner times for mid to small-sized publishers — and perhaps Google, at least until they figure out a way around it (and they will)

*More content migrating to and being accessed through apps rather than standard web browsers. Publishers and advertisers alike will be motivated to make this shift, as apps like Facebook are essentially ‘walled gardens’ in which ad blockers presumably won’t be allowed to play

*More marketing taking the form of ‘native advertising’ — that is, paid-for content, such as a sponsored article on an issue of interest to readers of a particular news website, that’s integrated into the platform around it and is therefore not typically targeted by ad blockers (at least not yet)

Some might see native advertising as a sort of wolf in sheep’s clothing. And of course, we’re biased. But as long as it’s clear when content is sponsored or supported (and who’s supporting it), we’d humbly present native ads as a compromise that might be the best way to address the ad-blocking dilemma. Publishers and creators can earn a living, and audiences won’t have to suffer through seizure-inducing pixel-fests because more advertisers are forced to come up with content that’s (hopefully) tailored, engaging, and editorially sound. Perfect, no. But better than pop-ups — surely.

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After a decade or so of being unloved, print media is suddenly looking like hot property. If Japanese financial publisher Nikkei’s move to scoop up the Financial Times for $1.3 billion wasn’t enough, now former FT owner Pearson is set to jettison its 50 percent stake in the Economist Group, publisher of the venerable self-titled magazine. Given the hefty premium the Nikkei shelled out — over 35 times the FT’s estimated operating income, according to Ken Doctor in Nieman Lab (http://bit.ly/1IlV6V7), way beyond media industry norms — the Economist sale is bound to attract a lot of interest, probably from more than a few companies that were prepared to give old-school publications up for dead.

So — is this the beginning of a newspaper/magazine bidding frenzy? Can we expect private equity funds to start squabbling over other well-established broadsheets that may (or may not) be up for grabs, like the Los Angeles Times? Maybe not. For one thing, it’s probably no coincidence that the current buzz surrounds two of the few ‘legacy’ publications with successful digital strategies — over half the FT’s revenues come from digital, and the Economist’s ‘Espresso’ daily briefing app has been downloaded over 800,000 times since its launch late last year. The FT and the Economist are powerful names; two of the very few publications globally with broadly affluent and sophisticated audiences, sterling reputations, healthy independent streaks and genuinely international credibility. Viewed in that light, the Nikkei’s purchase looks like a bargain.

The Nikkei-FT deal also seemingly vindicates a couple of strategies that raised questions in the past. One is the FT’s reluctance to work through middlemen, no matter how big or powerful, for the sake of a larger audience, demonstrated by its decision to ditch its iOS app for one of its own making. The other is Pearson not rushing to offload the paper at the earliest opportunity. It’s a simple enough calculation that paid off: in this world, there are (and always will be) only so many FTs and Economists to go around.

It’s also a nice reminder that bidding excitement, and heady valuations, aren’t limited to the current crop of digital-first, platform-neutral, social-media driven publishers (Buzzfeed, Vice, Gawker, etc.) that tend to dominate industry discussions. Relentless dedication to quality, combined with a certain degree of exclusivity, also creates massive value. It’s a formula the luxury industry knows very well, but many in the media sector seemed to have forgotten — until now.

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As investors in China’s stock markets are fast discovering, it’s tricky to put, or predict, a price on a lot of things, and the same applies to content. Companies that produce content as part of their marketing or branding strategies regularly attempt to measure its value or impact in a quantifiable fashion, like contributions to the bottom line or customer numbers. The ever-helpful experts at Contently have come up with a scorecard that aims to make that easier: http://bit.ly/1H9fiaJ

To sum up, the scorecard suggests assigning content ‘points’ based on how prominently it features the company and the importance of the media outlet(s) it makes its way into. Thus an op-ed written by a senior executive that runs in the Financial Times, say, would score far higher than a press release picked up by an obscure industry journal.

This seems sensible enough, especially if, as the author states, content marketing and traditional PR are pretty much the same thing. But we’d argue they’re not — and that a ‘score’ assigned to content based on these metrics may fail to reflect its value, for a few reasons:

*Media mentions are the holy grail of most PR campaigns, but that doesn’t have to be the case with content. Star billing in the likes of a Bloomberg TV piece is always nice, of course, but the whole point of the web and social media is that companies no longer need to rely on media outlets to publish, distribute, or connect with an audience. Compelling, informative content (not blatant sales pitches!) will travel.

*If you’re creating content yourself, you can include, exclude, praise or blame whoever you like. However that shouldn’t be seen as a license to bar all references to the competition. Including balanced information on competitors in a thought piece or interview suggests confidence, and that the content represents a broader statement rather than the (probably biased) views of a single organisation.

*As Contently acknowledges, assigning a value to a media outlet is difficult because it depends almost entirely on context. For companies in specialised sectors building credibility with a limited number of influential experts is probably much more important than connecting with the mass market reached by the likes of CNN.

*Content campaigns are primarily about building a recognisable persona in the marketplace, and loyalty with existing and prospective audiences or clientele. These processes touch on the intellect and emotions, and can’t be wrapped up overnight since they require a sustained voice. Excessive concentration on numbers in the early stages can therefore be counterproductive — and demoralising — since they might convince a company to abandon a content program before it has any real shot at making an impact.

All that said, we’re in full agreement with the need for any content marketing drive to have clearly defined goals, and to be measured against them. But these goals will most often have to be worked out on a case-by-case basis, and standard formulas will be difficult to apply.

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There’s rarely a dull moment in the news industry, and recent developments have been both worrying and inspiring. Bad news first — the rapid demise of Circa News (http://bit.ly/1Ie92Rr), once seen as a leading light of mobile media, has underlined once again just how difficult it can be to combine an old business with a new medium and achieve any sort of financial success. Circa’s app broke down news stories from various sources into bite-sized summaries that could be easily digested by users on the go. However this approach requires a healthy amount of talented human editing, which makes it relatively expensive to maintain and scale. As Julia Greenberg’s excellent post-mortem in Wired (http://wrd.cm/1di5lgs) points out, that and the increasingly fierce fight for audiences and advertisers — still, after all these years, the industry’s only real sources of revenue — ultimately did Circa in. To this list we’re inclined to add Circa’s focus on text;  many consumers of news on the run prefer it in multimedia format, hence why more venerable organisations (the BBC, Reuters) and upstarts (Buzzfeed, Snapchat) alike have been experimenting with short-form video news. Which, of course, is also hideously expensive to produce, especially on anything approaching a 24-hour cycle.

On a more upbeat note, our hometown of Hong Kong got its first new independent English-language news outlet of note in quite some time this week with the launch of Hong Kong Free Press (http://www.hongkongfp.com/). The experience of outfits like Circa shows it won’t be easy, but HKFP is pursuing a non-profit model and will seek to recoup its minimal costs through a combination of membership, advertising and donations (full disclosure: n/n was an early sponsor). At a time when Hong Kong (and the world, really) is in dire need of independent voices, we salute HKFP for its commitment, and hope it gets the support it deserves. Hard news might be a tough, and increasingly fragmented, business, but it’s more vital than ever.

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If ever journalists doubted their skills were still in demand, Apple’s call for editors for its nascent Apple News team (job posting available at https://www.apple.com/jobs/us/) should serve as convincing evidence. The titan from Cupertino is quite clear about wanting newsroom-tested journalists — not digital content producers, marketing storytellers, social media writers or any of the other iterations on the profession that seem to be emerging (and paying better) these days.

By hiring human editors to pick and choose content for its news app, Apple is adopting a very different approach than Facebook, which relies on algorithms to do the same thing (for its Instant Articles and news feed). It all sounds good — Apple is promising editors will work closely with leading outlets to gather the very best of the news, and to give enterprise journalism the visibility it deserves. And there’s no doubt a human might be able to recognise groundbreaking journalism in a way software can’t. But given Apple’s control freak tendencies, it also raises the question of what kind of remit and freedoms these editors will be given — especially when it comes to stories about Apple itself, which dominate the global media on a regular basis. This is doubly true if Apple News starts to displace other popular aggregation tools like Flipboard, putting pressure on publishers to ‘play nice’ with Apple and its editors to make sure their content reaches a huge potential audience.

On the other hand, there’s no reason to assume Facebook’s news-bots are inherently any more neutral or less susceptible to manipulation — presumably it’d be easy enough to flick a switch so they bypass exposes of the company’s latest privacy breaches. And the success of both Apple News and Instant Articles relies on a certain degree of transparency; any ham-fisted attempts to stifle information will simply drive people to other services.

Still, while not dismissing either news ‘service’ out of hand, consumers should keep in mind that this isn’t ‘news’ as we know it, provided by organisations with an express mission to inform the broader public, and that neither Apple or Facebook are bound by the conventions (or financial concerns) that, even in these strange times, govern most media outlets. Some discrimination is in order … along with perhaps a celebration that at least a few journalists will be working at a cash-rich, fast-growing organisation for steady paycheques.

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If there was ever a media industry milestone, this is it. A closely watched annual survey by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers shows circulation revenues have displaced advertising as the global newspaper’s industry top earner — for the first time in a century (http://bit.ly/1dIfOmz).

The trend has been building for a while, and has a few interesting, possibly contradictory, implications. On the plus side, fears of influence of the almighty advertising dollar on newspaper coverage may turn out to be overblown, and broadsheets (at least those with self-preservation instincts) will presumably redouble efforts to focus on what matters to their audience. On the other hand, if readers are the biggest contributor to the bottom line, we could see more papers opt for Daily Mail-variety shock-and-fluff tactics in a desperate effort to raise circulation numbers, or raise prices to squeeze more cash out of the readers they do have.

One thing to keep in mind that circulation revenue isn’t necessarily replacing ad income — in many mature markets both are stagnant or declining; it’s just that ad revenues are dropping at a more precipitous rate. Newspapers therefore won’t be absolved of the need to update their business models or hone their content for other platforms. In fact the same survey showed mobile consumption of news is growing faster than ever. Regardless of economic conditions, newspaper ad revenues are also unlikely to stage any kind of meaningful recovery, given the range of other marketing channels advertisers now have to choose from. Not such a great time to be a developed-market newspaper with a limited budget, maybe, but with so many publications (and advertisers) experimenting with new forms of stories and distribution to win hearts,  minds and revenue streams, content consumers will have more choice — and clout — than ever.

 

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Godsend, or weapon of mass destruction? Over at Quartz, Monday Note editor Frederic Filloux has sounded the alarm (again) about ad blocking, which is spreading like wildfire, getting more sophisticated and making a bunch of media and marketing types very, very nervous: http://bit.ly/1LFjHmG.

We’re of two minds about this. When it comes to seizure-inducing banners, invasive pop-ups or videos that start playing without being asked, it’s hard to see ad blocking as anything other than a Very Good Thing. However the news that ad blockers are starting to target native advertising and branded content — for example, articles or microsites that are ‘sponsored by’ a company or organisation — is a bit troubling. Okay, so we have a vested interest. And yes, there is no shortage of sponsored content that probably deserves to be zapped. But that applies to all media output — and what about the quality stuff?

Savvy companies use or sponsor content not to hammer home a blunt marketing message, but to engage people and position themselves as authorities in their fields, which requires the content to be convincing, and to contain real information or insights. Who would deny Alibaba might have some useful things to say about e-commerce, or HSBC about the opening of China’s capital markets? Ad blocking certainly has its place, but targeting all sponsored content is a bit like using a flamethrower to take on a mosquito. We’d argue for a more nuanced approach — which is where some good, old-fashioned human editorial judgement may need to come in.

(As an aside, for an example of good, informative sponsored content, check out this Economist collaboration with Asia-focused Australian bank ANZ, which looks at the various ways integration is progressing in Asia-Pacific: integrasian.economist.com. Full disclosure: n/n was involved in this project, but it shows how a company can contribute to the dialogue around a remarkable process in which it’s also playing a role.)

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Action camera-maker GoPro buying a virtual reality company. Verizon shelling out $4 billion for AOL to engineer a mobile video revolution. Facebook giving media giants the opportunity to publish directly on its platform via the Instant Articles initiative. With all this going on, it’s no surprise we’re seeing a lot of articles like this one (http://read.bi/1PrNZ2H) announcing that the age of content has arrived. Again.

It’s not much use to have a fantastic distribution tool or network without any content to call your own — hence Verizon’s determination not to become a ‘dumb pipe’ that does nothing but deliver other companies’ intellectual property (and ad traffic). At the same time, content needs an audience, and content creators will increasingly be forced to work with the giants of social media to reach the biggest ones. Facebook’s reach is massive and the terms for its Instant Articles service are fairly generous, so signing up seems like a no-brainer for publishers — hence why marquee names like the New York Times and National Geographic are among the early adopters. And while Facebook can (and probably will) change the terms later, it will still need well-known producers of credible content for its foray into news to succeed, meaning publishers will always have retain a certain amount of leverage.

That said, it’s inevitable that by coming to the content via Facebook’s platform many users will associate what they read or watch via Instant Articles with the Facebook name and ecosystem, even if the original publishers plaster their names and fonts all over it. More people will be telling each other about the stories or videos they saw “on Facebook” and not necessarily mentioning the original producer of the content — much like happens with with Youtube now. Publishers are therefore, unwittingly or not, helping build Facebook’s credibility as a media and publishing force its own right, and may be weakening their future negotiating position with Facebook and clout with consumers. Count on Facebook eventually forcing Instant Articles, regardless of where they come from, to conform to a more unified look or style to accelerate this process.

Distribution is important, but in the interests of balance (and self-preservation) content creators may not need to pursue reach above everything else; a bigger audience doesn’t necessarily mean more engagement, subscribers or dollars. Consistently producing top-notch material for a smaller, more receptive group of followers can be a more effective way to build loyalty and a reputation, and distribution (at least to start with) can be as simple a matter as using the industry or personal networks you’re already part of. Social media has produced some behemoths, but it’s also a great leveller, allowing content producers to reach a wide number of people without riding another brand or technology’s coattails. On the other hand for distributors or platforms (like Verizon, and Facebook) it’s nowhere near as easy to find a consistent, freely available and largely automated source of relevant content (yet). Content might not be king — but it’s got a healthy amount of sovereignty.

 

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Where’s the best place in China to be a technology startup? According to a CNN article by one of n/n’s very own it’s not bustling Shanghai, or even our much-beloved home base of Hong Kong, but the factory boomtown of Shenzhen, where manufacturing prowess and (now) funding have combined to produce some very interesting results. Read more here: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/14/tech/shenzhen-startup-city/index.html

Sounds like a place worth watching, though not having a hardware focus, we’re not planning to pick up and move across the border just yet …

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For media companies and other creators of content, it’s one of the oldest debates in the book — is it better to specialise, or appeal to as wide an audience as possible?

According to a fine article by the new-age marketing gurus at Digiday (http://bit.ly/1AzEPF7)  the answer is, well … a bit of both. At least if you’re The Wall Street Journal, which is determined to keep its coverage broad, but simultaneously investing heavily to zero in on ‘niche’ industries like logistics. While not without risks, it’s a solid strategy to play that runs counter to the wider industry trend of publishers constantly expanding reportage to ensnare as wide an audience as possible — sometimes burning through a lot of resources and alienating people in the process. Something to keep in mind here though — first, the ‘niche’ areas the WSJ is targeting aren’t exactly of the ‘molecular physics’ or ‘animal husbandry’ variety. Logistics for example is a $4 trillion industry home to some of the biggest companies in the world; plenty of ripe marketing possibilities there. So perhaps the trick is to not only balance some degree of mass appeal and subject-level expertise, but to choose the fields you specialise in carefully.

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