Inbox ballast: where content marketing is going wrong

I recently read the following in an update from a recruiter on LinkedIn:

“If you’re an experienced Content Editor with a passion for technology then get in touch! I’m looking for someone who wants to work for a leading content agency with some of the biggest tech brands!”

There it is, I thought to myself, that’s what’s wrong with content marketing and why it is doomed to fail.

Here’s the thing … the best editors and writers are those with a background in journalism. I’m not talking in absolutes; I’m not saying “if you were never a journalist you are a terrible writer.” Nor do I think all journalists are great writers. But the training and experience you get in journalism equips you with a set of skills others in the PR-marketing-comms sector don’t have.

You can argue differently if you like, but you’ll be wrong. After all, there are people out there who’ll put together a plausible sounding argument that the world is flat. The world isn’t flat, and the best writers tend to be, or have been, journalists. Go ahead and argue… I’ll be silently judging you while nodding and smiling.

The best journalists (and by default that now includes writers and editors) are a little bit cynical, hard to convince, determined not to be fobbed off with the superficial. Quite often they are not easy to get along with, are somewhat at odds with the world around them, and are perpetual outsiders. They like writing, they like ideas, they like information. Often they like the thrill of chasing down a good story and uncovering something that would otherwise have been left hidden.

They’re not, typically, credulous cheerleaders for brands and their wares. Nor do they generally identify themselves as passionate in the way that poor old word gets abused in the recruitment sector.

The emphasis on the prowess of the brand is behind so much of what’s wrong in the content marketing world.

It’s almost never going to be the brand that’s the draw from the reader’s point of view … it’s the story, the contents of the thing that gets described as content, if you follow my drift. The exceptions – where the brand is what people come for – are the big, well established, or the ultra cool. They’re not churning out sub-standard drossy content that bores people to tears though, in the main. There’s a link there between the things they say and the way they are perceived. But it’s a link that seems to be invisible to many well-meaning CMOs and their content houses.

If you can’t think objectively about what you’re doing with your so-called content marketing you’ll just be churning out low grade inbox ballast. There’s no shortage of that. People who are passionate about working with the biggest brands are unlikely to ever be able to think dispassionately about the audience, or about the story, or about the brand.