The most effective way to market products and services online is to develop thought leadership-based content that existing and potential customers will actually want to read. Companies, nonprofits, rock bands, political candidates, and churches alike should develop content-rich websites and use blogs, podcasts, white papers, ebooks, email newsletters, and other web content to reach buyers directly. Exercising thought leadership—as opposed to advertising and product promotion—enhances an organization’s positive reputation by setting it apart in the marketplace of ideas, branding it as an expert and as a trusted resource.
On the speaking circuit, when I talk about thought leadership-based marketing and PR and show examples from innovative organizations, nearly everyone in the audience enthusiastically embraces the ideas. Many people see the potential of thoughtful content to enhance their business and understand how different this approach is from the same old stuff they are doing (trying to convince the media to write about their widgets and buying expensive “on message” advertising). But there is always a contingent of people whose eyes glaze over and who adopt a bit of a defensive posture. I like it when one of the skeptics’ hands goes up to ask a question because they inevitably voice the same general concern: “This all sounds good, David. But how can we actually create all this content you’re talking about? We have a small marketing department and very little budget.”
The answer is quite simple: Hire a journalist. With the consolidation of the newspaper and magazine businesses, journalists have found it difficult to get and keep good jobs. Many experienced people are looking for work. And the number of people coming out of journalism school almost always exceeds that of available entry-level jobs.
Of course, this is a dire situation for many reporters and editors themselves, but a tremendous opportunity for corporate marketing and PR departments that need to find great talent to create effective content. Sure, this is a drastically different job description and some marketing VPs may have trouble getting their arms around this kind of hire. But I’m convinced, based on the characteristics, skill sets, and work ethics of the journalists I know, as well as the evidence from companies like IBM that have already experimented with hiring journalists into the marketing department, that this approach is a good one.
Due to plain old supply and demand factors, journalists’ salaries are, unfortunately for them, on the low side. However, I predict that as corporations learn that journalists are terrific marketing assets and they begin to hire them in larger numbers, their salaries will increase. At the same time, journalists need to think deeply about the opportunities that a corporate assignment might bring to their career. Many journalists have a strong emotional aversion to selling their skills to corporations. While some would rather wait tables than work for “the dark side,” others may find the opportunity refreshing and even enhancing to their career, that it could actually make them more marketable to publications, as long as they continue to create quality content while pioneering this new form of corporate journalism.
A good journalist can create interesting stories about how an organization solves customer problems and then delivers those stories in a variety of forms such as articles, ebooks, web content, podcasts, and video. Consumers will love it. How refreshing to read, listen to, and watch these products of journalistic expertise instead of the usual product come-ons that typical corporations produce.
The web offers an easy way for ideas to spread to a potential audience of millions of people, instantly. Web content in the form of true thought leadership holds the potential to influence many thousands of your buyers in ways that traditional marketing and PR simply cannot. Yet harnessing the power of the web and the blogosphere requires a different kind of thinking on the part of marketers. We need to learn to give up our command-and-control mentality. It isn’t about “the message.” It’s about being insightful. We need to reconsider our dependence on advertising and instead get our ideas out there by understanding buyers and telling them the stories they want to hear.
Using journalists is a new tactic, largely untested by marketing and PR departments, yet I predict that the first companies to hire a journalist will gain distinct advantages in their niche. And a journalist can be hired at the cost of a typical marketing campaign that usually falls flat anyway. So I say: Take a gamble on this one—you could win big in the marketplace of ideas.