Talking with Trendsetters: Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director, Online Publishers Association


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Article ImageMichelle Manafy's early career helped shape her for her latest position as the editorial director at the Online Publishers Association (OPA). "I promote the magic of media. ... My mission is to champion the content people love," says Manafy, whose long career in journalism saw her working for everyone from the Village Voice to Access Intelligence--and, of course, EContent. And as many journalists who have ventured into the realm of content marketing have figured out, the transition from journalism to marketing requires individuals to rethink the way they do business.

"The biggest difference out of the gate ... is that you don't look for the news," Manafy says. These days, her job is more about supporting the OPA marketing team's goals than it is about breaking news. "When you work with highly skilled marketers," she says, "they build storylines that are going to be their campaigns for the year." The content Manafy creates now has to support those campaigns-although that doesn't mean she completely turns off her journalistic instincts.

"I still try to bring content back around to the big trends, but it's turned on its side," she says. One of the hardest things about this, though, is ignoring the news. For a more general audience, Manafy might have covered Net neutrality, but because her organization's role is to represent the interests of its members--and those interests aren't necessarily aligned with one another on a topic such as net neutrality--she avoids covering such topics.

The other big change for Manafy has been the pace. She's used to the pace of a newsroom, where content is constantly being churned out. But in the world of brand journalism, quality is more important than quantity. This has turned out to be a bit of a blessing, because as Manafy prepared to launch the OPA's content hub, she had an important realization: No one pitches stories to content marketers. Instead of spending every morning weeding through dozens of pitches in her inbox, Manafy now reaches out to her member organizations looking for stories that help support the OPA's chosen themes.

"I'm going to have be proactive because I'm not even on their PR lists," says Manafy. Until she can forge a more conventional press relationship with these companies, she has set up monitors and alerts to make sure she isn't missing any initiatives from the companies she's tasked with covering. Content marketing experts have long been urging brands to hire reporters, and many journalists--such as Manafy--are seizing that opportunity. However, they may need to keep a few things in mind before jumping at the first job that comes along.

"Here's what I think you can bring to the craft of marketing from the craft of journalism: passion for your subject matter," Manafy says. "When you look at what you're going to be ‘selling,' be sure you care about it. Be sure it's something you can align your personal brand with. You aren't just punching a time clock." In other words, in order to create the kind of great content that good content marketing demands, you need to be passionate about your subject matter. So whatever you do, don't settle.