The Content Marketing Winds of Change (and Secret Sauce)
By Sarah Elbert | November 19, 2019
MSPC’s Delta Air Lines Sky magazine editor-in-chief Sarah Elbert discusses the shift in the magazine industry and how important it is to make connections with consumers.
The old saying goes that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. But change is also inevitable, and it’s usually impossible to predict which way the wind will blow since—today, at least—it’s often the product of a fast-moving technological front.
There are some companies that simply cannot pivot enough or in time to survive (RIP Blockbuster, Musicland, etc.) and others that are particularly well-suited to evolve with the times—if they’ve got a finger in the air early enough.
I was thinking about these things one recent morning as I was listening to This American Life on my commute into work. The show began on WBEZ in Chicago in 1995; I started listening to it in the early aughts on my local public radio station.
Digital Content Evolution
Today, This American Life is also available as a podcast, and is usually one of the top five on iTunes, with 2.2 million listeners a week. It, along with The Daily from The New York Times—another company that has been around for a while—is one of the podcasts I never miss. Yes, the show was uniquely positioned to adapt, but it did so nimbly and with panache.
Likewise, right around the time I started listening to This American Life, I was working for the Associated Press. The unique format of the wire service—sending continuous updates to member newspapers every hour of the day—made it perfectly suited to the age of the internet and continual updates online. It also allowed newspapers to make that transition themselves by offering a continuous feed of trusted news produced by reporters and editors around the world.
The AP is owned by its member news organizations, so its success will ultimately rise or fall on their success, but so far it has managed to remain financially stable despite a tumultuous industry.
Content Marketing Secret Sauce
The magazine industry is going through its own sea change right now. Condé Nast, once the ever stylish grande dame that seemed to look with pity upon those publications that worried about silly things like profits, has made necessary concessions to the changing landscape. It, like other publishers, is now pursuing content marketing for clients along with producing buzzy events that help monetize its still well-regarded brands.
True, some of its titles have folded, but Condé Nast has so far managed to avoid the fate of many other publishing companies that have hit the selling block, even if its editors’ expense reports are no longer the stuff of legends. It’s been a messy decade.
And this is where I do a little bragging on behalf of our company, MSPC. For more than 40 years, MSP has been producing content marketing on behalf of clients ranging from local arts organizations to the Minnesota Twins, McKesson, UnitedHealthcare and General Mills. And for that whole time, MSP has also employed skilled journalists—writers, editors, art directors, photographers, videographers—who have approached content marketing with that not-so-secret but still somewhat rare ingredient that has enabled its success: authenticity. (Yes, I said it: The “A” word.)
Sustainable Content Marketing Strategy
On Sky, we are very careful to corral Delta Air Line’s direct marketing to singular places in the magazine, keeping the rest of the pages reserved for compelling editorial that entertains and inspires.
Delta knows that the happy glow that comes from someone reading something that interests them, without feeling like they are being overtly sold something (other than maybe a love of travel), will reflect warmly back on the company, strengthening its hard-won brand loyalty.
That’s just one example, because we have teams that are making similar magic on behalf of banks, food companies, healthcare organizations and more. The messages are different, yes, but the central idea stays the same: You have to treat consumers as human beings and readers (whether they’re seeing your words on a printed page, on a website or in an Instagram post)—readers who are savvy about how they spend their time and their dollars.
It’s increasingly clear, particularly when it comes to younger generations, that people want to align themselves with companies that are interested in making an actual connection with consumers. Companies that do the right thing, whatever that might mean to them. Companies that, yes, produce authentic content.
Content Marketing Agency Evolution
MSPC has evolved from a more typical publishing model to a full-service content marketing agency, with 70 percent of our work in the digital content space and capabilities that run the gamut from content development to brand strategy, SEO, digital analytics and more. We also publish a lot of magazines. And we do it all with a finger in the air and a commitment to remembering what truly moves people: Making connections.