Content marketing, once known as custom publishing then custom content, now also marketing services and sponsored content, is the craft of using the tools of journalism to deliver marketing messages.
It can include articles, full magazines and websites, extensive features, research, Q&As, videos and more. Consumers relate to great content that’s relevant to their lives and objectives, and they couldn’t care less whether it’s coming from a marketer whose ultimate purpose is selling products or services.
But custom content is constantly evolving and innovating, and like many media-and-advertising businesses, it’s dependent on the ad climate. When business is down, marketing budgets get cut, and when the economy is flush, content marketing does well.
To get a better sense of how the world of content marketing is faring circa early 2023, we sat down with Mike Winkleman, founder of Leverage Media, a 22-year-old content-marketing shop based in Westchester County, New York. Here’s an edited transcript.
Fox Tales: Mike, tell us how you came to know Fox Associates.
Mike Winkleman: I’ve known them for a long time just from being in this industry and knowing the leading ad-sales rep firms. I know [SVP, Sales and Business Development] Bill Bell from the Associations Media & Publishing, the association for association publishers. Leverage got a lot of assignments from contacts I made at AM&P. And it turns out that [Fox EVP and COO] Steve Schwanz is the brother of a friend of mine from college.
Bill and I worked together on some lunch-and-learns related to content marketing and publishing that I moderated. Bill saw the ways we could work together, he saw that the things we do could be useful for their clients.
Fox Tales: Tell us about the topline trends in content marketing.
Winkleman: Content marketing has become much more diffuse in the last several years. In the past, you had an industry that was dominated by a few players—Time Inc., Meredith, Pace Communications, Pohly & Partners, McMurry/TMG. And you had a lot of boutique shops like mine.
Two things happened. The quality got much, much better and consumers started to think that if it’s a good topic and well done, they don’t care that it’s done by an advertiser, it’s still good. Also, the number of channels has increased. I think there are still a tremendous number of white papers, but now there are many platforms for custom content.
Fox Tales: What are the hot ones now?
Winkleman: Podcasts are very hot. Webinars have become incredibly popular. You can spin the content of a webinar in a whole lot of other ways. You still see a lot of native advertising that leads to full page articles online. You’re still seeing a lot of advertorials and free-standing supplements. Videos are especially hot.
Fox Tales: What would you recommend to your new customers?
Winkleman: I would talk to them about their goals, what they want to communicate, and ask who they’re trying to reach. I would expose them to a lot of different ways in which this is done. It’s always good to show examples. What image do they want to convey, and how do they want to generate feedback? Also, you want to spend a lot of time dispelling fears. Advertisers are sometimes fearful because they haven’t done it.
Fox Tales: Why use a third-party firm when—you could argue—marketing departments should have these skills internally?
Winkleman: Part of it is the bandwidth question—does you team have the ability to put this together? But it’s also a skillset. I think a marketing department probably has some good writers, but they don’t know how to develop the thought leadership that is the core of content marketing. Some would be hard pressed because they don’t think that way. Using a company like Leverage Media—we create that content all the time. We know how to craft content to meet the needs of the sponsor and the reader. Outside firms can design stuff that is more fluid and adaptable to the different channels and spaces.
Fox Tales: Do you want to share some final thoughts?
Winkleman: The thing is, this is an ever-evolving field. There are always new ways to do this. Stay current with new channels and new technologies. What a client wants to develop might be part of a strategic marketing plan, not just a one-off. Reach people where they’re looking and when they need content. Promote through social media. Develop a video. More channels mean more people. It’s the old advertising mantra: frequency.