Content creation: Whose job is it anyway?
Content. It's everywhere, and almost every business in adland - qualified or not - is probably having a go at creating it.
For brands it means producing something that is often far removed from more traditional, above-the-line advertising.
Perhaps best defined as a new way to reach audiences with something that has "editorial relevance" and therefore - in theory - higher engagement levels.
Red Bull, famously wheeled out as the go-to case-study of choice, does it very well. McDonald's, in a recent and infamous YouTube experiment, less so.
In the words of Steve Ackerman, the managing director of Somethin' Else, content gives brands the uncanny ability to entertain, inform, provide utility or educate - all regardless of platform.
"It has a purpose: to engage an audience rather than just deliver a brand message," he explained during a Mediatel and ITV event dedicated to the subject this week.
"It's about creating relationships and developing an ongoing dialogue between a client and an audience, which creates an emotional resonance."
Stuff like Raleigh Ritchie's directorial debut '[Hi Maintenance]', a short film inspired by his song 'Cowards' in which the cast wear Topman outfits.
At the time of writing, the video, hosted on Topman's YouTube channel, has had almost 90,000 views - something Ackerman describes as "super-serving" a target audience with content that means more to them than a TV ad.
For the brand, that means the opportunity to create an audience rather than buying one.
The content explosion
The growth in content creation, as ITV's group commercial director, Simon Daglish, pointed out, goes hand in hand with the growth in different mediums used for advertising.
"As new platforms grow, new ways of people consuming content appear, leading to new opportunities," he said.
There's just one nagging problem: when everyone starts doing something that has traditionally been done by specialists, what happens to quality?
"The idea that anybody can create content is madness - you can't," Daglish said. "I mean, everybody can paint but very few people should exhibit. And I think that's where we are at the moment - so it needs to be down to real professional specialists in this area."
Meanwhile, Ackerman argues that brands risk failure if they use a "broad-brush agency" in what he describes as a "new, evolving and very specific area of expertise".
"I've lost count of the times I've heard clients say 'we love our agency, but they're just not getting the content space'."
"I think there's a lot of frustration out there; there are a lot of marketeers looking for guidance and information, they know they should be doing something in this area but they don't always know what."
Ackerman said the "default position" is to simply work with the incumbent agency. However, he argues it's a "challenging ecosystem" and a strong growth area - and the result is leading to a bun fight.
"It's like the very early days of digital when you had lots of little specialist start-ups." he said. "At the time the established agencies went and created their own in-house digital teams thinking they could do it all themselves. But the specialists won and ended up becoming super powers. Now we're in a similar place with content."
Clare Peters, head of planning at Manning Gottlieb OMD, said she is in a fortunate position as a media agency because, unlike many others, MGOMD has Drum, an agency of around 60 content specialists working within it.
"This is a unique position," she said. "We may have some small capability in-house to create more social content, for clients like Waitrose and Starbucks. But we have Drum as a specialist extension, which in a way creates an almost full-service agency."
Although there are signs that things are changing, most other agencies don't operate with this model. Yet, as Peters said, "You have to bring specialists in. You can't just dust off an account manager and say: 'your job is content now'."
That's not to say that media agencies do not have a role to play. Ackerman said data, audience understanding and media planning are all roles that media agencies should perform, but the content creation and strategy "absolutely needs to be left to the specialists."
"You wouldn't ask your PR agency to make an above-the-line ad," he said.
Meanwhile, Bob Wootton, principal of Deconstruction, said despite content creation being a specialist discipline, media agencies are fuelling the growth for two reasons: firstly, because it's the industry's nature to try new things, and secondly, nobody is making money out of trading media any longer.
"I think this is absolutely crucial," he said. "There's no margin for agencies trading media. You can argue over whether clients have beaten them into the ground, or if they've traded it away themselves, but the truth, for me, is that it's a fifty-fifty partnership to the bottom."
So are media agencies simply following the money?
"There's certainly a commercial factor, but ultimately it's about doing more interesting work," said Peters.
"That's the real motivation here. We're not just chasing dollars."
The entire content model is changing "quick and fast", Peters said.
That means we can can expect to see a host of changes in the type of content and the way it is delivered.
This ranges from content that is created with more "immediacy and recency" as consumers look for real-time or near real-time interactions, and brands learn to be "switched-on, reactive and responsive to moments."
The panel also thought there is a growing opportunity around "micro-moments" and content that is deemed "frivolous".
"We're learning that a lot of consumers actually don't want content in their lives for any more than two to three seconds," Peters explained.
"Instead, consumers often want multiple interactions, but they want them to be very limited.
"That will take us into really interesting spaces."