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Managing Marketing: Modern publishing and the new opportunities for advertisers

Alexandra Tselios
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Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Alexandra Tselios is the founder and publisher of the TheBigSmoke.com.au and here she talks with Darren on the changes in publishing and her approach to content, advertising, publicity and the opportunities for advertisers and their agencies to engage with her audience in a way that delivers value to all involved.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing. Today I’m talking with Alexandra Tselios, publisher and founder of the media platform, ‘The Big Smoke’. Welcome, Alexandra.

Alexandra:

Thank you for having me.

Darren:

Look it’s interesting from my perspective because after 30 years in the advertising and media industry I’m used to talking and dealing with the traditional publishers (the media publishers) but you’re quite different to those traditional media publishers aren’t you (with The Big Smoke as a technology platform) so how do you see yourself as being different from them?

Alexandra:

Well, when I look at The Big Smoke as a publishing platform I see it more as an ecosystem and part of that ecosystem is that we publish front-end. But another element of that is that we aggregate writers and we aggregate content providers and we have bloggers; it’s a lot more than a site that just publishes articles for example.

I feel that there is a new way of looking at publishing in that regard and so over the last few years since I’ve launched it’s just taken a really different turn to what I expected it to be because I didn’t come from a publishing background. And I didn’t come from a media background so that was probably my saving grace to be honest with you.

Darren:

Yeah, you didn’t inherit a publishing format from your father, or grandfather. It’s not a Fairfax and it’s not a News but also you didn’t have the traditional approach they had. So what got you interested in this area?

New media – platforms and opportunities

Alexandra:

About four years ago I was sitting with a friend and I thought, ‘I’m so bored with the articles I’m reading in Australia’. Only in Australia. In the U.S I was finding some platforms that were really engaging and interesting. But I wasn’t enjoying what I was reading and I just thought there has to be a different way to have content that was by people who I might consider a little bit more relevant in terms of talking about certain issues.

I’ll give you a good example; when the Martin Place siege happened we didn’t want to have journalists writing about what was happening. We didn’t want people saying, ‘at 10.05 this happened’ and so on. What we actually did do…

Darren:

Reporting.

Alexandra:

We didn’t report because there’s enough of that. Anyone could find that out. What we did do is we got a taxi driver who was driving around Martin Place picking up people and taking them away, to write about it.  I just think there is a really great opportunity to hear these voices of people who are actually in the fields a lot of the time.

It’s more than just academics who are talking about social issues or psychology it’s actually becoming people who are barristers or doctors and I just think there is a really nice opportunity for writers to be viewed in a different way than just journalists not to say that journalists aren’t great but you know?

Darren:

It’s interesting because you are playing directly to what the founders, the creators of the internet saw the internet to be, which was a democratisation of communication. It was going to be a place where all people could be heard and in a way what you’re doing is facilitating that aren’t you?

Alexandra:

I think it’s about making it a little bit more easy to navigate. So for example I don’t want to go to ten different websites to hear about a particular issue. I would rather be able to see different sides of the coin on one platform. That’s why Facebook as an aggregator of content has been so valuable and why they’re the biggest competitor for publishers so I think it’s really about creating an opportunity to feed into what people need to hear not necessarily the angle that you have.

When the U.S elections were happening – The Big Smoke’s now in the U.S, we’ve got an editorial team there and writers – there was a real opportunity there to have multiple opinions on what was going on. So we had Trump supporters, and Hilary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders supporters and people that wanted communism and all sorts because I want to hear why they feel that way.

From a political standpoint people are really quick to only live in their own echo chambers, which is what we know.

Darren:

Which has come up time and time again since the election.

Alexandra:

Yeah, exactly and they’re not open to different views and I think that’s a really sad thing. I would like to play a part in impacting that space.

Darren:

Just what you said then really got me thinking—from the perspective of traditional media and traditional publishers who love reducing a story into A and B, good guy/ bad guy and simplify it down to two issues to compare and contrast, to make it black and white. But what you were saying about the Big Smoke approach to the election was let’s hear all the voices because every issue’s complex.

Alexandra:

Yeah, and you can’t simplify a human being as a Trump or a Clinton or a Tony Abbot or whoever as a slogan so it’s not ‘crooked Hilary’ and it’s not ‘Trump’s going to be a dictator’ there’s a lot more nuance than that.

I think we have a responsibility as publishers and media to play a part in the layers of that rather than going, ‘well I’m a left wing publication and so therefore everything is going to be anti this side.’ I think that’s a real mistake and I think that one of the things I get disappointed by, disenchanted by is going to publishers and knowing already before I click on that article pretty much the feel of it.

Darren:

Well do you think this is playing to the needs of the audience because I think for years we continued to treat people as idiots or simplified everything to the lowest common denominator? Do you think that the success you’re enjoying is due to the fact that you’re not dumbing it down? You’re actually facilitating content and discussions that are beyond black and white.

Alexandra:

One of the pieces of feedback that I’ve received just recently was over the guns issue in Australia and we had a number of different opinions on that and they were all from people who had vested interests in what they were talking about so it wasn’t just a general rant.

The feedback was that we were the only publication at the time giving the views that weren’t necessarily palatable to what everybody wanted to hear. But I believe we need to hear different angles to make more educated decisions as to why someone believes a certain thing. I do understand though a lot of people don’t want to do more than read a headline—I get that.

I get that some people don’t have the time to really get into issues or care and that’s fine too but to have that opportunity to really engage in a particular topic or issue and see different views and maybe be challenged on that. I think that’s a really special part of what media should be. And I think that that’s what’s lost its way. It’s not all about reporting things that could be quite frankly automated.

Darren:

The whole platform, the traditional magazine, newspaper publishing, in many ways you just browse through those headlines and you read the articles that were interesting. It’s just so much easier on the online platform isn’t it?

Alexandra:

Yeah, and one of the things I really wanted to avoid was a particularly convoluted platform. Not everybody likes every layout and so not everyone’s going to respond the same way, but I don’t enjoy going to a website where there’s 50 other articles glaring in my face while I’m still trying to read this one article—it feels overwhelming to me. For me it was about streamlining that process.

So we don’t have display ads on the site really other than a few banners that are part of a bigger campaign. So you’re not getting pop-ups, you’re not getting interrupted and we have had to  – again going back to feeding the audience – really go into what is the climate like? Well the attention span of the Australian public has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds in 2016. That’s the climate I’m operating in so having 1,000 word opinion pieces is going to be difficult to sell.

So then it has to be a hybrid of that; a bit of long form, a bit of short form. Some articles are mostly image based because for a lot of people it’s easy to consume. So it’s really about working out what works rather than, as from a journalist standpoint, a media standpoint what you should be.

Using data for measuring customer experience

Darren:

So how do you get feedback from your audience—beyond the metrics? You can look at which articles have been read and things like that. You have some interesting and fairly innovative ways of tracking and understanding what your audience wants don’t you?

Alexandra:

Well, I’m a big believer in data that tells a story so part of what’s valuable to me is more than just the shares of the article, the views of the article but why somebody responded to the article. So one of the many ways we track engagement or track success rate of an article is that we have a layer of technology in the content that allows people to respond to why they liked the content.

It’s a little bit more than just the four emoji’s that you see at the bottom of a buzz feed or a Mamma Mia article, it’s got like 50 reactions that you can have. Because of that sometimes we’ll see an article that’s been shared and we’ll go oh wow this has been shared quite a lot—I wonder why.

But yeah the feedback we’re getting is that they were crazy or angry about it. It’s not they thought it was fantastic and they wanted to share it. That’s really important feedback to know. I mean we do that with a lot of our native or branded content where it’s really important for a company to go ‘people shared this because they thought we were innovative. We didn’t see ourselves as innovative’—that’s really important. And we are constantly trying to find more and more ways to measure that and to capture that information.

Darren:

So how does that inform your decisions from say an editorial strategy of the type of content that you should be aggregating and also the type of content you want to aggregate because I’ve always been interested in editorial strategy because I think it’s a combination of having a strategy or philosophy around what, in this case what The Big Smoke represents but also responding to what the audience is engaged in isn’t it?

Alexandra:

I think one of the biggest mistakes I made at the beginning of this was I had decided what the platform was going to talk about. It was going to talk about the arts, it was going to talk about politics, it was going to be about science; they were interesting topics to me. I didn’t have sports section for the first two years of the site. I mean I live in Australia and there was no sports section.

Darren:

No sports section—how un-Australian of you.

Alexandra:

I know and it was un-Australian and while I believe you don’t have to do things just because the country’s climate wants that, there was a market for that.  The Big Smoke is going to be a platform that caters to all people we’re not a niche audience focussed website.

We’re not women only or mums or men only we’re quite broad and because of that we’ve got to legitimately be broad. So now we’ve got a sports writer who writes and it kills me. Every time we publish a part of me dies but it happens and people like it, people read it, and people share it.

So part of the editorial process is to go to what the market wants, the feedback we get from our readers, and our writers. We’ve got a lot of writers who were once just readers and so we get to learn a lot from that. My editor and I – he has an editorial process himself – but we look at what does perform well and we benchmark everything and we can say that while political analysis does well to a degree, not everybody wants to spend their morning at work reading a political piece; they want to be fed lighter information. So we try to have a mix of both.

Editorial strategy and brand strategy

Darren:

So to me this is very similar to a marketing strategy in that there is the part of the marketing strategy which is being true to the brand, which in your case The Big Smoke is your brand, what does it represent? But also knowing how to adapt and adopt the readers’, the audience’s interests within the brand because you need to get the balance right.

Alexandra:

When The Big Smoke launched, aside from my personal views on what content would be valuable, the whole idea was that we were going to mirror what the public wanted to read. So if they wanted to read content on the cricket for example well then we were going to provide that because we are the platform for the people.

So people are going to write for us and they’re going to engage with us, so to block out a particular demographic doesn’t make sense. So we just launched a section on The Big Smoke this year called TBS Boomers, which is for over 50 years and that’s been headed up by a guy called Mike Walsh who used to be a great TUE radio announcer and I used to do his show at Canberra live. He’s heading it up because he hears all these voices over the years, these are stories that need to be told.

So we’re meeting different markets. We’ve got TBS Next Gen, which is the kid’s programme, which is 8 to 18 year olds who want to write articles. It’s so interesting to me that a 15 year old has just submitted an article on why people hate Russia. I mean when I was 15 I was not even thinking about Russia.

Darren:

It wasn’t on the radar.

Alexandra:

I probably didn’t even know what Russia was so it’s amazing. I think that we’re facilitating critical thought and we’re facilitating opportunity to engage.

Darren:

But I’ve noticed reading across the content there’s a real consistency of style, perspective even though there’s lots of different voices there’s something about The Big Smoke that gives you a sense of what it is.

You’ve developed a strong brand here from an editorial perspective and yet it sounds like you’re really listening to the audience and just responding to them. What part of it do you think actually is The Big Smoke?

Alexandra:

One of the things we wanted to do is be a bit brave in the way that we discussed issues so we weren’t going to shut out certain things but also we were quite irreverent. And that’s a very overused word but we legitimately are irreverent. We talk about the things that are in the news, that are important issues in the same manner that you would talk about it with your family. We don’t want to do this highly stylised content that is boring.

So I think the writers that come in to write for us, whether they are professional writers or not, because often they are not professional writers they are professionals in their field and we will often help them write, so all of that contributes to being part of this bigger vehicle, which is The Big Smoke.

Publishers, Advertisers and their Agencies

Darren:

When I was introduced to you it was really interesting to see and read through the stuff that you do and it’s a lot more than many of the traditional platforms have. Yet you’re playing in a category that I know well, which is advertisers, advertising agencies and media publishers.

So, from your perspective what’s working in that particular ecosystem (to use your phrase) of advertisers and publishers and what’s not working? And maybe we start with what’s not working?

Alexandra:

I think what’s not working is this idea that you can have a formula and that your formula will get the engagement from a commercial standpoint. If we’re talking about advertising and we’re talking about advertorials and all that—there’s a real murky world out there circulating.

Most marketing agencies don’t really understand the difference. Definitely most marketing managers within companies are overwhelmed with the differences and they’re all just trying to compete with what’s going to get cut-through.

So I feel like there was an opportunity to really go, ’well hang on I don’t want to hear about how everyone else is doing this because that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right way. So I looked at what has elements of what’s worked over history. I think one of the biggest mistakes that companies are making now is this idea that one article or two articles with a display advertising campaign will bring you ROI on your budget within a month.

Darren:

It’s a longer term burn rather than a short term tactic.

Alexandra:

People have forgotten about building iconic brands. People have forgotten about the time it takes to actually build a brand that becomes recognised and that people will trust. I think end of 2016 there was report that came out that talked about it takes up to 8,000 impressions now to prompt an action when they’ve seen an ad. That’s the world we live in.

It’s very crowded. It’s very confusing and unless you are highly strategic and tailored in what you’re doing and in that avenue I think it’s like throwing spaghetti on the wall and hoping that something sticks.

I think that the metrics people value are often wrong. I don’t want to hear that you can get 14 million views on your ad campaign; I want to know if they were the right people. What was the engagement, what was the conversion? But people get really starry eyed over large numbers. The large numbers mean nothing if it’s not converting.

Darren:

Especially if you’re getting like a 0.01 percent response rate. You need large numbers to make your investment look even remotely valuable.

Alexandra:

I think that’s the mistake that they’re making and publishers often talk about these big numbers and growing numbers. For me growing numbers are important because it tells me that people like the content and we are constantly growing.

In 2016 for example we were pretty consistently growing throughout the year and December was a higher month than March. And that’s a good thing because often December can go down for a lot of publishers. But that’s not my selling point. My selling point isn’t going to be the numbers of readers so much it’s going to be the numbers of engagement, the numbers of conversions. What are the case studies that we can discuss?

So I don’t pretend to compete in certain places I just want to do what works.

Darren:

You mentioned earlier that many people seem to buy into formulas, and we find this especially with media agencies because of complexity, because of volume, because of lack of time people are inclined to rely on these formulas as a way of shortcutting what’s actually required, which is a lot of deep thinking and exploration and I think that’s actually what’s doing people a disservice is that they are sticking to the old formulas.

Alexandra:

The other side to that—we talk about wanting to automate systems and streamline strategies, and all of that’s true, and definitely removing manual labour from certain areas is important but I don’t think that will ever go away but I think it’s about putting your efforts into the right areas.

To pitch to a big client and try to get their business takes a lot of deep thought but once you’ve got that business the deep thought needs to continue throughout the whole campaign and I think that’s where it goes wrong.

Darren:

Yeah, absolutely.

Alexandra:

So they go, ‘we’ve got the business now let’s put out the ads’.

Darren:

You see that time and time again, that it’s all about the acquisition.

Alexandra:

Exactly and I think it should be about acquisition but it should also be about maintenance. I really like the idea that someone can be so stunned by the results of a campaign because they had realistic benchmarks as well. They weren’t sold this massive promise that they couldn’t deliver. I think that’s a really crucial part.

Darren:

You would obviously be engaging with direct clients as most publishers do and with agencies. What would you say are the differences between the two in the approach or is it the same conversation?

Alexandra:

I have conversations with both around why we’re different. First of all that’s a really important thing for me to explain to them because often if they don’t know about The Big Smoke they’re kind of like, ‘well where do you fit into my strategy. I know what Sydney Morning Herald is etc.?’ So when I talk directly with a brand for example I’m really big on selling them the audience and the engagement that we get.

But with the media agencies it’s all about selling all of that but also trying to fit into their overall strategies, to get them to see that we can be part of something bigger for them rather than a separate stream that they feel is too much work.

My mistake for many years with The Big Smoke, and it’s still a mistake I make now if I’m not careful, is that I can become so involved in the detail and I can be so hyper-focused on why we’re different, the technology behind what I think is valuable, and the metrics, that we get put in the too hard basket.

Somebody doesn’t care and they just want to know what your click through rate is and can I deliver this for the client. So I try to find a way to be valuable and also to fit in with that because ultimately I do want to serve as many customers as I can.

Darren:

The interesting trend that I’m seeing especially in the last 12 months is advertisers are saying more and more to us that they are wanting to build deeper relations with key publishers who have connections with their audiences (well you’re sharing an audience).

Do you find that the direct relationships are as much about the delivery of an outcome as it is a delivery of an understanding of that audience?

Alexandra:

I think it’s both because one of the other things that’s really important for me is at the beginning of the campaign I really want to understand what the person, whether it’s a media agency or a brand, I want to understand what their expectations are in terms of benchmarks because often they don’t tell you. Unless you are specific about outcomes they don’t really want to tell you much especially from a media agency standpoint. They just want to know how many people will view the article.

I think it’s so much more complicated that how many people are going to view an article. If all you want is eyeballs we can deliver you eyeballs but I want to deliver more than that. So I think the conversation is around benchmarks and outcomes.

Recently we had a client who talked about one article he had that received 110,000 views and had 1,000 leads delivered to him.

Darren:

Unbelievable—that’s an amazing conversion.

Alexandra:

But I don’t know if that happened because there was no reporting metric—he was told.

Darren:

Anecdotally.

Alexandra:

Yeah, he was just told by the publisher and so it was kind of this weird conversation that people have. That’s an amazing result if that happened but I don’t think it’s industry standard and I don’t think you should be promising that. So if I hear that I’m not going to say, ‘I can guarantee that too’ just to get your business.

Darren:

Oh so it was a promise. I thought it was actual result.

Alexandra:

Yeah, he believed it and I think that’s where you’ve got to be careful around that.

Media metrics and measurement

Darren:

We’ve heard a lot of questioning about the online metrics because Facebook and Snapchat recently and a couple of others have all come out in the last 12 months and said their metrics are flawed. There is no independent body in the digital space to audit those.

Alexandra:

I think that’s a problem we going to have for a while because I don’t know if any system is not flawed. Even a lot of auditing systems and survey systems can often be flawed anyway. So I think it’s a really difficult world to navigate in the sense of if you’re promising a particular outcome and it has to do with numbers for example I think those actions should match up to those numbers.

I can say to you you’ve had 20,000 reads in four hours and it got x amount of click-throughs but if you’re not seeing anything from that, if you’re not getting a lift in your traffic, if you’re not getting conversions or inquiries then I can just keep talking about it but it doesn’t matter.

So I think it’s about publishers having some responsibility for creating strategies and creating an opportunity for actions to come out of the metrics.

Darren:

Now you mentioned auditing—only the end of 2016 we read that the traditional publishers, magazine and newspaper publishers have withdrawn their support of accredited circulation auditing. So there’s no longer, in Australia, an independent measure of circulation.

What do you think about that?

Alexandra:

I think a lot of digital publishers were doing that as well. Pedestrian TV did that and a lot of publishers who were very proud of their auditor numbers. I mean if you’re selling a product based on audited numbers that doesn’t guarantee an outcome for the advertisers so I think it’s a bit more than that.

I think for a lot of publishers one of the struggles that they’re having is multiple streams of views and engagement that is not necessarily on their website so it gives a really unfair example of how impactful a campaign can be.

Darren:

But that’s because traditionally media has been sold on number of eyeballs. So you’ve had to have some sort of independent substantiation. Are you talking about publishers perhaps moving to performance based payment?

Alexandra:

Again that becomes a murky world as well because I’ve seen some publishers try to move into performance based but I think there has to be a bit of both. I think there has to be a realistic expectation that branding and eyeballs is a consistent part of any campaign. It can’t just be removed and then only hope it’s performance based—it’s got to be both.

But I do think there are so many channels that one publisher may use that to only audit one particular channel, it’s just not a fair assumption on the overall performance. For example if on The Big Smoke we’ve got an article that’s been shared over 500 times that’s gone into so many multiple news-feeds that’s had a wider impact than just those views of the article.

So that needs to be taken into consideration when you look at the success rate of a campaign and that’s a difficult thing for an external or third-party auditor to really focus on because they’re just focusing on one particular metric or set of numbers.

Darren:

It is quite two dimensional because it doesn’t actually look through the entire loop.

Alexandra:

Again this is where I come back to the whole ecosystem concept because we have publishers that work with The Big Smoke, we’ve got bloggers that work with The Big Smoke. I have a campaign we did recently where we had an article in The Big Smoke and I had three bloggers who each have their own followers. If I was only audited on just my page that’s again a minimal view of the overall impact so it’s about collaborating all those numbers and creating what the reality was.

Content Marketing and Native Advertising

Darren:

It’s much broader than that. You’ve mentioned content marketing and also the increasing rise in native advertising. How are you seeing people getting that wrong and right? And perhaps first we should distinguish between content marketing and native advertising.

Alexandra:

The Big Smoke’s business model is native content; we don’t run programmatic on our website. So that’s not how we make money. So it’s purely through native content. For me, and our team, native content is about content that’s native to our site, it’s written by our writers, it’s written for our audience, and it’s done in a way that integrates our brand message in a way that’s smart, clever, and in a seamlessly consumable way.

Content marketing is often a strategy that’s used (and it does well in some areas) where the brand’s pumping out blogs, talking about their products and maybe interviewing each other in the company and all of that. There is that consistency of message and association; it’s great. But native content is a different beast.

Native content isn’t always for me the new form of advertising medium. It’s almost as impactful as the amount of effort that you put into a display ad’s assets. A lot of people spend so much of the time getting the visuals for a display ad asset right but less so on the content. I think that’s the wrong way round.

People aren’t going to share an ad. They’re not going to post on their newsfeed and Facebook, ‘look at this great ad because Mazda has a deal’ but they will share an article that’s of value to them. So we create articles that are of value to our audience and of value to the company. I don’t separate the two.

Again this probably comes from not being from a publishing background because I don’t have this idea in my mind that as a publisher I shouldn’t be talking about brands. I think my job as a publisher is to talk about the things that impact our lives.

And politics impacts our lives just as much as buying a new iron so why am I favouring one impact over another? So for me it’s about working with brands in a way that delivers a message.

Darren:

Brands, products, services all of these are part of our lives.

Alexandra:

Exactly.

Darren:

I guess there’s been the traditional (in publishing) separation between church and state.

Alexandra:

Yeah, I don’t care about that.

Darren:

Between editorial and advertising. So, your readers—how do they tell the difference between, in some ways paid-for native content and an editorial piece?

Alexandra:

We clearly state when an article is part of a branding campaign that they’re our partners at this time. We’re partnering with for example Vittorio Coffee or we’re partnering with Service Manager or whatever brand we’re working with at the time so we clearly say that.

Darren:

So it’s not as though you’re hiding it.

Alexandra:

No. But what I’m saying is we don’t put in less effort. The problem I see with a lot of publishers is a huge discrepancy between the effort of the ad that I’m reading that’s an article and the article about ten reasons why you can find a new husband.

Darren:

The other problem I find with a lot of native advertising in traditional publications is that it doesn’t read in the same style or the same tone as the rest of the editorial because they’re also trying to make it sell. It’s almost like a journalist writing an ad.

Alexandra:

Recently, in a big publication, I saw an ad that was by Lexus and I thought ‘oh native content—I want to see how these guys do it’. It was literally like reading a press release. It was boring. There was a little bit of a call to action to go to their website but what am I going to do with this? I’m not going to share it. It brought no value to my life other than telling me about their new car. I want to have a story around all of that.

Darren:

I’m wondering how much of that is the advertiser dictating the tone and manner of the content or do you think it’s the publishers really just wanting to get it out the door and take the money?

Alexandra:

My personal feeling, and I’ve said this before, is that some publishers almost feel like it’s a necessary evil. Display ads aren’t going to pay all my bills. Pay walls are not going to pay all my bills so what do I do? I put out an advertorial and market it clearly as advertorial then I send an invoice for 50 grand. It doesn’t matter or not whether it performed well, it doesn’t matter or not whether it was of value to my audience, so I think that’s the problem with a lot of publishers.

We approach it differently. I’ve been very fortunate to have people in my team who come from top advertising backgrounds. We’re talking executives who worked on the Toyota ‘oh what a feeling’ campaign. We’re talking about people who care about building iconic brands so when we work on a campaign with a client we’re approaching it from that angle and with the same passion as we would talking about Malcolm Turnbull’s performance.

Darren:

I think the starting point is that they think of it and even classify it differently anyway  don’t they? If you think of it as our role as a publisher to engage our audience with the content that we produce—that should be our starting point.

Alexandra:

I think so and I think it’s about entertainment—educating and entertaining people. I really believe that we can do that in multiple ways and think it doesn’t have to stop at being branded. I think at the end of the day we’re commercial entities—The Big Smoke is a commercial entity and we’re not ‘not for profit’. We’re here to serve the community and the community also makes our businesses and that’s how I see my responsibility.

I’ve never had negative feedback to an ad campaign. I never had anyone say, ‘I’ve felt mislead’ or ‘I was reading this and I didn’t realise…’ No, because we’re blatant, we’re honest about it. We just provide content that’s valuable and that converts.

Darren:

So you’re taking a more holistic approach and eliminating the pigeon holes.

Alexandra:

I hate the word holistic because I often hear it from SEO companies that say they do holistic SEO and I don’t know what that means other than it’s three times as much. But basically it is. And it’s about creating this kind of ecosystem.

Darren:

Well maybe a holistic approach for the reader like what are all of the possible content topics, things that they could be interested in.

Alexandra:

We were recently tasked with doing a campaign for an insurance broker, which is really hard to make content interesting about because even though we all need it and we know that we need it, we kind of become blind to a lot of the messages that are out there.

So, I didn’t want this campaign to be something that bored the readers and then provided no value for the brand so we did a whole campaign on the ‘risky Australian way of living’

Darren:

Nice.

Alexandra:

We’re by the beach, we’re in the woods, rural Australia and so we made it all palatable and threaded into that the message of insurance. And that became highly shared content. It became valuable content. And I would hope that a brand or an agency would understand the value of that rather than going ‘but hang on this advertorial was on this site and got 50 million eyeballs because the whole website got that amount of traffic that month or whatever.

I think it becomes about educating brands a bit more.

Publicists, Media Relations and Publishers

Darren:

You mentioned earlier about press releases and the number of times you read articles online that feel like someone’s lifted the press release. Journalist friends of mine say, ‘well it’s part of the 24 hour news cycle and the demand’ and you get all these press releases and basically correct the grammar and off it goes as a piece of content.

What do you see as the relationship between publicists, PR people that are trying to get their client’s stories out there, and the publishers and editorial?

Alexandra:

I feel there is really murky line between PR and media and I think that in the past it’s been about getting free placements for a client that’s got a publicist. We use a publicist at The Big Smoke; that’s why we do a lot of the radio stuff that I do every week. But we’re not placing stories about how great The Big Smoke is in our competitor’s publications because that would be really hard.

But one of the things I have a gripe with PR agencies and with brands, is often you think your product is so cool that you should get free press for it or free placements everywhere and I think that’s a really misguided view on the value of PR. I think that if you’re not able to control the message (and publicists often can’t control the message), then if you are writing that press release and getting that published is the impact really there? These are all the questions.

We work with a publicist now on producing content and putting it on The Big Smoke, and it’s paid for content even though it’s come from the PR agency, and then we amplify that content through programmatic. That’s a clever way of getting more bang for their buck for the client.

But also for making the work of the PR agents a little bit more innovative. A lot of PR don’t want to move into that space. They feel that they are just there for free placements but they’ve actually got to look more into influences and how can they get involved in media in a way that media aren’t going to become almost like an enemy to them because there is going to be a point where media go, ‘hang on you’re eating my bread and butter’ because if they can afford a publicist they can afford me.

Darren:

Also it needs to be a symbiotic relationship. I mean all of the articles I read by journalists at how pissed off they get at publicists just faxing stuff through or emailing stuff through and then phoning up and going, ‘did you get my email?’ It’s because it’s not a mutually beneficial relationship at the moment.

Alexandra:

The publicist isn’t going, ‘is what I’m sending this particular journalist of value to their segment or to what they’re doing?’ They’re actually just going, ‘hey look at this new watch that’s just come out; it’s got all these new features. Can you write a story about it?’ Well, why?

I think that’s where the mistake is and it comes back to what we were talking about before when you say that you’re busy, it’s a news cycle, we’ve just got to slap things out. I think there’s a bog error with that because if you are so fast at putting out content that doesn’t matter people are so busy that they’re not going to read content that doesn’t matter.

Darren:

But that is what we hear about every time Fairfax and News cut more staff, editorial staff, you always get the complaint that that just means they’ll have less time or less resources to produce the same amount of content.

Alexandra:

I think the smarter question needs to be, ‘are all elements of our business model working?’

Darren:

Yeah, good question. So what do you see as the future then? With going through this huge transformation, technology’s allowing people to become publishers. In some small way we ourselves do content marketing but we’ve taken a publisher approach to it which has been very much audience focused rather than product focused and that’s happening more and more.

As you said you’re collating and facilitating a lot of other content producers. What do you see as the end game here?

Alexandra:

I think that there is value in every person who has a story to tell or a brand to have their own publishing platform. It could be on their website. It could be on their social media. I think there is a way to do that and over time you will get a little audience. It might not be a big audience but you will get an audience and that’s why a lot of bloggers are able to charge for content now and content placements.

That’s why what you’re doing with your blog is really valuable and I see an opportunity for someone like me with The Big Smoke to aggregate all those voices and provide a streamlined approach to accessing them.

But I think that brands should do content. I don’t think they should do content marketing in the way that they do it. I go on websites all the time and it will say ’blog’ and I click on the blog and there’ll be 50 articles and no shares, no reads, no one cares. If we’re talking about saving time let’s be smart about saving time.

If no one’s reading your 50 articles then maybe you need to spend your time doing something else. I think that a lot of product-based businesses do this and I think it’s a big mistake. They’re paying content writers to do all this stuff that’s just not working because they’ve heard that this is the way of the future.

I think that that’s where the future is really – for me personally and all I care about is my future, not really any other publisher’s future – but my future is about seeing us as a tech ecosystem that needs to adapt to the changes both in consumption of content, technology advancements around metrics. How do we reach more people, how do we understand more people?

I think that I’m responsible for the technology metrics of the company as I am for the editorial and the client relationships. I think it’s all one. I don’t see myself as necessarily separate to a tech platform that’s focused on algorithm measurement and metrics. I think I’m just as responsible for that.

Darren:

Look I wish you all the best with that because I think you’re doing a great job already and thank you for making the time to sit down and have a chat today.

Alexandra:

Thank you for having me.

Darren:

One last question. When you’re not reading The Big Smoke what are you reading?

TrinityP3’s Media Transparency, Performance and Value Assessment takes a holistic look at the operation of your media agency, assessing against best practice at every stage of the journey. It aims to give you the tools to improve the output of your media agency.

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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