This week we have another fantastic Q&A in our ‘In Conversation With…’ series. This series has been so much fun to create and we are so excited to keep sharing these fascinating industry insights with you.
Today we’re speaking with Edward Craig, Head of Content Labs, Haymarket Media Group. Ed leads the branded content strategy and delivery across Haymarket business-to-business print and digital portfolio. Titles include Campaign, PRWeek, Management Today and more. In our interview, Ed discusses his role at Haymarket, commercial vs editorial and the line between the two.
Could you sum up your background and career history in a paragraph?
I started as a magazine sports journalist (golf then cricket then Olympics: best jobs in the world but not desperately lucrative), joined Haymarket as an editor on their consumer commercial content – now head up Haymarket’s B2B commercial content arm.
You’ve been in your role a while now – what makes it so satisfying and how does it compare to a pure editorial role? Are different skills needed?
Creativity. Commercial content is an infinitely more creative existence than pure editorial. You have to be part-ad creative, part account manager, part editor, part marketer, part audience expert – and underpinning it all is creating content that’s interesting. Juggling all these requires creativity and makes it a load of fun. It also uses my editorial skills, so they’re not wasted.
The only downside is, unlike editorial, you’re someone’s b****: clients want what clients want. And that’s fine 90% of the time, you can work with it, make it engaging. But ultimately…they can ignore your advice and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Once you’ve tasted the freedom (and power!) of pure editorial, that’s too bitter for some editorial types. In editorial, you’re genuinely doing your communities a service; the more experienced I get, the more I appreciate the privilege of press freedom.
What changes have you seen in commercial content since being in your position and what do you think the future holds?
The main change is that commercial content gets taken more seriously internally and externally. Editorial and commercial regard it as a necessary evil and a god-send; agencies (once they understand it) see it as a measurable, low-level spend; clients love the ROI.
The future is known audiences: data! At last, publishers are realising you should charge people for strong editorial. That means paywalls and logins. That means specific, targeted information about who is reading what. And that’s what clients need.
Also, the future is print. Content looks beautiful in print. And there’s a vinyl-flavour cash-cow in print.
Where do you see the line between editorial and commercial content? Is it blurring?
The line is clear. It’s there: right there. Don’t cross it. If you must have a definition it’s “does the content have client sign-off? Yes: it’s paid-for and needs a clear label. No: it’s editorial and you can publish (as long as it’s not libellous, or hate-fuelling etc)”.
Events – and in particular industry-specific Awards – can get a bit murky – but if the content is good, free and fair… does it matter in those cases? That IF is doing some heavy lifting there…
At Haymarket, we have a healthy tension with our friends in editorial: we need their expertise, ideas and contacts. But we don’t ever demand endorsement or corporate censorship. It’s why our audience trusts us, it’s what fuels our business. And I love it (salespeople hate this) when Campaign slags off, say, a big Social Media Company for being rogue with a data strategy. The Company is our client. We get furious phone calls. Sorry, Social Media Company, can’t do anything about it: editorial is not for sale. Go talk to a paper who’s lost its integrity (and audience).
Under-resourcing editorial teams so they’ve got too much to do in too little time, is the biggest threat to The Line. And that’s because an over-wrought journo will bite a PR’s hand off for some ready-made copy. And I don’t blame them (either journo or PR!). I have done the same. That’s the risk to The Line – not my naked, labelled, shout-out-loud “I’m an ADVERTORIAL” content.
Should new businesses/ small businesses invest in commercial content? / Is commercial content just for big business?
Of course. Just make sure you’re getting what you need. Are you trying to position your business in a certain way? Then do some thought-leadership. Are you drumming up new prospects for a sales team? Do some lead generation. Too often small businesses get sold something that doesn’t suit them at that moment: here are the 100 leads you bought… oh – our sales team of one (and that’s me) is going to be busy.
In the world of B2B, there is some relatively low-spending activity that can get genuine return – £3-4k lead gen could fuel your business for six months if done properly with the right publication.
What are the important features of a good paid-for piece of content/ your top tips for paid for content?
Content is king! But you knew that. Everyone knows that. But what you might not know is what does good content look like for that audience. So trust the magazine you’re working with – find that warm spot between their editorial recommendations and your marketing imperatives. It will exist. Don’t get distracted by your macro marketing threads – they may not be wholly applicable in this context.
And commercial content succeeds not only on the strength of its content, but also the strength of its marketing strategy: what is the plan to disseminate your thought-leadership piece? What are the KPIs? If you build it, they will not come… they always need a push (because it’s commercial). But make that content good, and it’s more of a gentle nudge. Can I stretch this metaphor out further?
Can paid for and earned media work in tandem? How?
Absolutely. And I’d love PR Agencies to whole-heartedly embrace that – put together plans that marry the two. I do think it’s down to the PRs, this one. The simple reason is… sign-off. Earned – you’re in the lap of the (editorial) gods. Paid-for: you have control.
If you can marry the two, you can repeat your message in two different and equally powerful ways – one from a genuine editorial perspective and the other with hard-and-fast guarantees. Yes, the client has to spend more but there’s far greater returns from both than purely trusting to an exhausted editor shoe-horning in a quote to shut you up – then mis-spelling your client’s name.
That this doesn’t happen more, I fear, is that many (older, male) PR people let their egos get in the way – if they can’t place it, paying for it is a fail. It’s not. It’s pragmatic business and may be a sensible investment for your client. So stop polishing that PRWeek award and help someone else out.
As always, a massive thank you to Ed for taking the time to speak with us!
If you’d like to be a part of our ‘In conversation with’ series, don’t hesitate to contact us here. Don’t forget you can also read our other ‘In conversation with’ posts such as where we talk to South West Business Insider Deputy Editor, Mike Ribbeck or Duncan MacRae, Founder & Chief Editor, Marketing Gazette.