The content agency is dead... long live the editorial ad agency?

Posted by: Robin Bonn, Seven

Interesting debate in the office this week – now that content agencies and ad agencies are converging towards a similar skillset, are the days of standalone editorial agencies numbered?

The rise and rise of content marketing
If last year was about clients defining what ‘content’ was and whether it was new, old, or necessary, this year’s question has evolved to ‘I know I need content, but how do I do it?’

The ‘how’ depends on objectives. As our research with ISBA/YouGovproved, although nothing beats advertising’s ability to build awareness at scale, people particularly look to owned media to decide on a purchase and stay in touch.

So advertising is typically campaign-driven, whereas a content agency thinks more editorially – it’s the difference between one or two big ideas a year, versus 365 little ones. 

This distinction – where advertising makes the brand promise and content helps keep it – is useful. And while it’s clearly not the whole story, it’s fair to say that content remains big news.

The agile ad agency
Never slow to spot an opportunity, the admen and women haven’t sat on the sidelines, politely applauding the rise of content up the CMO’s agenda. Ad agencies see the value of content as clearly as we do. They’re breaking out of their campaign mindset and realising that ‘always on’ isn’t just a campaign hashtag.

Content is becoming a very broad church. Media and advertising agencies are becoming more agile, creating more owned media content, launching content divisions and creating (largely audio visual) content that’ll work on the web and across social media. Only last week, ZenithOptimedia threw its hat into the ring with its laudable Owned Firstinitiative.

So there’s now more talent, more debate and more choice for clients – and hopefully a general upward trend in the quality of content in the world. But what are content agencies doing to defend their lunch?

Why content agencies can’t stand still
Our ever-growing competitive set is fascinating. The days of us only pitching against other editorial agencies are long gone. Some days we’re up against digital comms agencies or design and build specialists, other days it’s SEO, video or Customer Experience agencies.

We’re also increasingly being asked to come up with the ‘big idea’ – in effect, to think more like an ad agency. This doesn’t replace a traditional editorial proposition or theme – the unifying thought that draws various strands of content together – instead, it’s about highly targeted activation campaigns, often using video and real-time social media activity, to acquire new customers or drive traffic to evergreen content.

Our recent work for Jobsite is a good example of that campaign thinking. Part of our strategy to deliver on their brand promise is a series of standalone campaigns designed to get the brand in front of key audience segments and drive traffic back to the more traditional job-focused content on their site. It’s a classic case of the ‘fireworks’ bringing people to the ‘bonfire’.

Content has always enabled big brands to substantiate what they say ATL. But it’s also allowing smaller spenders to execute distinctive campaigns in owned media with all the gusto and creativity of a TV spot.

Meet you in the middle
So we have ad agencies moving towards ‘always on’ and content agencies doing campaigns; having started at opposite poles, we’re now hurtling towards each another.

And while it’s safe to say that your average ad agency couldn’t create a market-leading publication that people are happy to pay for – any more than we could create Guinness’ ‘Surfer’ – maybe a combined advertising + editorial agency isn’t far away.  

Maybe an ad agency will acquire a content agency, or a well-funded content agency will swoop for an independent ad agency?

One thing’s for certain, whether a content agency expands to become a credible one-stop brand comms shop or ad agencies consign the ‘content marketing specialist’ to the history books, it will be fascinating to see what happens next.

Over to you, clients – let’s see where the demand lies…

Robin Bonn is Business Development Director at Seven

Posted in CMA blog
20thJun 2014

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