I have something of an existential dilemma. Since leaving newspapers and starting up my own media company, I don’t know what to call myself. Media consultant is too vague, business director too grandiose, journalist too dated, copy and ghostwriter too inconsequential and (my preferred moniker) content marketer too…well, too full of BS.
What does that phrase actually mean? I create content that can be marketable? I tell stories that help brands to make money? Or does it mean that I have simply latched on to a snazzy new phrase that is just another way of selling?
Having read the most recent edition of the Mail on Sunday newspaper, however, I’m even more convinced that what I am is what I always was. A journalist. And that my reluctance to use the word is because I’ve erroneously listened to all the media commentators out there that tell me it’s a dying profession.
The article – headlined "X Factor Louis: I’m going deaf" – shows that content marketing is best practised not by all those who’ve attended a couple of seminars, written a free ‘7 secrets’ blog for a content marketing forum or even follow all the right people on Twitter. If you want content marketing done right, hire a journalist.
Specsavers has done precisely that… and look at all that publicity. I was going to say free publicity but perhaps that would be cheapening the efforts made by the marketing team at the sight and hearing High Street giant.
It’s a pretty simple technique. Take a thing and personalise it. In this case, hearing tests and Louis Walsh.
On page 3 – the second most valuable page in the entire newspaper – Louis tells us of his hearing problems based on a life spent in gigs, on the X Factor and in recording studios. It’s an interesting story and obviously true as well.
But the reason he’s telling it is because of Specsavers (the brand has even supplied pictures). And the reason Specsavers has collaborated with Louis is because he uses the product. And the reason the Mail has given over page 3, as well as another full spread later on – referring to the brand 10 times within a single piece of journalism – is…?
Well that’s the key question. Why has the Mail devoted so much precious space to a hearing test? Not because it’s news, nor even because Louis Walsh is actually engaged with anything at the moment which can be considered newsworthy. And he’s not going deaf – in fact, he’s quoted in the piece as saying "I do not think I need one (a hearing aid) yet but there will come a time when I do". Which might apply to many people.
The story follows another Specsavers piece from a few weeks ago which revealed how John Cleese had resurrected Basil Fawlty for a new advert. But that was different – it was a story about an ad, a picture-led filler at most, and the lines between journalism and marketing were pretty clear.
The lines between journalism and marketing in Louis’ story, however, are very definitely blurred, whether you wear glasses or not. But what makes the piece so important in terms of content marketing is that journalists made it, either working for Specsavers or its network of media partners.
They devised it, designed it, wrote it and headlined it. The editor even plucked the story from the newslist and chose to give it such prominence. They have helped to ‘sell’ a brand by constructing a clever, convincing and captivating story. Of course nowhere is it mentioned that Louis and Specsavers have a history – type in ‘Spectacle Wearer of the Year’ to Google and see what I mean.
I’m not saying journalists at the Mail were involved in the construction of the piece from the very beginning, or at least certainly not individuals on the editorial floor. But everyone must have been aware about what the ‘story’ actually turned out to be: a plug for a product masquerading as a piece of journalism.
Personally, I think it’s a very clever article. Louis looks good, the paper gets an exclusive and there’s real merit in discussing an issue, hearing loss, that many people suffer from and few talking about.
But the key winner is Specsavers. Three pages of high-profile brand recognition and the stamp of authority that only appearing in a leading newspaper can bring.
I’d like to add that there’s another winner. Content marketing, as performed by journalists.
Grant Feller is director of content consultancy GF Media and a former associate editor of the Daily Express.