“We wrote our first blog post before we wrote our first line of code.”
- Jon Miller, founder, Marketo

Blogging is important for every business. So we don’t just offer ghostwriting services for others. We blog for ourselves. Why? To discuss big issues such as content strategy, commissioning and ROI, as well as tactics for effective copy creation or editing, not to mention news about Collective Content.

Remember, over a third of marketers say blogs are the most valuable content type. Let us know what you’d like to read about here.

PRs and brand journalists in 2017 – a marriage of convenience?

At Collective Content we’re fascinated by how people respond to us doing our job – creating great content for brands that starts conversations.

That’s partly because it’s a fast-changing field, and of course partly because it’s our job – different in many ways to the traditional journalism we’ve come from but similar in others when done well.

PR pros are important gatekeepers to us creating great brand content. So this year marks the third time we’re running our annual survey in conjunction with ResponseSource to find out what PRs think of so-called brand journalists in 2017.

Take this year’s survey here.

Last year close to 300 PRs – a majority in agencies and about a quarter of the sample working in-house – shared their views. And the results made for interesting reading.

But rather get into the analysis of last year here, we’d encourage you to take this year’s survey. We will share the results with those who take part a little ahead of wider coverage.

Last year’s results didn’t show a straightforward rise in acceptance of brand journalism compared to 2015. This remains a unique study at a time when understanding the future of PR and the rise of brand content are important to all kinds of organisations.

Please also feel free to share our survey link – https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/ZQ9N2P5 . Thank you.

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Choosing an agency: Personal chemistry but with due diligence


Marketers these days spend a lot of time thinking about budgets… or, rather, the lack thereof. But you might be surprised to learn that money isn’t the top factor they consider when looking for agencies to work with.

According to the Marketing Forum’s recently released 2016-17 research report, the most important attribute that clients look for in an agency is not price, innovation or knowledge. It’s personal chemistry.

Nearly 70 percent of the professionals surveyed during the forum’s annual networking get-together said that person-to-person ability to “click” was the top reason for putting a new agency on their shortlist for a new project or campaign.

Personal chemistry is much more than the business version of ‘love at first sight’, though. Venture capitalist Fred Wilson, for instance, describes personal chemistry as more of a process than a single spark between potential partners.

First impressions are important, Wilson notes, but subsequent meetings can help confirm or disprove those impressions. Good references are also a part of that process, he says, as is how well you handle negotiations.

And don’t ever doubt that negotiations aren’t important, even if you feel like you’ve made an amazing connection with a potential agency partner. In business, as in life, things can change in unexpected ways. To avoid unpleasant surprises in the event that personal chemistry falters, it’s smart to heed an old journalism saying: ‘If your mother says she loves you, check it out.’

Good person-to-person rapport is important, acknowledges Benjamin Gomes-Casseres, an authority on alliance strategy and management, and a professor at Brandeis University’s International Business School. But personal chemistry without due diligence can lead to painful failure over time, he warns.

“Don’t rely on chemistry – particularly if that chemistry is between only a few of the principals involved – in deciding and managing a major deal,” Gomes-Casseres writes in the Harvard Business Review. “Even trust is an unreliable foundation when it is held by individuals and not supported by broader organisational interests.”

To ensure you build a solid working foundation on top of that “click” with an agency, you need to ask questions of both that agency and others it has worked with. You should also probably keep your options open by negotiating with one or two alternative agencies just in case things don’t work out. And it goes without saying that it’s also crucial to make sure your working terms are spelled out clearly on paper.

“A personal touch, good intentions and enthusiastic teams are never enough,” Gomes-Casseres says. “These need to be supported by a clear division of rights and duties, effective communication channels, and good escalation procedures, just in case.”

In other words, as another famous saying puts it, ‘Trust, but verify.’


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The problem with pictures

The old adage wearily states that a picture is worth a thousand words. I take issue with this. We get paid by the word and usually nothing for sourcing an image. Yet sometimes, and this may sound strange, it’s easier to write a short article than find an image to partner it.

Clients rarely understand the pain a writer has with sourcing images. Naturally we’d rather not have to pass any additional cost on to the client so we prefer freely available imagery. For the record we use wonderful resources such as Librestock and Unsplash that use the images of talented and generous photographers who allow publishers, professional or amateur, to use them without attribution for commercial purposes.

We will sometimes pay for images, although clients don’t always expect to see this as a line on an invoice and it’s sometimes awkward to include. That’s more so late on in a project where the selection of free ones doesn’t find favour.

The main problem is usually finding the right image, especially for more abstract subjects. Particularly so in technology. Images about devices are easy, like ‘mobile’, ’tablet’ or ’server’.

The same goes with relatively literal subjects such as ‘mobile working’. You type the phrase in and there you go: a nice image of man with a MacBook Pro and a coffee cup on a table.

Then you have subjects like digital transformation, cloud computing and business security.


Usually I’ll start looking for digital transformation, spend 20 minutes using various search terms like ‘office’, ‘digital’, ‘transform’ and ‘digital working’ and scroll through dozens of thumbnails before thinking “Sod it, I’ll just use that picture of the man with his MacBook Pro and the coffee cup on a table again”.

We want to be original but after several minutes of searching you end up reverting to cliché: a padlock and chain for ‘security’, man in hoodie looking at a laptop for a ‘hacker’, a pair of shaking hands for a ‘merger or business deal’ and a cloud for ‘cloud computing’.

Likewise go too abstract and you risk the reader failing to make a connection between copy and image.

Often the dissatisfaction with an image comes from a client who doesn’t like a certain photo, either aesthetically or because it isn’t ‘digital transformational-y’ enough.

The matter of copyright can be tricky, too. Happily, the position on copyright is clearer these days thanks to services like the two services I mentioned earlier but you need to be very careful when sourcing images to make certain you understand the licence terms and to give credit where it is due. We always do that when attribution is requested, for example when using a Creative Commons licence.

And this matters because…

The kicker to all this is that images are only getting more important. Sites that use quality photography or illustrations will increasingly outshine those falling back on clichéd stock photography.

When content is shared on social media these channels pull out a hero image. It’s often a big factor in whether a reader clicks through to the full item – and even then they are understandably drawn to areas where there are strong visual sign posts.

Much as I’m flippant about finding images that fit some abstract tech subject matter, getting this right really counts. Both image quality and processes for finding the right images must improve. Tips welcome.

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Contact us

Contact us to find out how we can help you:

Email:  tony.hallett@collectivecontent.co.uk

Twitter:  @ColContent

Facebook: facebook.com/CollectiveContent

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/collective-content

Phone:  0800 086 9333