What do we actually do? Our approach to content marketing explained

Companies need distinctive, high-quality content that rises over the noise to build audiences and interest – and FirstWord is perfectly placed to help them do just that

FirstWord is a content marketing agency – but what does that mean? Being a relatively new way of reaching audiences, it doesn’t get the same nod of recognition as “I’m a journalist” or “I work in advertising” when we tell people what we do.

The answer is, we work with companies to produce high-quality content such as articles, blogs, infographics, videos and white papers. These are shared with their customers and wider audiences via their own channels – websites, social media, even the old-school medium of paper – to meet specific marketing goals. Such goals might include establishing the company’s expertise in its sector, communicating the values it stands for or building interest in and awareness of its brands and products. But, crucially, this content never reads like a sales pitch or a press release.

We started FirstWord five years ago because we could see the internet had made every company a publisher – they had digital channels that created both an opportunity and a responsibility to produce intelligent content on a regular basis. What sets us apart is that we believe the only way of achieving this is through good old-fashioned journalism. Our writers and designers have decades of experience working for news outlets of the calibre of the Financial Times, Economist and BBC.

Companies, particularly in highly complex or technical fields, may feel they don’t have stories of interest to the wider world, but our editorial experience helps us to identify where their specialist work fits into the broader themes influencing how we live now – such as managing the planet’s limited resources or how companies treat our personal data. Our client Saft, for example, makes highly specialised batteries for industrial customers and, as a result, is not a household name. However its products have played a vital role in fields such as human scientific progress, powering the landers that brought the two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, to the Red Planet, and we have helped them tell these stories.

This video gives an overview of our approach, and we’ve also created the following short films to break down how we help companies create content that educates, informs and entertains – and that people want to read, share and talk about.

Tell me again – what is content marketing?

The digital revolution has given companies the tools to talk directly to their audience – customers, employees, peers, regulators or potential customers. Publishing on their own platforms and using social media to promote the work allows a far greater number of people to find or discover it.

Unlike traditional marketing, content marketing material isn’t necessarily promoting a specific product or service, and may barely mention the company or what it does. Instead, the aim is to build brand awareness and bring interested people to the company’s website or social media channels by contributing to the big debates going on in the relevant industry.

Done well, content marketing produces articles and images that people choose to read and share – and companies increasingly understand that it can reap huge benefits. Mishcon de Reya, the international law firm, has created a bold and successful multi-pronged content strategy covering an eclectic range of topics. It publishes regular commentary on key business and economic trends around the world, both in-house and with partners such as FirstWord, because it wants to build a direct relationship with existing and potential clients. It also includes a sponsored weekly radio show on Jazz FM in its content mix, designed to reach a new audience and grow its brand reputation.

And why does content matter?

The upside of every company becoming a publisher? They have more ways than ever to communicate with their target audience. The downside? That audience is being bombarded with content from other companies, plus individuals, media outlets and even the government. At FirstWord, we create high-quality content that cuts through the noise, increasing our clients’ audiences and generating business for them as a result.

Successful content marketing campaigns can transform the size of the audience and response a company gets – we explain the success of the work we have done for Pirelli in this video. The content strategy has brought more than 13 million visitors a year to the tyre maker’s online platforms.

Whatever happened to PR?

In a long word – disintermediation. In a few short words, if you have something to say, then just say it. This video explains why the PR industry no longer has a monopoly in a world where companies can broadcast and transmit their own content directly to their audiences.

However, that’s not to say it doesn’t still have a role. The external validation that comes from news outlets reporting on what your company is doing is still very important, and great content provides fuel for your PR efforts. Uncovering great stories within your business and communicating them well increases the chance of trade magazines, newspapers and broadcasters noticing you and new customers finding you.

What’s the secret to creating great content?

To create high-quality content, we apply the same skills it takes to produce a newspaper every day. We start by asking who the audience is, then work to understand what they want to read about and research those subjects, tapping the expertise of our client company to bring new perspectives to their readers.

For example, we recently produced a thought-leadership report on combating financial crime in Asia for anti-fraud software company NetGuardians, following an A-Z on banking fraud we created for them that became an excellent lead generator. It gathered together huge amounts of data, from GDP to the use of mobile banking across Asian countries, presented the information in clear graphics, and set out the views of partners at leading banks. NetGuardians’ work was mentioned a limited number of times.

Just as in a newsroom, the logistics of presenting and delivering content are just as important as what it says – so we work with clients to establish how often they should publish, and in what format. A regular and balanced flow of new content is what Google rewards in its search rankings and what builds social media audiences.

And how do we know this?

Our team is made up of people who honed their editorial sensibilities reporting on business for national newspapers and broadcasters, and we specialise in working with companies in complex industries – fintech, asset management and battery technology to name but a few.

Such companies are not often comfortable explaining how they work or what they’re doing to make the world a better place. But great content allows them to tell these stories to a wide audience in a way they have full control over, bringing more potential customers or future employees to their door.

We’ve worked on a content programme with Temenos – the world’s leading banking software company – since 2015. Eighteen months into the project, Temenos’s then strategy director Ben Robinson said the company had seen a huge increase in engagement and that “80 per cent of sales leads” were generated via its website.

With an increasing expectation that companies should stand for more than just making money, content marketing offers an effective way to demonstrate how they’re responding to changes in their industry and the wider world.

Our job is to help our clients make the most of this opportunity to talk directly to their audience by publishing high-quality content that makes them stand out.