Content marketing takes centre stage

FirstWord co-founder Adrian Michaels will explain what brands can learn from newsroom thinking to an international gathering

Publishers, brands, adtech providers and content agencies are coming together in Berlin next week for Native Advertising DAYS 2018 –­ the biggest international conference on content distribution and content promotion. Delegates will be swapping ideas about how to keep audiences engaged, the use of data in content campaigns, how to improve customer experience in content and other trending topics, all designed to produce maximum impact for advertisers.

Major brands including Diageo, Visa, Deutsche Bank and Eni will be represented alongside leading publishers such as the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Bloomberg, CBS and BBC Global News. It’s the fourth time the conference has been held and last year it attracted more than 400 participants from 30-plus countries.

Among the six keynote speakers is FirstWord’s co-founder Adrian Michaels, who will be answering the number one question troubling advertisers: how to build a brand newsroom that never runs out of ideas.

Engaging audiences

His insights stem from 15 years with the Financial Times, where he won business and finance reporter of the year in 2003, before joining the Telegraph as group foreign editor. He then became one of the first senior UK journalists to switch to the advertising side – running a 40-person native advertising newsroom for the Telegraph, before founding content marketing agency FirstWord Media in 2014.

The secret to engaging audiences, says Michaels, lies in the same tactics journalists have always used – starting by understanding what people are interested in. Then learn from the techniques honed in newsrooms to produce it.

“It’s about the newsroom mentality of understanding what makes a story – and that means looking outside the marketing department and the C-suite to get ideas about what’s going on in the wider world,” says Michaels. “You can ask your people in the field, look at diary events, but the mentality is that in order to write stories that your audience wants, you have to have your finger on the pulse of what’s happening and what’s interesting for people.

“The other aspect we talk about is newsroom rigour. People who work in publishing know that it’s a team effort and it’s not just about writers and deadlines but the huge amount of production that goes into getting a piece out – from sub-editing and headline writing to visuals and SEO – and that needs discipline and rigour to succeed.”

Leading conversations

These are the processes that FirstWord has put in place for many of its clients. About 80 per cent of its work is direct with brands, for their websites and social media feeds. The other 20 per cent is helping publishers to pitch native advertising solutions and to execute the work when sold.

“Our material sits near the top of what marketers call the purchase funnel and the purpose of the content we do is to get the brand associated with the conversations that they are into,” adds Michaels. “It’s about intelligent conversation and thought leadership, so that at a later stage people will think of either buying their product or using their services.”

In the meantime, Michaels is looking forward to some intelligent conversation about content marketing at the Berlin conference. He will be joining keynote speakers from the Wall Street Journal’s custom content unit, WSJ.Custom Studios, and CNN International Commercial, among others, and he’s interested in hearing more how the sector is developing and growing.

“When we started FirstWord five years ago we had to explain to potential clients what we were doing and why; now we almost never have to do that,” he adds. “I’m interested in how other people see that growth and in what areas it’s likely to be.”

Adrian Michaels’ keynote address is at 14:55 on Wednesday 7 November at the Native Advertising DAYS Conference at H4, Alexanderplatz, Berlin. The conference runs from November 6 to 8.