A quick glance around the open layout of the NewsCred New York office shows desks littered with items—stickered MacBooks, coffee-stained mugs, empty Tupperware, colorful handbags, spare shoes, and even a hand puppet that all provide a glimpse of the personalities lining the long tables throughout the content marketing agency’s office. Beats by Dre headphones hang from empty chairs and desks as employees amble about, passing information to colleagues or simply stealing a moment of mingling. Occupying two floors of a Park Avenue skyscraper in the middle of Lower Manhattan, sever-year-old NewsCred is still every bit the scrappy tech start-up it started out as.
Founded in 2008, NewsCred has grown to become a major player in the content marketing business in recent years due to its curation and syndication technology offerings. Naturally, the content marketing company is also the consummate content marketer. It produces a gamut of content—from a daily blog and social media postings, to interactive whitepapers, to its massive #ThinkContent Summit—for its own marketing purposes. Like many of its publisher clients, NewsCred maintains an editorial team, complete with designers, editors, and freelancers. But that wasn’t always the case.
“When I started [last] February we had no real content strategy in place, which was super ironic because we’re a content marketing company,” says Amber van Natten, managing editor at NewsCred. “We had one person—who had never worked in publishing or editorial before—running our blog and our high-value content. We had a freelancer coming in two days a week to do social media, so there was no social cadence. There was no real publishing cadence, and there wasn’t any type of strategy other than thinking about what sort of topics and verticals we wanted our content to address.”
During her initial weeks in the role, van Natten took command of NewsCred’s social media accounts and its blog, increasing the production of original content from one blog post per week to five. “We upped our cadence so that we were posting five pieces of original content and five pieces of licensed content a week, bringing us to 10 postings a week, which is what we’re still doing now,” van Natten says. In true publishing fashion, van Natten also instituted an editorial calendar.
Meeting with van Natten and Dayna De Simone Sargen, director of brand marketing at NewsCred, we discussed the daily practices of a content marketer at a content marketing services provider, the nuances of content marketing in general, the parallels between branded content and traditional publishing, and the distinction between the advertorials of old and contemporary content marketing.
What kicks off your day?
van Natten: The first thing I do is make sure our blog content for that morning is published and looks good, and then I check in with analytics to see how it’s performing organically before it’s really hit social, or any kind of distribution.
Before I came to NewsCred our content was sort of fly-by-night. We would get a piece of content from a freelancer, edit it, and put it up. Now, we’ve evolved to where we have content scheduled [in advance]. We have content scheduled around tent-pole events like Cannes, the Academy Awards, the Super Bowl, and other events that matter to our audience, which is normally marketers and advertisers. We work in high-value content around tent-pole events for us, like our summit, and working with our sales team to address the verticals that our prospects are in so we can create whitepapers and other content. We’re also working on integrating our blog content, and more snackable content with high-value content to get people to convert more easily from the blog content to becoming a subscriber, or downloading a whitepaper.
What makes up your editorial calendar?
van Natten: Our calendar is made of a mix of content. We’ve found that the content that performs best for us is either interviews with, or profiles of, influencers in the advertising, marketing, and entrepreneurship space who have a really rabid social media following. We’re constantly doing influencer marketing. Another bucket of content is tactical how-to’s: how to rewrite headlines for SEO, how to build an editorial calendar, that sort of stuff. Another one is trends and analysis; if a report comes out, we write a recap of it.
What goes into your editorial process on a typical day?
van Natten: Since I’m the only editor, and oversee all of our content on my own, it’s a pretty autonomous process. I check in weekly with my freelancers and we discuss multiple pitches at once, which saves time as opposed to one-off pitches. I also created a doc for them with the type of content we’re looking for that quarter so they know what I want right away. At the beginning of the quarter we sit down and brainstorm titles, like what kind of content we want and need to see on the blog this quarter. Then, I send that list to my freelancers asking them to send me pitches along the lines of this stuff, or ask them to claim articles. They tell me what they want to work on, and then they put it in the calendar tool in our software, so when I look there I can see exactly what’s coming up in the pipeline, and what content needs to be published on what day.
It usually doesn’t matter to me what specific day we publish content, but we do see big spikes in traffic after we publish our newsletters, which run Monday and Wednesday. We try to save big pieces of content for those days. Other than that, it doesn’t really matter what day [we publish] as long as there’s a good mix of content within that week. The editorial calendar is important, but the more important thing is getting a really high-performing piece of content. If you have an out-of-the-park piece of content that’s driving traffic and going totally viral, it doesn’t really matter what day of the week it was published. So, we don’t stick to [the editorial calendar] that religiously, but it’s important to have a good mix of content every week.
Sargen: Having an editorial calendar does set up a good framework, so you know that you’re holding true to your editorial mission.
van Natten: The editorial calendar is most important to me in terms of high-value content, and working with our design team and the rest of the marketing team to have everyone on the same page. Everything needs to work in concert, so the calendar is good for making sure everyone is on track.
What are some tips you have as experts on content marketing?
van Natten: Content marketing is still in its infancy, and people don’t really get that. They know that it’s important, but then they go out and talk about themselves. There’s a nuance to doing content marketing; you can’t just sell stuff. If you’re just selling stuff, no one is going to want to read that, so you have to come up with a strategy so your content is helpful to your audience. You need to either provide a service to them, entertain them, or be otherwise useful to them in some way. You have to make your customers the hero of your story, because if you’re just talking about yourself all the time then you’re going to bore people, and they’re never going to come back. You can’t just slap something up and call it a blog either. It needs to look good, it needs to be amazing, and it needs to make people want to come back.
I’m always looking for a good mix of content against specific pillars so our audience doesn’t get bored and is always learning new things. When we select licensed third-party content to publish, we factor in the day’s news, trending topics, and what’s hot on social. When it comes to original content, we usually look for where we can answer questions—either that our audience or customers are asking, or that we’re asking ourselves.
Sargen: You need to connect on an emotional level. You need to approach this as, ‘This is what we can do to help you.’ That’s really the future of marketing. We know we’re speaking to marketers and advertisers, so we do our best to stay on top of what they’re doing, and what they’re thinking that they need, and that’s a huge part of Amber’s strategy for our content. I think the success and potential of content marketing today is that the voice is always clear. We’re always coming from the NewsCred perspective, and we don’t try to pretend that we’re speaking on someone else’s behalf. The brands that are doing that, that are authentically connecting, will ultimately succeed.