How the mighty have fallen

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What can we learn from the demise of Bauer Works and King Content, and where to from here?

Nick Hardie-Grant

It could be easy to think that the death of King Content and the closure of Bauer Works are reflective of an industry-wide trend in Australian content and publishing. But they’re not. So how can two of the biggest players in a growing market both stumble so spectacularly in the same year?

Content marketing isn’t new. In fact, it pre-dates traditional advertising. What’s new is the increasingly important role it plays in a brand’s marketing mix. This year the Content Marketing Institute reported that 82 per cent of Australian marketers use content marketing. And, on average, content accounts for 30 per cent of the total marketing budget, and this is forecast to increase in 2018.

So with so much opportunity and growth in the market, it’s confounding that some of Australia’s major content agencies are struggling. King Content’s ongoing financial woes have been widely reported, Bauer Works has ‘integrated’ into the wider Bauer stable and Pacific+ has scaled back its focus on custom content. Granted they’ve all had their own specific issues – some of which are bigger than others – but sitting here, as a content and publishing agency, there’s a recurring theme that’s hard to ignore.

As Bobbi Mahlab wrote recently, King Content’s approach to business and its subsequent unravelling should not reflect badly on the content marketing industry as a whole. In the same way, the moves at Bauer Works and Pacific+ are not reflective of the custom publishing and content sector as a whole. However, there are some approaches in the broader content and marketing industries that continue to be repeated, which, I believe, can explain some (although not all) of the recent changes in content and publishing. These are a) quality of content, b) adapting commercial models and c) client service.

Firstly, the volume of competing ‘content’ out there means quality is more important than ever. When I say ‘content’, I’m referring to a growing list of formats – from editorial to video, photography, and audio, across a range of industries, from health and finance to fashion and travel, tailored for certain channels from Facebook, to magazines to email. As a brand, or as a media or PR agency, being skilled enough to deliver quality content with all of those factors in mind, while focusing on your core business, is not easy. And we know that over-promising to get a client over the line or attempting to force cookie-cutter approaches across all channels can result in poor quality and ineffective content, which is highly visible.

Secondly, the shifting media landscape has completely changed the commercial models behind a lot of these contracts. Commercialising content is no longer just selling ads in mags – it needs creative and integrated solutions, data insights, digital expertise, increased production and management, and all for a more competitive price. There’s still a lot of value in the media assets and audiences of strong brands but even those traditionally successful models are being challenged, meaning the client-agency relationships need to keep evolving. As much as media brands like Pacific and Bauer are experts in media, and there are perceived client benefits of that media such as added value and reach, when it comes to delivering quality and effective content to a brand’s audience, this has very little real impact. Commercialising client content and channels requires a fresh and innovative approach.

Lastly, client service and delivering results is more important than ever. As an agency, we aim to work as an extension of our client’s team – whether it’s the marketing team, digital team or commercial team. Continuing to consistently deliver results for your clients is what client service is all about. There’s communication, proactivity and net promoter scores, but if you over promise and under deliver, if you’re more accustomed to working on a consumer facing brand than a client’s, or if your client teams are constantly changing, then it’s going to take a toll over time.

The daily headlines in the industry press about struggling content and custom publishing agencies doesn't, in my opinion, point to the death or the weakness of the industry as a whole. What it does in fact reveal is that content agencies face many challenges around their role and how they work with clients. Conversely this shows the value in getting the client-agency relationship right from the outset and where the opportunities lie for content agencies to add value, produce results and really help clients.

Nick Hardie-Grant is Managing Director of Hardie Grant Media. He’s also the proud owner of Peppa, our office dog.