Carr chips in today with a review of Contently, a high-end content shop that produces sponsored editorial for corporations, often for posting on media sites. He covers it mostly from the perspective of a journalist, evaluating how valuable high-end sponsored content is and how it could fit into a wider universe of reporting.
Contently, which grew out of the TechStars incubator program in New York, developed a roster of writers and journalists for hire and a software application that helps companies tell their own stories as well. Three years later, the company has raised $2.3 million in financing, developed a roster of 27,000 writers, grown to 24 employees and has 40 Fortune 500 companies among its clients. Some of its customers include American Express, Anheuser-Busch and PepsiCo.
My thoughts were more directly toward implications for public relations. Most obviously, there are more opportunities than ever for companies to interact directly with their clients without the filter of media and Contently's ability to raise $2.3 million (at a time when The New York Times corporation was busily writing down almost everything they paid for the stately Boston Globe and Newsweek all but went out of business) to make that interaction polished and meaningful reflects it.
More subtly, the existence of such outlets also means that clients push less hard to get advertorial-type stories in earned media, which definitely allows media relations professionals to spend our time more productively identifying ways to meet both the needs of the client and the journalist.
The reality has always been that some messages need to be in advertising because they don't meet the threshold of being news. Not wasting time trying to turn an advertisement into a news story based on a poor client understanding what will sell means everyone is getting more for their public relations investment.
That is to say, they can render the non-news to Contently's Caesar, and the news to earned media.
It also allows for nice stories - like a corporation publishing something respectful about Martin Luther King, Jr., or on Veteran's day finding an audience if it's worthy.
Both in personal consumption of information and from what I've seen in the workplace, earned media is more important than ever in influencing decisions.
For example, I recently shopped for "dental tourism" providers - low-priced but high quality dental implants provided abroad - to see if they made sense for my family. I ended up walking away from the project because I couldn't find a third party article, such as coverage in The Wall Street Journal or New York Times, that referenced a provider who had been vetted.
Similarly, clients publish more newsletters, alerts, white papers and articles than ever - but the first question they ask is 'can we get this covered?' because they want that validation.
Carr comes back to the idea of where Contently fits by observing that the Columbia student founders spent a lot of time trying to figure out what a sustainable journalism model would look like and determined that sponsored content would have to be part of the mix.
I agree because there has always been a demand for this type of content from clients when they have something to say but it isn't really news meeting that need while respecting the added value that earned media provides is a positive incremental step for corporate communication and media relations both.