Smoke gets in your eyes. Ohh & content marketing

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It felt a bit like that moment in the TV show Mad Men when Sterling Cooper loses the Lucky Strike account.

Something that’s had blood, sweat, tears and the unrelenting efforts of a whole team invested in it was about to evaporate.

“Change is neither good nor bad, it simply is……….There will be fat years, and there will be lean years, but it is going to rain,” Don Draper (Season three).

As a brand new organisation set up in 2009 through the merger of seven other authorities we produced a monthly residents’ magazine that was delivered by Royal Mail to every home.

We needed to communicate with one of the largest council areas in England covering a vast geographical area of almost 2,000 square miles and around 320,000 people all living in very different communities.

The magazine enabled us to get core messages out to this large and varied audience who in many cases had little in common, while at the same time marketing our key services to a mass audience.

So far, so good but all that was about to end with the need to make major saving and new guidelines from government restricting the frequency and content of council magazines.

After more than a year of developing and building up the magazine it felt like a real blow, especially as the industry was talking about content marketing as one of the most powerful ways for brands to build long term relationships.

But just like the Lucky Strike loss it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

We decided to move the magazine online and use social media and email as our primary delivery model. Our social media channels have been key in this and our network of almost 37,000 friends and followers have become vital tools for delivering content direct to local people.

Eighteen months later our online magazines have had more than 600,000 views, while around 2,000 people now get it delivered direct to their inbox. We’ve even won a couple of awards.

We’ve recently seen figures that confirm our audience is now significantly ‘better informed’ than when we started and anecdotally I’m convinced this type of content is building stronger relationships.

Five tips:

• Make sure the content is easily sharable across social networks and uses powerful images to draw people in.

• Ensure that it’s easily readable online. When we moved our magazine to the web we got rid of double page spreads, longer articles and other print stuff that doesn’t sit well on screen.

• The old rules still apply: We find that readers still love the old standards like competitions and ‘what’s on’ guides.

• Whatever the format, people still love reading stories that build a narrative about where they live and what interests them. Positive, life affirming news seems to be the most read for us.

• Have confidence and build. It takes time to build an audience so don’t be put off by a slow start. Keep sharing and promoting content, use networks of networks, incentivize, review and restart if necessary but eventually it will come good.

For a copy of every issue click here

8 thoughts on “Smoke gets in your eyes. Ohh & content marketing

  1. Thanks for that Catherine. Really good of you to say, so thanks for the comment. I’m totally addicted to Mad Men, one of my favourite ever TV shows. Some great quotes and monologues.


  2. Hi Ross, enjoyed your post, I like positive feel in response to such a big change, something many (and you too) finds difficult.

    I’m pleased going online has worked well however how have you dealt with the problems Northumberland has thrown at you? I’m thinking connectivity problems in rural areas; and a lot of older people and pockets of deprivation meaning people may not have a computer at home. Do all 320,000 residents still see it? (not that I think all 320,000 people read it before).

    I’m not criticising, I don’t know how else you could better respond to stupid diktats from Eric and to eye-watering budget cuts.

    Great post, thanks



  3. Thanks for your comments Stephanie, glad you enjoyed it.
    I think the first thing to say is that our new solution is by no means a silver bullet and I’d be the first to conceed it doenst reach the same number of people as it did before. However, it probably is much better value given the costs.
    We know that lots of people prefer reading a hard copy so we still print a limited number that can be collected from 52 different locations across the county. Connecticity is a problem in the very rural areas but we find a good spread of subscribers rigt across the patch. Looking to the future the council is working on an ambitious broadband solution for more rural areas that will also make this a lot better for people who struggle to access the web.
    For those who don;t have computers or smart phones we still have a really large library network (32 I think) where residents can get a hard copy or use the PCs.
    It’s by no means a perfect solution but what we’ve tried so far seems to be helping us engage with us. I think one big benefit is it also helps us connect with those outside the county in a way the old magazine never did. This is really useful when so much of our economy is based on tourism,
    Thanks again for your comments.


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