One of the most exciting areas today in the realm of what we used to call publishing is content marketing. As befits a rapidly evolving discipline, there is no single, satisfactory definition for this new activity. A few days ago, Joe Pulizzi itemized some of the different ways to describe content marketing, then added, “there are another 30 names for this including branded content, customer media, custom publishing and the list goes on.” But one word that rarely shows up in such lists is editorial. That’s a pity.
Not that I object to content. It’s a useful word that covers the variety of media that marketers can use, while editorial is narrower, mostly limited to writing. That is, all editorial is content, but not all content is editorial.
But as a word, content has its downside. To my ear, at least, it suggests an undifferentiated mass extruded by machinery. Editorial, by contrast, suggests active involvement in content, a filtering of it through a careful act of judgment. Where there’s editorial, there must be an editor. Where there’s content, there must be . . . who knows?
Then why is editorial such a rare word in blogs about content marketing? Perhaps because the field is, so far, being driven largely by people with marketing backgrounds. That’s not to say they don’t appreciate the qualities the word connotes, but that by training, it doesn’t come immediately to mind to describe what they do.
That may be why the one place you’ll see the word in content marketing blogs is in discussions of editorial calendars. As every editor knows, that’s a marketing tool as much as, if not more than, an editorial one. But when it is not conjoined with calendar, the word editorial rarely appears.
Resistance to other uses of the word may be due to the traditional separation of powers between editorial and marketing. In the old media world, marketers didn’t do editorial, and editors didn’t do marketing.
All that, of course, has changed. Marketers absolutely do editorial now–they just don’t use the word. But as more editors enter the content marketing fray (the hiring of Jesse Noyes by Eloqua is but the latest example), that old habit may die off.
Why is one word so important? Because unlike content, editorial isn’t a neutral term. There can be good editorial and bad editorial, but buried not so deeply in the word is the intent to get the facts straight, state them effectively, and serve the reader well. It may just be my bias as an editor, but to me, the word reminds us that the greatest success of content marketing will come from adopting not just editorial tools, but editorial values as well.