Content Marketers: Think “Editorial”

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 contenteditorial 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.

5 thoughts on “Content Marketers: Think “Editorial”

  1. John,

    First off, thanks for mentioning my new job at Eloqua. I am very excited about making the crossover from the traditional media to this new, if hazy, world of content marketing.

    I absolutely agree with your point here. Content is a blanket term. What does it mean? It definitely evokes a factory-like connotation. The truth is so much of traditional media (TV, newspapers, magazines, etc.) are undergoing a similar transformation. What goes viral in marketing goes viral in the media as well. Lists are huge. How many magazines and newspapers publish what we used to call in the newsroom “listicles”? These little bite-sized pieces of information are more akin to content than editorial, in my opinion.

    But, yes, editorial is supposed to be the bread and butter of the media. We want to do the same Eloqua. Just about anyone who wants to be successful in marketing needs produce content at an ever increasing rate. As the demand for quantity rises so does the need for quality. If people are being bombarded with more and more content, their tastes become more discerning. Your content is free. So what? There’s tons of free content out there, and a consumers’ time is the new hot commodity. They don’t want to waste it on dull, poorly researched writing.

    If content is king, I suspect editorial will soon become the crown prince.

    The reason I was attracted to Eloqua was that they wanted to enhance the quality of their content. They recognized the need to bring someone in with experience interviewing, writing, researching and translating complex information into understandable narratives. That’s why they sought a journalist rather than a marketer. We will continue to generate content, but also seek to craft editorial. And there will be a learning curve on both sides as marketers try to wrap their ahead around journalism and journalist try to wrap their head around marketing. I think in the future you will see a lot more companies making a similar step and many, many journalists finding new homes.


  2. Thanks, Jesse. I wish I had thought of your line, “If content is king, I suspect editorial will soon become the crown prince.” That says it all!

  3. In 2006, Doc Searls wrote, ” Stop calling everything “content”. It’s a (BS) word that the dot-commers started using back in the ’90s as a wrapper for everything that could be digitized and put online. It’s handy, but it masks and insults the true natures of writing, journalism, photography, and the rest of what we still, blessedly (if adjectivally) call “editorial”. Your job is journalism, not container cargo.”

    For years, I tried hard to reject Joe Pulizzi’s (who I like personally) efforts to evangelize the term content marketing because I felt (and still do) it grinds every form of human expression, from the finest writing and great film-making to yellow-page listings into a hamburger of a term where everything is lumped into the common denominator.

    Alas, Joe won. And if you want to be discovered as a purveyor of services to assist marketers think beyond advertising, then “content marketing” is, if nothing else, a required SEO term that must fill your website.

    I find it amusing and ironic that Joe, having evangelized the term “content marketing,” now travels the globe making presentations to “de-hamburger” what content marketing is. And now, he must explain how it is different from “content strategy” and “inbound marketing,” more totally useless phrases.

    Here is the only reality that matters: Companies and customers are comprised of human beings — and any way we can help them connect and communicate in mutually beneficial ways is what marketing — old and new — should be about.

  4. Thanks for commenting on this topic (needless to say, I’m honored). I nearly mentioned your blog in my post as one of the few in the field of what-I-now-hesitate-to-call-content-marketing that actually uses the word editorial on a regular basis.

  5. Great post, John, and great comments, too. All too often, it seems, B2B marketers have accepted the idea that they need to shift from promotional to educational approaches, but have largely failed to take a more serious look at what their customers and other stakeholders actually want to learn — which would be the foundation of a real editorial strategy and program. To make things even worse, the push into social media has often degenerated into a race to crank out quantities of keyword-laden “content” with click-friendly titles like “five simple steps…” or “12 tips for …”

    A great many B2B marketers these days cite the “thinking like a publisher” mantra that underlies the move to content marketing, but the publishers they emulate too often resemble value-lite content farms rather than the shrinking ranks of high value news, business, and trade media organizations.

    I, too, think it’s great that Eloqua has hired Jesse Noyes (congrats, Jesse) to add more journalistic skill and orientation to their marketing program; hopefully more companies will follow suit — and actually bring the editorial values you cite more centrally into the mix. Perhaps “thinking like a journalist” is the more appropriate mantra as we all look to make marketing more relevant, useful, and valuable.

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