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article imageFuture of Media Preview: Q&A with Digiday’s Josh Sternberg

By David Silverberg     Mar 11, 2013 in Internet
In this Future of Media Preview Q&A, Josh Sternberg, a reporter at digital media news outlet Digiday, discusses the rise of content marketing and the challenges companies face when they invest in branded content.
Sternberg will be speaking at Digital Journal's Future of Media event in Toronto on March 14, along with Jonathan Perelman, Vice President of Agency Strategy and Development for BuzzFeed; Steve Ladurantaye, media reporter at the Globe & Mail; and Sabaa Quao, Chief Marketing Officer of Digital Journal Inc. and co-founder of /newsrooms.
A long-time journalist, Sternberg tracks the marketing industry’s transition from an analog to a digital world for Digiday, often looking at how brands and advertisers are shifting to content marketing campaigns.
In this Q&A interview, he explains what interests him about this field, how the Net has democratized information and the role live events play in propelling a brand’s message.
Tell us how you first got interested in reporting on content marketing and digital media. What intrigues you most about this space?
Sternberg: I just kind of fell into it, actually. I started my career as an adjunct professor teaching, among other courses, media theory and really enjoyed it. After academia, I went into PR and got a good understanding of how companies work with reporters on certain stories. And after a while, and seeing many reporters miss the bigger story, I wanted to spend more time writing.
So I jumped to the reporting side. Since I’ve been writing about digital media, one recurring theme has been this transition to content marketing, where brands see themselves as publishers. I think this is a fascinating evolution from the content marketing of previous mass media — like how soap operas started on radio, sponsored by, you guessed it, soap companies like P&G, Dial and Colgate to TV, with Texaco Star Theater. Content marketing isn’t new, just the medium it’s delivered in — and, of course, the nuance.
You have seen how branded content has increased substantially over the years. What do you attribute this to?
Sternberg: The easiest answer is because the Internet has torn down the top-down dictum between brands and publishers, and consumers. It’s now a two-way street, so brands need to have content to provide to consumers. The more interesting answer is that because the Internet has democratized information, brands need to work harder to try to persuade people to buy their products.
We have any answer at our fingertips, making it easy for people to research, and then decide, which product they want or service they want to use. Branded content, however, tries to appeal to the emotions of the consumer. “Let’s create content people will like, therefore, they’ll like us or think of us when purchasing,” a brand might say. It’s advertising that’s moved back to the message, the qualitative, compared to the metric-heavy, quantitative DR-driven the Internet has been working off of these past two decades.
What brands “get” content marketing and how are they implementing initiatives appreciated by their industry and consumers?
Sternberg: G.E. gets it. The company is not only on every platform, but uses each platform differently. What you might see on its Instagram, a behind-the-scenes image of, say building a turbine is completely different than what you might see on one of their Tumblrs about innovation.
Of course, one can’t talk about content marketing without talking about Red Bull, the current kings of content. They had someone break the sound barrier by jumping to Earth from the heavens.
What role do live events, such as the Super Bowl, play for brands looking to bring real-time content marketing into their “mission control” centers? Who’s the leader in this area?
Sternberg: Brands are starting to slowly figure out that they now live in an “always on” era. Live events can generate brand lift, as we saw with Oreo during the Super Bowl blackout.
But, perhaps not surprisingly, there was a backlash against Poland Spring who did not take advantage of Senator Marco Rubio’s parched rebuttal to the President’s State of the Union. The problem for many brands, however, of being in an “always on” era is that there needs to be a staff devoted to this, which brands might not have the capabilities or temperament to pull off. Turning a brand into a newsroom culture is difficult. Brands also need to make sure legal is involved, which can be tough. The ideal situation, again, using Oreo as an example, is to have legal, marketing and execs in the room for these live events. Not every brand is there yet.
Predict one content marketing trend likely to take off in the next few years, something you don’t think anyone will expect.
Sternberg: I’m no prognosticator. However, one thing that might be interesting would be the pendulum swinging back to user-generated content as a way to complement or enhance or even create new content marketing opportunities.
The upcoming Future of Media event will take place Thursday, March 14, 2013 at Toronto’s Drake Hotel Underground (1150 Queen Street West) at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m. and admission is free and open to the public. Note: Seating is limited so it will be first-come, first-served. Previous events have hit capacity very quickly so early arrival is highly recommended.
This article originally appeared in the Future of Media blog.
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