Laurel West
Feb 11, 2016

Good content can’t be made by committee

Laurel West, Asia editorial director with The Economist Group, reveals some uncomfortable truths .

Laurel West
Laurel West

Today, content marketing is high on people’s agenda. It is a buzzword that has been making the rounds for the past couple of years with more and more brands investing. As more content is created, so too the competition for consumers’ attention increases exponentially.

The question often asked of marketers and marketing experts is ‘how do we make sure content is relevant and resonant?’. That is, how do we get the attention of the audience we want to reach?

The Economist Group has been in the content business for many years, although we haven’t always called it that. It started as a cottage industry of sorts, with core clients of The Economist Intelligence Unit’s country analysis subscription products requesting customised reports that they could share with their clients. Since then we have grown into a well-oiled machine that produces huge integrated programmes for a range of clients, mainly multinational companies, both Western and Asian in origin, but also foundations and on occasion even governments. Most of what we do is in the B2B space, but we also address B2C and even what we call B2G—business to government.

We are different from other content providers in that we have a well-respected brand to leverage, and the strength of The EIU behind us—a global network of contributors, experts in econometrics and so on. We can produce new and compelling content that most others cannot.

Over the years I have seen a lot of changes. In the past, when we first started working with brands in such a way, they would commission a report, and that was it. There was no programme or campaign. They would do nothing with it. If people complain that good content is expensive today, it was even more expensive back then when clients did nothing with it.

Today, one of the main roles of any content business is not just to produce the content, but to remind and advise clients on how they can take that content to the next level.

The content business is rapidly evolving and we are learning new things every day. But there are some things which I think have yet to change. Here are three uncomfortable truths about content marketing:

1. You can't produce good content by committee

It is not uncommon for those commissioning content to put more emphasis on their own internal approvals than the execution of the content. There have been instances where clients have taken more time to review a project than the actual time taken to produce it.

This is understandable, of course, there are certain challenges in the financial and pharmaceuticals industries, for example, with their strict compliance rules. But I must say that in all my years of doing this I have never seen a lengthy review process lead to an improved outcome.

If a brand is to be serious about content marketing, then it is imperative that they get a system in place that can cope with the demands of producing regular interesting content. Which brings me to my next uncomfortable truth.

2. It is not easy to break free from the herd, but bravery is usually rewarded  

Brands always say they want unique, attention-grabbing content, but when push comes to shove, they often chicken out. Those that do take the more daring path really reap the dividends.

We recently created a report benchmarking palliative care around the world. We suggested naming it ‘The Quality of Death Index’. This title took a lot of convincing, but in the end the client trusted us when we told them that if we used that name we could pretty much guarantee massive press coverage. It got fantastic pickup, including half a page in The Economist (which, by the way, we can’t guarantee—they are on our media list like everyone else, and if they do cover our reports it is purely on merit).

3. Content marketing is about more than just digital ad units and websites

Brands come to us when their customers and audience are tired of hearing their usual marketing message. They need something new, and perhaps a new brand to ride beside in order to get people’s attention. People will look at our content because of the value they place on the EIU brand and all that it stands for.

Letting go of the strict control of ‘the message’ can be hard, but it can be truly beneficial. We always strive to say something new and to create content that encourages a discussion. Clients often combine a research programme with custom meetings where an EIU editor presents the findings and chairs discussion. Our work is often used to earn media.

Recently NEC asked us what they could do to promote their technology products regarding cities. It would have been easy to go for a standard report on some aspect of city infrastructure, but we instead suggested creating a Safe Cities Index, which compared cities around the globe on various aspects of security, not only personal but also cyber-security. Again, massive engagement, as well as pickup in the media, including on social. We even had officials from city governments approaching us to ask how they could improve their scores.

Such programmes are obviously not going to be cheap. But done well, they can pay for themselves many times over.

Laurel West is Asia editorial director for thought leadership at The Economist Group. This column is based on remarks she made at The Marketing Society Asia’s 'Uncomfortable Breakfast' kicking off the media group’s role as the society’s official knowledge partner.


Campaign Asia-Pacific’s Content Marketing summit returns to Singapore for the third year, on March 17. Part of our Content Marketing series, this summit will provide an informative and educational conference, with practical case studies and strategies from across Asia-Pacific.

The event brings together 200 CMOs and senior marketing professionals for cutting edge insights to learn about the practice of content marketing—from strategy to content creation to content distribution to metrics and measurement.

For complete information please see

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