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Content Marketing Presents Uncertain Future For Publishers

As publishers see continued erosion of ad revenue and readership, advertisers are shifting their dollars to digital, hiring writers, outsourcing content production to marketing agencies, and building their own audiences. In short, brands are becoming publishers, and investing resources in content marketing that were once earmarked for traditional media. 

Consider the case of HubSpot, a B2B inbound marketing software company that is redefining what's possible when content is ingrained into every phase of a brand's sales funnel. The company has amassed a powerful reach, including 449,000+ Facebook Likes and 266,000+ Twitter Followers, in large part bypassing old media channels and paid advertising

According to a recent Forbes article, HubSpot, generates more than 60,000 leads per month, from more than 1,000,000 website visitors.

So, Brands are Publishers, But . . .

It's easy to see the potential for businesses in content marketing, but the reality is that becoming a successful brand publisher is hard. Consider these challenges facing corporate marketers:

  • There is a growing talent gap.
  • Many brands (or their existing marketing departments, to be more specific), lack the ability to tell engaging stories.
  • Marketing teams are not structured to scale content.
  • It’s difficult to break through the noise, as the web is flooded with low-quality content.
  • Building reach (and influence) is hard.

While brands confront new demands on talent, technology and business process in order to adapt, publishers have a bit of a head start in these critical areas, and can compete directly with marketing agencies for outsourced content dollars. They can leverage their built in audiences, writer networks, and ability to scale content production to create new revenue streams, and even develop highly evolved business models. 

Rather than viewing content marketing as their impending doom, publishers should be focused on the emerging opportunities:

  • Create and distribute content, in and out of network.
  • Produce sponsored content (aka native advertising).
  • Tap existing advertising partnerships, and even consider cannibalizing their advertising business in favor of a more sustainable future.
  • Offer integrated services (i.e. content + SEO + social + PR + email + analytics). Content alone isn’t enough.

As Andrew Davis (@TPLdrew), author of Brandscaping, said in a recent Marketing Agency Insider post, “Publishers are masterful content creators, and they are able to charge a premium for the services they offer by leveraging their market research, existing distribution platforms, and even the talent from their editorial teams.”

And Paul Rossi (@economistrossi), managing editor of The Economist, states on Digiday, "The opportunity for media companies is to create content that’s compelling for users on behalf of advertisers. That doesn’t mean it has to be native, but the skills in telling stories are quite valuable to marketers as they build audience themselves. "

So, Publishers Can Be Agencies, But . . .

Despite the challenges presented to old media, specifically newspapers and magazines, opportunities are arising for publishers to evolve, and to become key players in the modern marketing agency ecosystem


It seems like an obvious play, but not so fast. There are obstacles ahead for the publishers that choose to venture into the agency world. Specifically:

  • Competition for talent will be intense.
  • Integration of services isn’t easy, but it's necessary.
  • Change velocity requires nimble business models, which is not necessarily synonymous with publishers.
  • Maintaining editorial integrity and content quality, as the lines continue to blur.
  • Brands are building their own reach, and if they succeed at a mass scale, publishing as we know it today will become extinct.

What Next?

We're left with more questions than answers, but for publishers willing to take chances, and venture into the unknown, they just may discover untapped markets and revenue as an integral part of the modern marketing ecosystem. 

Publishers as Agencies: The Content Marketing Effect

For more on this topic, check out the slide deck from my Jan. 26, 2013 presentation for the Alliance of Area Business Publications

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