Should all alleged Content Marketers be sacked on sight?

Your headline is one of the most important parts of your content. It attracts the reader to continue to read/watch/listen.

Of course I don’t believe all content marketers should really be sacked – it’s merely a figure of speech – but hopefully, given the current trend in animosity towards content marketing, the headline will attract readers:)

Like many, I’m concerned about marketers being duped by the latest new-new thing in marketing – another label for something that’s decades old. This time it’s content marketing and if you follow Gartner’s Hype Cycles, it seems content marketing is on its way out as we read – making room for the next bright shiny digital object. Mind you Gartner predicted there’d be no mail by 2000.

Gartner Hype Cycle
Content Marketing heading into the abyss…in the trough of disillusionment

Creating content is not new to marketing. In fact, creating content has been in our culture since mankind stood upright. Think cave paintings to record content and communicate to others.

Check out this image from a 17th century book:


The headline reads “Contents“. OMG dear reader – physical evidence of content creation in publications.

As you well know, the majority of books (including ebooks), magazines documents et al, begin by listing the content you will find in the publication. Who’d have thought hey?

So why do alleged marketers claim the creation of content is new? Whose interest are they really serving?

I can only go from my humble experience, as like most marketers I’ve been creating and curating (to us a digi-term) content since nappies. More than 30 years ago when a Marketing Manager of TNT I wrote a weekly editorial article in the Daily Mirror – an afternoon newspaper in NSW. The column was called Property Protection and gave tips on home security to readers. Accompanying the column was an ad from TNT Alarm Systems – one of the brands I managed.

So the reader saw the content in two parts – the paid content in the ad and the editorial content. The editorial wasn’t earned content – I wrote it free of charge as an “industry expert”.

Let’s move forward to 2015 and rewrite what I just wrote, but using “digital content marketing language“.

I published content in the Daily Mirror, alongside the paid media. Interestingly it wasn’t earned media because I published it free of charge. It wasn’t owned media, as Rupert owned the paper. And it wasn’t paid media because that was the ad below it.

It was thought leadership delivered as native advertising, as part of my content marketing strategy. WOW, WOW & WOW!!!

Not only was it all that – but the UX (user experience for the digitally challenged) was omni-channel wonderfulness, as the reader was able to turn the page using their finger and read both the paid ad and the native advertising in an integrated format, without having to leave the platform. Unf***gbelievable. The content was consistently presented on the user interface – that’s the page, in case you’re wondering.

You get the picture.

Yet despite all the evidence, a whole content marketing industry is booming.

There’s even a private company called The Content Marketing Institute. It’s nothing of the sort – an institute that is – but don’t you wish you’d invented that money-making-machine? Call yourself an institute and you gain faux credibility and get the gullible to part with money. Hats off to the founders for getting away with it – brilliantly I might add.

Interestingly, my mate Drayton Bird recently wrote that the founder of said “institute” believes content marketing is a fad and will only last another couple years. But hey, they’ve made their money.

So here’s today’s first lesson – if you think creating content for marketing purposes is new, you need to go back to marketing college or leave the industry – you obviously know little about marketing.

Lesson number two – if you think consumers have miraculously changed their DNA and don’t consume paid ads, you are deluded and need to go back to marketing college or leave the industry – see above.

Lesson three – if you think the future is about brands telling stories without any proposition to entice you to buy (short or long term) see lesson one.

Here are some insights from an earlier post:

Amazing Insight 1: Customers don’t really care about brands

Amazing Insight 2: Customers don’t want relationships with brands

Amazing Insight 3: Customers don’t want to engage with brands

Amazing Insight 4: Customers don’t want to join a conversation with a brand

Amazing Insight 5: Customers get pissed off if you irritate them with irrelevant content marketing about your brand

But maybe I’m preaching to an empty church?

empty church

I should jump on the content marketing bandwagon and open a content creation and curation company.

But I cannot call it a content marketing agency, as there is no such thing – it’s a commercial impossibility.

It’s against the law of natural commerce to call yourself a content marketing agency. An agency is named because it earns commission from publishers for placing paid media as their agent. This is why they are called advertising agencies.

Given the entire purpose of the content marketers is to create content that isn’t for paid media – only for earned and owned media – then by its very nature, a content marketing agency cannot exist.

There are no paid media commissions involved. So there aren’t any agents – which means there are no agencies. Simple really.

So any alleged content marketing expert calling their business a “content marketing agency” should therefore be sacked on sight for fraudulent misrepresentation – oops…


P.S. I’m running a content marketing seminar in Brisbane in two weeks. If you’re interested you’ll need to register today by clicking here.


  1. I agree with virtually everything you say. Except the bit about marketing college. Like content marketing agencies, they don’t exist either. Many years ago, I enrolled in something purporting to offer the UK standard marketing certificate. It taught me virtually nothing worth knowing on attracting customers. I abandoned the study. I picked up a book by Drayton Bird. Now, that taught me how to feed myself and the company I was working for by dealing with customers sending in cheques for our seminars. I have recently however created some very useful content which I deliver through the paid-media of me sat in front of a customer. I ask them if they’d like some ego-stroking content, or, paying customers? It helps me cut out all that nauseating bollocks they ask for like SEO (when there’s no traffic in their city for their local product). SEO is a fantastic thing to boast about down the pub to your mates. I can imagine the conversation – “I’ve got an amazing SEO strategy which got me to number 1 on google”. Yeah! Whoopee! But the phone still doesn’t f***ing ring nor the inbox ping with any paying customers.

  2. Hi Ian, thanks for your comment. I’d like to think the university students I teach at UTS are learning, but agree about many of our education programmes, particularly those run by industry associations – designed to raise revenue for the association, not to educate the students…

  3. My sadness Mal is that as a “has been” direct marketer you ARE preaching to an empty church. All things will come to pass, but a lot more digital gurus will rip off a lot more suckers before that happens…

  4. I can only echo that sadness. Mainly because the clients delude themselves that the time-wasting nonsense they’ve just paid alot of money for has built their brand. For some reason, which still astounds me, too many people prefer their ego being stroked having ticked the box for the latest fad e.g. “we have content”, rather than how many sales they are getting from it. The other week a friend of mine who asked for a very basic website in a very local business, with virtually no traffic for their keywords, quoted £7000 for a website with a ridiculous amount of SEO work unnecessarily thrown in. And they almost said yes not knowing any better. Their business comes from local council. And they get the business directly. They just need to send the link. I doubt they would even have done the work they said they were going to do. Rant over. I feel better now thanks. I feel as though I should click your “donate” button to pay for the offloading therapy.

  5. Mal – I would say content marketing is basically new terminology for old tactics – e.g. advertorial, sponsored content, research reports, whitepapers, etc. Some of it appears within paid media, some offered for free through owned and earned media in exchange for contact details. Whatever the delivery method, consumers are getting information that doesn’t have the hard sell, the “buy now” urgency of traditional advertising. Content should be, as you wrote for TNT, useful and relevant to the intended audience – customers and prospects.
    On the issue of “content marketing agency” not being a commercially valid use of “agency” – I can’t agree. The term is widely applied to many disciplines who do not buy media on behalf of clients. These include PR agencies, direct marketing agencies, sales promotion agencies, sports marketing agencies, and experiential agencies.

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