While many businesses now include blogging, social networking and other Web activities as part of their communication strategies, it is so important to remember a phrase that has become the mantra for many public relations pros: Content is king.
With the flood of information delivered to us online each day, it is imperative your company provides content that doesn't just bark at your audience, but delivers value and encourages interaction.
Jeff Anders, co-founder and chief executive officer of The Mark, has mastered this concept.
The Mark is a daily online forum for news, commentary and debate. To put it simply: Mr. Anders' business is content.
First developed in 2007 and launched in 2009, The Mark was founded on Mr. Anders' idea that thousands of credible Canadians have important things to say but cannot reach a national audience. What makes this media company stand out is that its site's content isn't written by paid journalists but by professional Canadians offering up their educated opinion for free. The Mark team curates their submissions.
"They're not being paid in cash and they're not paying us in cash, but it is a mutual exchange of tremendous value," Mr. Anders says.
It is simple: The Mark brand benefits from the credibility and loyal following of its contributors, and the contributors and public benefit from having a space to freely share and debate their ideas.
The site already has 1,300 contributors, including scientist David Suzuki; Melissa Auf der Maur, former bassist for The Smashing Pumpkins; Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, and Laura Calder, host of the Canadian TV series French Food at Home.
Even the advisory board is impressive, including people such as Jordan Banks, managing director of Facebook Canada; and Arlene Dickinson, CEO of Venture Communications Ltd., known for her role on CBC's Dragons' Den.
"Good content is the medium through which brands can establish relevancy and loyalty from their audience," Mr. Anders says.
I've talked about communication plans that leverage celebrity endorsements and guest bloggers before, and, while The Mark's use of well-known contributors has certainly helped grow its traffic, it's also taken the steps to truly engage its audience with its content.
Mr. Anders says that, over the years, he has seen a shift in how people like to be communicated with.
"So much of the traditional engagement between brands and their audiences has been episodic. It is six weeks long, you throw a bunch of money at it, and then go dark for the next three months, until it is time for another campaign," he says. "Relationships simply don't work that way."
The Mark is active on various social networking sites, but has also hosted some very successful online debates to stimulate public interest.
"We were hosting a discussion around why there aren't more women in Canadian politics, and one of the commentators at the bottom of the article asked where Member of Parliament Martha Hall Findlay was in the discussion," Mr. Anders recalls. "So we got on the phone with her office…and, a few minutes later, she was there with a 500-word response."
They've even held contests where The Mark members compete for an in-person meeting with people like retired lieutenant-general Romeo Dallaire and former Toronto mayor David Miller.
Sure, Mr. Anders is running a media company entirely focused on content production, but what The Mark has achieved is relevant to any growing business.
"Whereas businesses used to only rely on traditional media channels, brands can now engage their audiences directly online," Mr. Anders says.
"So, instead of making a TV commercial that talks about how good your product is…another way to establish an ongoing relationship with the audience is to feed them content on subject matter that is really interesting and compelling."
Advances in technology have created a culture hungry for information that is interesting, relevant and engaging. If you want your brand to be remembered, you need to provide this through your marketing and communications strategies.
Or, as Mr. Anders puts it, "every organization now needs to be a publisher."
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mia Pearson is president of the Canadian region for Fleishman-Hillard Canada and its sister company, High Road Communications. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing award-winning communications agencies. Her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle. She works in partnership with her clients to build brands, mitigate risk and shape communications strategies.