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Talking Content Marketing – With Kirk Cheyfitz

Kirk Cheyfitz_talking contentTalking Content Marketing welcomes co-CEO and Chief Storyteller for global content marketing agency Story Worldwide, Kirk Cheyfitz.

Kirk started life as a filmmaker and turned to journalism during his 20s. He founded one of the early content shops in America in the early ‘80s and launched the world’s first global custom content shop in 1999 for the Interpublic Group (IPG) and McCann Worldgroup. In 2005, the agency was purchased from IPG and renamed Story Worldwide.

Kirk stands for the idea that brands are now compelling, relevant stories or they are nothing. His organizing principle is now familiar, but was alien a decade ago—digital means brands have to earn their audiences’ attention with messages that are genuinely entertaining, informative and engaging.

Kirk says, “You can’t force anyone to listen to you in a digital world, no matter how much money you spend. Our mission has always been to replace traditional advertising with a digital-first, content-focused, completely integrated agency that works seamlessly across all channels—from TV to Twitter and beyond. We stand for honesty and valuable stories. Our differentiating skill is mapping and connecting the dots for a brand’s audiences so we can tell the whole brand story. By integrating so well, we also simplify life for our clients and improve results.”

Here are six questions related to the native advertising debate and what we need to do to tell our stories. Lets go…

Your 2012 article ‘native advertising will fail if it means lets lie to the natives‘ still rings very true. Why is native building in such resonance in 2014? Is it new publishing models that are arising? is it ease of publishing (which doesn’t necessarily mean good content)?

There are a lot of reasons, I think, most of them having to do with how rapidly the media landscape is changing. Brands know they need good content and they know the effectiveness of their traditional ads is falling. But they don’t yet know how to create or deploy high-quality content, so they often turn to traditional storytellers, including publishers.

Brands also don’t really know yet how to measure the effectiveness of content, so they can’t really tell what is and isn’t working in this new world of advertising. The publishers, on the other hand, are either clueless and uncaring about separating edit from ads (Buzzfeed, for example) or they are too desperate to care (Forbes, The New York Times and so on). As it turns out, some interesting new research suggests native ads don’t work very well. Chartbeat, an analytics outfit that measures audience attention for publishers, recently took a look at native and reported, “On the native ad content we analyzed, only 24% of visitors scrolled down the page at all, compared with 71% for normal content.” So we’ll see. But as you know, my main reason for seeing native ads as a passing fad does not involve any arguments abut whether they work or not. Rather, I’m asking a simpler question: As a brand, which would you prefer: an indirect relationship with your audience through a third-party publisher or a direct relationship on your own brand channels? The answer to that is so obvious that it tells me native is a temporary step in the evolution of brand content. It will pass away soon.

Do you think businesses get confused with telling stories that have the audience in mind (to entertain, be fun, be engaging) or more as a self promotional tool to disrupt?

I am fond of saying that good writers, especially good journalists, have one core skill so deeply embedded in their way of seeing the world that they often don’t even identify it as a skill. This is the skill of knowing a good story when they see one. Or, in other words, instantly recognizing the hidden story that will be most interesting and most resonant for the audience.

I spent a fair amount of time as a journalist avoiding PR people who called to tell me, “I’ve got a great story for you.” Sadly, this was always not true. The stories that they and their clients wanted to tell were almost invariably transparently self-serving, of little value to anyone, boring and, on occasion, not completely true. So I think brands have a problem identifying their own best stories, an even bigger problem telling those stories in an accurate and engaging way and, finally, a huge problem connecting the dots between stories to convey the coherent and compelling narrative of the brand’s valuable relationship to its audiences.

Is one of the biggest challenges for businesses the ability to maintain the attention of an audience (in a world where we don’t have time and patience anymore)?

Sure. But it need not be such a challenge. Businesses that survive do so because they fulfill some important role in the lives of their customers. This means the customers and prospective customers care or have the capacity to care about the brand at some level. Customers and prospects, in other words, are prepared to be engaged and to pay attention. The trick is finding what we call the Story Platform™ — the core story that most powerfully narrates each brand’s connection to its audiences. In consumer goods, marketers often identify certain commodities like salt or margarine as “low-interest” categories. I believe there are no low-interest categories; just low-interest advertising or bad storytelling. If you identify the authentic role that a business plays in its audience’s lives, you always have the basis for gaining the audience’s attention.

What are the traits required to tell a better story than the competition?

 Talent. Brains. Experience. Honesty. A thoroughly tested process for getting at the truth for finding a brand’s core story. A deep understanding of and empathy for the audience. And the ability to be totally honest about the story that needs to be told.

 When a company gets a content strategy right what are the rewards?

The rewards, I have seen, are numerous. The right content strategy unites and empowers all of a business’s communications of all sorts across all channels. That includes everything from TV spots to YouTube films, from tweets to lengthy white papers, from print ads to feature documentaries.

The right content strategy also means the business owns the attention of its audience and no longer needs to put as much money into paid media as formerly. And the longest-lasting, most valuable reward is that the business’s supporters and fans share the content with their friends and colleagues and that sharing, research has shown, can have 9X the reach of traditional messaging and 2X to 4X the impact on purchase behavior. But to reap those rewards, a business has to understand that content strategy underlies all strategy in a digital-first world where only genuinely valuable content gets any attention.

 Can you let us into the topic/discussion sneak peak for next months Content Marketing World presentation?

At the moment, so-called content agencies seem satisfied to be peripheral players in advertising—just another specialty agency operating under the self-proclaimed “big ideas” of the traditional advertising agencies that continue to dominate brands’ strategies.

Often those ideas are TV ideas that don’t work in digital or social or content. I believe advertising is now at an historic moment when the lead agency is about to change to a new kind of organization that, frankly, looks a lot more like Story than like a traditional or specialty organization. Brands need a new integrating lead agency for this new digital-first, content-focused era and I think content agencies have the best foundational skills to be that agency. But in order to wrest advertising, as I have written before, from the cold, dead hands of traditional shops, content agencies need to master some of the traditional skills essential to take charge of a big account and lead everything. This is what I’m going to talk about at CMW. I’m hoping for a great discussion that will advance the ball for all of us, agencies and brands. Please ask all your friends to come.


Huge thanks to Kirk and appreciate his thoughts on how the world of content marketing is shaping. To discover more about Kirk and Story Worldwide:

Kirk on Twitter: click here

Story Worldwide on Twitter: click here

Story Worldwide website: click here

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