The road to Contently Summit is lined with the homeless who live in the shadow of City Hall's towering dome. Along Market Street, the sour stench of urine and feces and unwashed bodies closes in. I turn west on Mission Street making sure to avoid eye contact with the forsaken outliers cursing at the world. Two giant, yellow construction cranes stain the skyline, and I feel a sense of dread at tech gentrification's Second Coming. Skirting iron-barred liquor stores and smoke shops, I finally arrive at Contently Summit, which I recognize by the "private party" sign out front. It is like an island resort serving free drinks and selling timeshares in the midst of a polluted, roiling sea of poverty.
I'm here to learn about the art of storytelling, the latest craze in content marketing.
All those I passed along the way surely have stories to tell, but those aren't the stories Contently Summit attendees are interested in. With content-creation services, workflow-and-distribution software and a new research arm, Contently helps marketers get their stories out over social media and other digital channels. One of the oldest art forms, stories tap into base emotions, weave threads of commonality and are simply the best way to engage people, studies show. Former journalists, who once gave voice to the downtrodden and spoke truth to power, have latched on to this trend with good paying jobs as content marketers.
"It's interesting stories that inform readers and that readers will want to share over their social networks," says Tomas Kellner, managing editor at GE Reports and former staff writer at Forbes Magazine, who still insists on being called a "journalist" even though his stories go through a corporate approval process. In other words, the business side has final say.
The goal, of course, is to tell as dramatic a story as legal, compliance and other corporate heads will allow, grab a target customer's attention, NURTURE a relationship and, later, hit them with a sales pitch. It's all about brand lift, page views and high-value audiences, Contently Summit speakers say.
Content marketing is big business. According to Contently, U.S. companies will spend $50 billion in content marketing this year. One out of four companies is devoting more than half its marketing budget to content, churning out video stories, short-form stories, long-form stories and social media stories (not so much infographics). More than half of companies have two or more people dedicated to content marketing, with most marketers shifting budgets toward original content instead of licensed content.
Practically every story produced by content marketers faces a grinding approval process. So much so that speaker Kim Hillyer, director of communications and public affairs at TD Ameritrade, began her talk with a PowerPoint slide showing a decision tree for taking a story idea to the publishing promise land. Another speaker, Ann Hynek, vice president at investment firm BlackRock, conservatively estimates some four people must sign off on content before it's published.
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