What does the future of native content like post the Covid-19 pandemic?
Here Progressive Content’s strategy director Richard Cree talks about how Content Cloud is offering freelance journalists new sources of work and about the future of native content (editorial paid for by brands rather than publishers). Progressive Content is a sister company of Press Gazette.
PG: What is the big idea?
Richard Cree: Content Cloud is an online marketplace and virtual newsroom, connecting content creators to brands publishing content. It is focused on helping businesses of all size improve how they use content and the quality of the stuff they produce. By giving these firms access to the best creative talent, they improve their production quality, and we help the creative talent, whether they are writers, editors or video producers, to get access to these opportunities.
How did it come about?
RC: Back in 2014 we acquired a start-up business that had begun developing its own marketing platform. The team had developed an early stage content marketplace but had burned through a lot of investment capital to build it. We took it on and turned it into Content Cloud.
At the time Progressive Content – itself then called Progressive Customer Publishing – was a traditional customer publishing agency. We produced magazines, websites and brochures, predominantly in the B2B market. But it was clear to us that there was plenty of scope in the idea of Content as a Service (CaaS). And it was obvious that lots of smaller businesses would soon be keen to dip their toes into the content marketing waters, without diving into a major contract or commitment.
We took on, expanded and reshaped the development team and started to rebuild the platform, investing heavily to create something more in tune with requirements of the B2B content market. And we focused on finding and recruiting a network of some of the best content creators across a wide range of business sectors.
How does Content Cloud differ from other companies in this space?
RC: Our original plan was to allow smaller companies to buy a licence and self-serve on the platform, linking through the marketplace with the vetted content creators – and equally for creators to sell feature ideas to potential clients. But we soon realised that the market wasn’t ready for something that sophisticated. We found we were drawing heavily on our agency skills and experience to mediate and manage relations between creators and clients.
Today, agency expertise remains one of the main differences between Content Cloud and the rest of the market. There are lots of content agencies and a handful of other creator platforms, but there aren’t any others that combine both. We have that creative, agency intelligence and all this smart technology we have developed.
In the last year or so we have started to see that small and medium-sized firms are more content ready than they were five years ago, and with only minimal hand holding, are able to create content marketing campaigns through Content Cloud. This is good news for the freelancers and creators on the network, because there is a higher volume of content and more variety. There is also a trend we’ve noticed for commissioning editors, where they intermediate, to be less bold in using new writers. More direct commissions will be better for the journalist community as well.
What is the business model?
RC: Content Cloud is an opportunity for all sorts of smaller businesses to have access to an unrivaled, vetted network of content creators and to either engage with this creative talent directly, or to use our agency services to help shape and create their campaigns. It also enables larger businesses, with more complex procurement processes, to be comfortable using the platform, because they are accessing a range of vetted micro-suppliers (the journalists), without each individual having to go through a separate vetting process.
The Content Cloud business model is closely integrated with the wider agency. We are focused on helping clients improve the conversations they are having with their customers and content is a great way to do that. We don’t make any money from the content creators on the platform, our fees are all charged to the publishers (the companies commissioning content).
It’s important to us that we attract the very best writers and other creative talent to the platform, so we have worked hard to make sure that, if anything, it’s a little biased toward that side of the equation. Over the years we’ve processed thousands of commissions through the platform and can count on one hand the disputes with writers there have been. These have mostly been about cancelled jobs and kill fees, the terms of which are also very favourable to writers.
How does Content Cloud get paid?
RC: We charge publishers a licence fee to access the platform and they also have to load up their account with commissioning budget. That money is there on the system so that we know writers get paid swiftly, which is one of the big selling points for journalists and other creators. There is a long-standing commitment to pay within 30 days of content being approved. And we have committed to never charging content creators to sign-up to or use the platform and that won’t change.
Why should journalists sign up?
RC: Did I mention that we’re focused on swift payment to writers? They are guaranteed to get paid within 30 days, and in fact are often paid within 20. And this is not 30 days after some indeterminate time in the future when the content is eventually published, it is 30 days after the content has been approved.
The question I would ask is not why sign up, but why wouldn’t you? It doesn’t take long to create a profile and you only get notifications that you want to receive. Not only can you select specialisms and interests – and the system then matches you to jobs that fit your profile and only notify of these jobs – but you can also opt to only get emails at a frequency that suits you. You can be notified of any jobs once a day or once a week, or you can get each notification as early as possible.
What are the areas where you would most like to recruit more writers?
RC: Content Cloud covers a really diverse range of specialist subjects, from ultra-niche areas of finance, agriculture or technology, to broader content about general management in start-ups.
We’re looking for new writers with fresh ideas in most subject areas. And, as one of the most commonly cited reasons clients commission content through the platform is agility and speed of delivery, it’s always possible that a new subject area begins to trend (the current pandemic has led to a wave of commissions on issues such as remote working and furloughing, which no one could have predicted). But there is a definite bias towards clients with a B2B focus, so business writers and industry or sector experts are likely to find more work on the platform. Having said that, there is also a fair amount of food and drink and general lifestyle content commissioned through the platform as well.
Is this just for freelances or can staff writers sign up too?
RC: If you’re available to work and take on the jobs that are loaded onto the platform, then we don’t mind if you are freelance or a staff writer. Like any commission, it’s about being able to show potential clients and commissioning editors that you have relevant writing experience and strong credentials.
What are the prospects for the future of native content post Covid-19?
RC: At the moment, it is fair to say that we have seen a distinctly mixed reaction from clients in response to the crisis. They fall neatly into the same old two camps. There are those who see the current situation – and especially the looming recession – as a reason to shut down. Among this group, even those that know they need some content are more reluctant to commit to contracts or retainers.
In the other camp are those clients desperate for more content than ever. This is typically, but not exclusively, B2B organisations where they have a need and see a value in keeping customers informed and supported through content. We have created several Covid-19 content hubs for clients, focused on practical advice and support for our clients’ customers, often reacting very quickly to government announcements. This content agility is becoming ever more important, and valuable.
Really, this is the same old story about advertising and recessions – the adage that those that keep advertising in a downturn gain share may have been coined in a golden age for FMCG advertising, but it’s seems just as relevant for native B2B content programmes today.