Should you be betting on out-sourced content?

out-sourced content
By Eric Wittlake, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Media companies like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have built valuable audiences on the back of the content they publish. In contrast, and despite claims that every company is now a media company, most marketers have not been able to do the same thing.

It is clear today’s best publishers are far better than the vast majority of marketers at creating the kind of content that makes people want to come back.

So what if you turned your content creation over to an out-sourced content company whose business was built on creating content? We aren’t talking about some content mill charging less than your weekly lunch budget for an article. These are the same media companies that have been successfully building audiences on the strength of their content for years. Today, many of them are proposing to do the same for you.

1. Will it improve your content?

Media companies should be able to create more engaging content, and sometimes they do. But sadly, it often doesn’t work out that way.

In most media companies, this content is actually created by a custom publishing group with the objective of building a profitable marketing services business, not a publishing business. In other words, you are working with writers and editors that aren’t involved in editorial content at all!

Look at the content WSJ is creating for Brocade. Does it meet the standard you expect from WSJ? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Big Data: Fantastic, and Flawed (sponsored by Brocade)
How Consumers Can Use Big Data (WSJ editorial)

2. Will out-sourced content support your objectives?

A few publishers are superb at creating engaging and sharable content for marketers, but that isn’t enough to accomplish your goals.

  • Does the content develop an audience that will come back to you for more content?
  • Does it increase awareness of your brand?
  • Does it educate your target audience about the market or create demand for your offering?

Buzzfeed is mastering this content. But do listicles like 10 Pick-Up Lines Only A Villain Could Use (sponsored by Jaguar) or 16 Reasons No One Is Reading Your Emails (sponsored by Virgin Mobile) really accomplish the sponsor’s objectives, or has this content been turned into a vehicle for distribution of the sponsor’s snippet and sidebar with little regard to the benefit of sponsoring the content itself?

3. Will out-sourced content create a personal connection?

Content has the potential to start a conversation. Mark’s content here on {grow} almost always starts a conversation and his active participation keeps it going. Many of us (myself included) feel like we know Mark even though we’ve never spoken with him!

When media companies publish an article, there is usually a byline. But when a media company is hired to create content for you, whose name are you going to put on the content? Who will any connection be with?


Too often, marketers push the media companies they hire into creating the kind of content they would create themselves and lose the benefit of any expertise the media company can bring. Others are enamored by the vanity metrics and miss the opportunity for their content to support their objectives the way it could.

Ultimately the best content marketers will not be hiring media companies to create out-sourced content for them. They will be creating their own quality content that builds an audience, supports their objectives and creates personal connections.

SAP increasingly does this well. Jonathan Becher, SAP’s CMO, has published 12 articles on LinkedIn. Those 12 articles have been seen more than 200,000 times, liked more than 3,700 times and have more than 700 comments. Nearly 30,000 people are now following Jonathan on LinkedIn.

That leaves media companies working with marketers that haven’t been able to hire the right people or develop the right culture to become effective content marketers and media companies themselves.

If you are still relying on media companies to create much of your content a year from now, stop and consider what that says about your company.

Eric WittlakeEric Wittlake spends his days working with B2B marketers and shares his marketing views on his personal blog, B2B Digital Marketing. You can find him on Twitter (@wittlake) when he isn’t spending time with his three young boys.

Photo Credit: BePak via Flickr cc

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  • 3 would be my biggest concern Eric. Super points!

    I built my brand on me. That is, my readers are familiar with me, and my personal touch, and me interacting with them. Like Mark, I intend to ask questions to begin conversations. This personalized approach is where the magic happens.

    Once somebody else handles content creation, how does that pan out? How can any company know your audience or speak in the same authentic voice as you can?

    Excellent insight.


  • Thanks Ryan! Kudos to you for the brand and business you have built.

    I think #3 is a challenge with all of the outsourced models companies look to. Although ghostwriting (as writing support for someone that isn’t an efficient writer) can help here, getting the person who doesn’t take the time to create to make themselves accessible enough to create a connection can be challenging.

    Thanks for the comment, and the Tweet! 🙂

  • Good stuff and much to consider. Many thanks!

  • Mark W. White

    It’s true that content created by publishers for brands is typically not written by the publishers’ staff writers. Good publishers try to maintain journalistic integrity by shielding their writers and editors from commercial considerations. But there’s another option if you like what those staff writers have created: License those articles from the publisher. I’m admittedly biased, but I think Lincoln Financial’s Chief Life Officer campaign is a great example. It uses paid media (TV, web, and print advertising) to drive people to a microsite,, where they are presented tips on taking charge of their lives. Some of the content is from Lincoln itself and some is licensed from reputable publishers.

  • Thanks Pauline!

  • Mark, thanks for bringing a publisher’s perspective. Licensed content certainly addresses the quality issues and by carefully selecting the content you license, it can support your objectives as well.

    As part of the mix, I like licensed content in the Lincoln program you referenced. However it doesn’t scale out to the majority of your content very well. Programs like, which is licensed (I presume) content from major publishers, is just an aggregation with limited added value (and that’s being generous) from Cap Gemini. And based on the recent articles, it isn’t getting the traction I would assume it needs to accomplish their objectives.

    (Disclaimer: I have ZERO insight into their actual objectives or metrics beyond what I can glean from the site and social tools).

  • Mark W. White

    Given what Lincoln Financial is spending on paid media for the Chief Life Officer campaign, I assume it is happy with the program and can measure its impact. Note that the only call to action in the ads is to go to the microsite — and not to the main Lincoln Financial web site. I think the microsite works because it doesn’t just aggregate content; Lincoln includes its own voice and thought leadership. The message comes through that Lincoln can help you take charge of your life.
    As for Content Loop, I don’t see what it does for the sponsoring brand. It’s a nice aggregation service for readers interested in tech news, but there’s no hint as to why I should care about the sponsor.

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