The average person consumes more than 10,000 pieces of content per day. With every brand out there becoming a publisher, how does one create content that cuts through the noise, pulls in its audience and creates an ongoing dialogue?
Famous for its nightly show of lighting delights, Sydney’s Vivid festival is also a hub for a Vivid Ideas program that had a strong focus this year on the business of creativity and the creativity of business.
For media-types a must-attend event on Friday 3 June was a rare opportunity to hear from a panel of four experienced exponents of editorial content excellence, namely:
• Georgia Frances King
outgoing editor of Kinfolk Magazine
• Nick Shelton
founder of Broadsheet
• Joanne Gray
editor of the AFR’s BOSS magazine
• Melissa Gaudron
deputy editor of Marie Claire
What ensued – after an opening by co-host Fiona Killackey of FK/KD – was a lively and diverse set of stories full of insights on the theme of growing loyal and engaged audiences by publishing consistent and creatively purposed content.
Killackey set the scene for the panel by offering up her own fundamentals for creating content that rises above the mediocre.
She opened by underlining a need to keep the original purpose for the content at front of mind – be that a press release or a feature story.
As a professional editor she next made the point that good grammar is another fundamental by using the not often heard phrase that “good grammar is sexy”.
Killackey urged content creators to favour helping their readers or audiences at every turn with content that would be useful to them, that would show a capacity to listen and a capacity to be human, and to resist producing content for content’s sake, when it might only contribute to noise-adding hype.
Georgia Frances King
Georgia Frances King’s career began at the award-winning Australian magazine Frankie before she headed for the USA and was snaffled up by Portland-based Kinfolk.
She revealed that both magazines gained their extraordinary traction from building “community and commonality”, and benefited from a rise in appetite for intelligently conceived content, or as King put it: “Smart (became) cool again”.
Her advice on how to be engaging was encapsulated in a call to be “active, not passive”. To which she added “don’t talk down, do simplify, don’t presume knowledge, do provide context”.
King especially placed the highest possible value on creating unique visuals – images that express the substance of greater ideas and display authentic originality.
King said the problem of content proliferation, and the cost that extracts on readers in lost time and lost patience looking for relevant content, wasn’t being helped by a tendency by some publishers to produce the same or similar content over and over again.
King: “I’m a big believer in giving readers what they don’t know they want yet.”
The tale of Broadsheet’s inroads into the niche of city-specific content began with Nick Shelton speaking about “the Broadsheet effect” – the point at which being a publisher of city guides crossed over into striving to embody the brand values of a city.
This has entailed diversifying from online sites and hard copy publications into ventures such as cookbooks designed to capture the best eating experiences of Melbourne and Sydney and on to pop-up restaurants.
Shelton’s summary of Broadsheet’s success in moving from its early publication stage to a brand platform was that, beyond content, the focus had been concentrated on creating connections that address needs and values.
“Content begins its life once it’s been created.” he said. “What matters is the question, what did they think about it?, not just did they look at it. Traffic is not the same as audience”.
Jo Gray spoke about her journey as a journalist who now feels it is “OK to be proud to call ourselves content producers”.
At the same time she also stated that “core journalistic skills are still of enormous value”, and set out four points that she sets most stock by as prevailing priorities for her editorial work:
3. Agenda setting
4. Cutting through the BS
“For relevance we’re asking questions like what will readers learn? Or is this a controversial issue that hasn’t been examined?”
Her takeaway lesson was that published content has to achieve a balance between being compelling and commercially sustainable. “Not all content is consistently compelling … some of the most compelling content is what you stumble upon, some of it comes from instinct”.
Melissa, or rather Mel, imparted her secret sauce for publishing cut-through content with a welcome mix of wit, wisdom and wisecracks.
The sauce itself was boiled down to five tips:
1. It’s all about the feels
2. Stand for something
3. Devise a cunning plan
4. Respect your audience
5. What’s your unique angle?
Gaudron’s messages for the first tip included never underestimating the power of strong imagery and, for magazines, at least, making article headlines personal.
She made a telling comment about the phenomenon of click bait, that while it isn’t necessarily a bad thing and reflects “old tabloid principles”, it mostly commits the fatal mistake of promising content that it under-delivers on. “(Good content) delivers all the way through to the end”.
One of Gaudron’s examples of content standing for something – described as “hard work, really hard work” – was Marie Claire’s persistent and long-fought campaign for parental maternity leave; an example of “not just jumping on a bandwagon”.
Other examples were the magazine’s Red Dress campaign in support of the Heart Foundation and raising awareness “that heart disease is just as relevant to women as to blokes”, and taking a stand in support of marriage equality (the “I Do” campaign).
The secret to a cunning plan consisted firstly in reading widely across topics and trends, and respecting your audience was about acknowledging that your audience “can’t be everybody”.
On the fifth tip Gaudron emphasised the importance of having a firmly set hook or point of difference, always keeping in mind that the angle you take should be one that provokes.
About Vivid Ideas
Creative industries have been represented at Vivid since its inception in 2009, with the parallel program rebranding from Creative Sydney to Vivid Ideas in 2012.
This Vivid Ideas event was hosted atop Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and was one of up to 180 sessions run over the whole program at about 50 venues and featuring hundreds of speakers and collaborators.
Current Vivid Ideas director Jess Scully told Medianet that its collective energy is filling a gap between talk of the ideas boom, and action by providing “a place to build skills, networks and to have the conversations we need to have about how we fuel our transition to the knowledge economy”.
“We’re trying to build a SxSW for the Asia Pacific: we have so much potential in Sydney to be the creative capital of the region. As our program and audience grows, the impact of the event will be felt further and further afield, across the country and the economy”.
Vivid Sydney is owned and managed by Destinations NSW and the NSW Government.
Stephen is an experienced journalist and worked for over 10 years as a news broker and liaison between journalists and communication professionals.
Stephen has been independently covering the Vivid Ideas program and has attended related events including SemiPermanent.