Deep in my journalist’s heart is a grave concern about content marketing.

Is it a subterfuge?

If our underlying motivation is to lure our readers into our commercial shopping basket, so to speak, can we ever really claim to have their interests at heart in the content we write?

I have been told by one wise friend to stop being such a zealot, and I can see her point.

Commercial motivations do not, per se, contaminate whatever content we create. But the issue cannot be ignored. Rest assured, at some point in your journey, you will have to decide who you are serving: your clients or yourself.

Are our customers friends, or our friends customers?

Think of friendship. We make friends with people we like, who make us feel good, laugh, and keep us honest. Yes, we are selfish about who we choose. But imagine if we made friends in the hope that one day we would be able to sell them something. It wouldn’t be a good thing.

A lot of people I do business with become friends, but it doesn’t often happen the other way around. We help each other professionally, yes, but buying from and selling to each other stays off limits.

Church and state in journalism

I had been editing the accounting section of BRW for about six months when a posse of CEOs from the four biggest firms took BRW’s managing editor and features editor out to lunch. “You have to get rid of her,” the CEOs told my bosses.

I was upsetting people across their profession left, right and centre, they said. But everyone was reading BRW’s accounting section, and BRW was never sued (successfully).

It was six months later that I heard the story of the lunch. My editors didn’t tell me because they didn’t want me to stop doing what I was doing – writing the stories that mattered to the accounting profession (whether individual companies liked them or not) and to the businesses that engaged the accountants.

In traditional media, the newsroom and advertising departments stayed well away from each other.

One story, which revealed extensive leadership turmoil in one of the Big Four, was published one day before the firm started a big advertising campaign in BRW. It was cancelled.

Why bother?

Why would any sane company create content that might annoy their customers? To be different.

Content marketing is catching on like wildfire, but I have not seen a single company who is creating content that serves all its customers and prospects, and not just the most powerful of them.

Most content is subterfuge, but this leaves a huge opportunity for businesses that choose to do something unique: create truly trusted content.

In doing so, they will become a beacon; a must-read, go-to site for their customers, competitors and traditional media everywhere.

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