Ann Marinovich

Chief Content Officer at Adweek

Cracking the Content Strategy Code with Ann Marinovich

Content strategy is not just a buzzword. It's a strategic approach to creating, distributing, and managing content that drives business goals. It's about aligning your content with your overall marketing objectives and ensuring that it resonates with your target audience. In fact, content strategy goes beyond creating valuable and relevant content. It's about understanding your audience's needs, preferences, and pain points, and then crafting content that addresses those aspects effectively.

In conversation with Shreejith Nair, Content Marketing Consultant at Pepper Content, Ann Marinovich, Chief Content Officer at Adweek talks about content strategy, SEO, and generative AI.

  1. Tell us about your journey.

Hi, I'm Ann Marinovich, the Chief Content Officer at Adweek. In my role, I have the privilege of overseeing all aspects of content at Adweek, including editorial, events, social video, podcasts, and our branded content division. I'm responsible for both developing the overarching content strategy and ensuring its successful execution.

I've dedicated a significant portion of my career to content marketing, with a focus on the past 12 to 13 years. Prior to joining Adweek, I spent many years at Forbes, where I played a key role in the launch of their content marketing platform, Brand Voice. As the General Manager of Brand Voice, I oversaw the business and its operations for several years. It was during those early days that content marketing began to take shape into what it is known as today. Although the roots of content marketing can be traced back to the early days of newspapers and magazines, this current iteration and generation of content marketing has truly evolved over the past 12 to 13 years.

Being at the forefront and witnessing the growth of content marketing in today's world has been an incredible experience. I consider myself fortunate to have seen its development and evolution firsthand. It's an ever-changing landscape, and I'm passionate about exploring the endless possibilities that content marketing offers in our modern era.

  1. How do you think about content strategy when you're creating something at an organization from the ground up?

That's a fantastic question. Developing a content strategy is undoubtedly an intriguing yet challenging task. I've been with Adweek for a year now, and when I joined, I was entrusted with the responsibility of creating a new content strategy, not just for our branded content, but for the entire company.

Diving into this endeavor was particularly interesting because Adweek is a 43-year-old company with established legacy content strategies. It was quite different from starting with a clean slate as a startup. Therefore, we had to examine the overall landscape and reevaluate our company's mission before delving into the content strategy.

Through this process, we established a new mission, which we rolled out last year: to inspire, connect, and guide the global marketing community in navigating the future. With our mission in place, we delved into extensive data and analytics to gain insights into the content that truly resonated with our audience.

Return visitors have been one of the core metrics I closely monitor. In our industry, there has been an excessive focus on scale, particularly page views, for a long time. However, it's essential to remember that the number of readers doesn't matter if they're not our core target consumers or potential buyers. What truly matters is creating content that resonates with our target audience and understanding their engagement levels. Metrics like time spent on our content, sharing behavior within their communities, scroll depth, and scroll velocity have become my favorites for assessing engagement.

The key lesson I learned while working with my team at Adweek to develop our content strategy last year was the importance of always keeping our target audience in mind. While scaling may introduce multiple audience segments, it's crucial to prioritize our primary consumers and be a valuable resource for them. By providing content that genuinely resonates with them, we can then expand our reach to additional target audiences.

In essence, our content strategy revolves around understanding and meeting the needs of our primary consumers before branching out to cater to other segments. It's an ongoing process of refining and aligning our content with our audience's interests and preferences to ensure we remain a critical resource and deliver valuable content that resonates.

  1. Absolutely. I think that's an insightful thought because, in today's day and age, it's really essential to build a community while you're going about building a greater brand. And I think that's one thing that you're hyper-focusing on and kudos to you on that front.

Community holds a significant role in everything I do. It is my personal passion and the driving force behind my involvement in this industry. I derive immense joy from building communities and forging connections with people through content. In my view, the community lies at the heart of any exceptional content strategy, be it for content marketing or editorial purposes. For me, that's what it ultimately boils down to.

People today want to be a part of a community. Everyone is part of a community. They're parts of lots of different communities. And our opportunities and role as content creators and strategists is to figure out how we can use content to engage with and build that community.

  1. You wrote a beautiful article on inflection points for marketers. I'd really love for you to break that down and give us a few pointers or highlights from the article.

It has been a while since I wrote that article, and I don't recall all the finer points off the top of my head. I would need to revisit it. If I remember correctly, I published it towards the end of December. However, the main takeaway for me was the importance of serving your primary consumer first.

That article was significant for me personally because it coincided with the rollout of our internal content strategy at Adweek. When introducing it to our internal team, I emphasized that it shouldn't be referred to as just a "content strategy." Instead, I prefer to call it a "company strategy" because an effective content strategy should be embraced by the entire organization.

Content encompasses various aspects, including design and user experience, and it requires alignment among everyone involved to serve the core audience effectively. At Adweek, our primary audience is marketers, particularly marketing decision-makers and CMOs. They are at the heart of the entire marketing ecosystem, and it's crucial not to overlook their central role. Although the marketing landscape consists of diverse companies and elements, ultimately, it is the marketers' budgets that fuel the industry as a whole.

Hence, our target audience at Adweek is marketers themselves. It's quite enjoyable for me as a content marketer to focus on serving marketers. Therefore, the essence of that article was about recentering our attention on acknowledging that the marketing decision-makers are our primary consumers. We must ensure that we deliver relevant content, engaging experiences, valuable events, and useful resources to them before expanding our efforts beyond that core focus.

  1. Lately, there has been a paradigm shift into video form of content and short snippets. How do you think this shift will affect the ecosystem as a whole?

There are indeed numerous formats of content available today, and as you mentioned, there is a strong interest in shorter-form content. This preference is driven by the nature of social media and how people consume content on their phones. When browsing social platforms, individuals generally prefer fast snippets of information.

However, it's important to understand the patterns and habits of media consumption and tailor content accordingly to serve your community. Recognizing that certain types of content thrive on social media, such as shorter and visually appealing pieces, requires thoughtful consideration of where and how to present that content.

Interestingly, we have also observed robust engagement metrics with longer format content that we publish on our website. This content leans more towards providing practical insights and is a new addition to our editorial offerings at Adweek. We have dedicated a specialized team within our editorial department to create valuable evergreen content aimed at marketers.

While Adweek is renowned for covering industry news, we recognized a need to delve deeper into the "why" and "how" aspects. The introduction of our Practical Insights content fills a gap in the market, delivering content that equips marketers with tools and insights to enhance their business strategies and job performance. Although this content tends to be longer, we have observed significant engagement rates and extended time spent by our audience.

There's this perception that everyone wants shorter content, and I don't think that's necessarily the case. It's just making sure that you're delivering the right content to the right audience in the right place.

  1. How do you manage to nail thought leadership or long-form content?

That's an excellent question. What sets us apart is our incredibly talented editorial department and branded content team.

We pride ourselves on having a team of experts who contribute to Adweek, including external voices from our community who publish leadership content on our platform called Voice. Each contributor goes through a rigorous vetting process, and it's an invitation-only opportunity. While we receive numerous pitches and initial drafts, only the ones that align with our audience's interests and preferences make it onto our site.

Understanding our audience and having the right talent within our company is paramount. Our editorial team plays a crucial role in identifying voices that bring a differentiated perspective and resonate with our readers. It's not enough to have a viewpoint; it must be one that truly connects with our audience.

In today's digital landscape, it seems like everyone has the opportunity to be a thought leader, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. As we prepare for Social Media Week next week, I've been contemplating the role of creators and influencers. The reality is, we all have the potential to be influencers in our own right.

Every single person in this world is influential to our family or to our friends. So I think everyone has the ability to be a thought leader. It's just a matter of what the context and message is.

  1. What according to you is a good SEO strategy?

I have a slightly contrarian perspective on that. Personally, I don't obsess over SEO. That's not to say we don't have incredibly talented team members who specialize in SEO and consider it a vital part of their role.

However, my primary focus is on delivering value and insights to our community. Sometimes, when you become too fixated on gaming SEO, you risk losing authenticity, organic engagement, and relevance to your community. The constant worry of whether a story or headline is right for SEO can overshadow the genuine connection with your audience.

I'm not particularly a sports person, but it's like not hitting a home run every time you step up to bat. We must be comfortable with the fact that out of ten pieces of content, only one might be a home run—and that's okay. The key is to keep creating and sharing content without being overly concerned about SEO.

For me, it's about prioritizing quality and bringing value to our community, rather than solely focusing on how well it performs in terms of SEO. By focusing on providing meaningful content, we foster genuine engagement and build a loyal audience who appreciates the value we deliver.

  1. What, according to you, is the future of work in marketing? Is it remote or freelance-driven work, or do you still see potential in having deep-rooted in-house teams for content?

Oh, I believe having an in-house team for content is absolutely crucial. Coming from a publisher's perspective, our in-house editorial and content team forms the core of our company. They are the heart and soul of what we do, and that's something that will always remain.

However, I also recognize the importance of combining in-house talent with external resources. It's about finding the perfect balance. Alongside our amazing in-house team, we supplement our content creation with freelance contributors. We leverage our Voice platform to invite expert contributors who bring unique perspectives and insights.

Additionally, our branded content team collaborates with advertisers and brands to share their thought leadership. Together, all these elements form a content engine that drives Adweek's success. It's about harnessing the collective power of our in-house experts, freelance contributors, and brand partnerships to make Adweek what it truly is.

  1. For content distribution and content creation, how do you look at podcasting?

Yes, podcasting. When we launched the Adweek Podcast Network over a year ago, we were thrilled to introduce an incredible lineup of podcasts. We have our own podcasts, hosted by our talented editorial team, covering various topics within the marketing and advertising industry. Additionally, we have partnerships with other podcasts that we support and promote.

Podcasts and audio content, in general, have become a growing part of the industry. However, I believe we are still in the early stages of podcasting. It's not as easy as it seems to build an audience and scale a podcast. With so many podcasts out there, there will likely come a point where we reach an inflection point. We need to be realistic about expectations regarding the size and scale of the audience when launching new podcasts.

That being said, podcasts are a fantastic and engaging format of content. People enjoy consuming audio content and connecting with hosts and guests through this medium. It's just important to have realistic expectations and understand the challenges of building a loyal podcast audience in a saturated market.

  1. How far do you think are we from the inflection point that you mentioned about podcasting?

I believe we still have a long way to go when it comes to monetizing podcasts. Although people are excited about podcasts and eager to be part of them, the reality is that only a few podcasts have achieved significant monetization and success. From a business perspective, many podcast creators face challenges in monetizing their content despite investing considerable time and effort.

It's hard to predict when this will change, but I do anticipate a need for the podcast space to find a balance in the future. However, I must emphasize that the podcast industry is incredible, offering a unique medium for storytelling and audience engagement. Despite the current monetization challenges, podcasts remain a powerful platform worth exploring and leveraging for content creation.

  1. What is your take on generative AI?

AI has been in existence for quite some time. Despite the perception that it suddenly emerged, we've been observing its development for a while now. However, from my perspective, it still feels incredibly new. At Adweek, we are actively reporting on AI, assisting our community in comprehending and navigating its implications. Our editorial team has even conducted tests to explore its potential impact on content creation and our business as a whole.

In the short term, I don't envision AI replacing humans in our content creation process at Adweek. I believe there is still a place for human creativity and expertise. Nevertheless, I anticipate that AI will have a profound impact on our industry, particularly in the realm of creators and the flourishing creator economy.

The rise of the creator economy is an intriguing space to observe how AI will be adopted and utilized. It presents an opportunity for individual creators or those with small teams to leverage generative AI as a means to scale their content output in innovative ways. This intersection between AI and the creator economy is poised to be a captivating development to witness.

Given the significant growth of the creator economy and creator marketing, the incorporation of AI into this landscape holds immense potential. It will undoubtedly reshape the medium and offer new possibilities for creators. I eagerly look forward to observing how AI unfolds within this context.

  1. What advice would you give to budding creators and marketers?

The industry is currently facing a multitude of challenges. It seems like there's always something new and exciting happening. From discussions on generative AI to last year's focus on the metaverse, the landscape keeps evolving. People are still grappling with the best ways to leverage creators and the creator economy in their content creation, advertising, and brand partnerships. Additionally, there's the complex realm of cookies, data, and the ever-changing marketing landscape.

With so much happening simultaneously, marketers are confronted with the task of navigating and making sense of it all. It can be overwhelming to keep up with the rapid pace of industry transformation. In light of this, my primary advice is to approach investments and experimentation thoughtfully, particularly in the current economic climate. It's important to try new things, but it's equally crucial to choose a few areas to focus on and commit to. Trying to tackle everything at once is not feasible or sustainable. By prioritizing and focusing on specific initiatives, marketers can make meaningful progress without spreading themselves too thin.

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