Talent wars in content marketing – "Get big, get niche or … "

Tony Hallett

Tony Hallett

Managing Director

July 29, 2015 2:18 pm

Most sectors say they suffer from a skills gap. Hell, probably all areas in media and marketing say they can’t find the right people. Last week I heard this referred to as a “war for talent” – and in a strange way it made me feel good.

That makes sense only when you consider Collective Content’s operating model. We have only a handful of central employees. Most of our writers, editors and designers are freelance … or even in full-time employment elsewhere, moonlighting with us. (Shhh, you didn’t hear that from me.)

Magnifying Glass

This isn’t quite the same as with services such as Contently, Skyword and others. These are large, VC-backed matchmaking exchanges connecting those supplying content with brands demanding it. Think of them as the eBays of content marketing.

We know our writers well and trust them. Many are former colleagues from medialand. We’re familiar with their experience and strengths. We can vouch for them. It means we don’t have thousands or even hundreds of writers; rather, we’re a specialist operation.

A few months ago I was speaking to a contact at a large media agency and the client from the technology company we were starting to work for. The agency chief said: “If we were setting up today I don’t know why we’d do anything but follow your model.”

Such reinforcement is a powerful thing. When I started Collective Content some three-and-a-half years ago, I was worried clients wanted a central London agency with plush offices and rows upon rows of visible employees. Not quite banks of typewriters … but you get the idea.

Then I started to hear clients tell me they were glad our fees weren’t being wasted on fancy offices.

From our technology and telecoms clients – our main type – I would regularly jump on calls to senior consultants and executives sitting in their home offices in barn conversions in Wales or farms in the South-West. Sure, they’d come in to London or Thames Valley HQs perhaps once a week, but those same offices now rely mostly on hot-desking and (another “Shhh” moment) are often under-used.

These people eat their own dog food. They use web conferencing frequently, they collaborate online, they connect from wherever they are in the UK or in the world. Call it the future of work or not, but they expect us to do the same.

So, back to this “war for talent”. On a webinar put on by Econsultancy and Adobe, I heard about the use of “talent networks” – specialist groups of freelance workers or smaller agencies that can serve niche demands.
I heard this approach would be “a key characteristic of future agency models”. Not the only characteristic, sure, but one of them.

It seems providing high-quality work by drilling down into a niche and tapping the best talent – wherever it’s located – is the way to go. It certainly feels right for us.

When I started out in technology journalism in the 1990s, one of my first briefings was with a loud, almost Dickensian head of sales and marketing for a crazy new kind of company, an “ISP”. He confidently spouted an old adage (though one I had never heard until then): “Get big, get niche or get out!”

I laughed about that phrase for years. But now I think there’s some truth in it.

*photo credit: Inverted Sun via photopin (license)

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