How many owned media properties does your company have?
Yes, I’m asking you to count the newsletters, websites, campaign microsites, blogs, communities, and resource centers your business actively maintains.
Many of you probably have that number readily available. For others, it might take a moment. You might ask, “Well, our blog is integrated into our website. Does that count as one or two?” If it’s an integrated core section of your website, count it as one. Finally, a group of you will simply smirk and say, “I’ve got no idea. Ten? Twenty?”
If it makes you feel better, we just worked with a large B2B technology company with over 150 web properties. When accounting for newsletters, the total of owned media properties jumped to 176.
And, yes, they had an Excel spreadsheet that listed them all.
Letting the content garden fill with weeds
For a few years (around 2016 to 2018), businesses made a concerted effort to streamline their web properties. Marketers often dressed this up with labels like “2020 Initiatives” or “The 2020 Project.” They tried to prune their web property “weeds” — product or campaign microsites that were outdated or just plain eyesores.
Spoiler alert: It didn’t turn out well. Many marketing teams couldn’t convince cross-functional colleagues that their pet projects qualified as weeds. Others worried that the technology they used to create the platform would be cut without a sufficient number of sites using it. Others just never had the time, budget, or resources to sunset the platform elegantly. So, the pruning projects fell to the very bottom of priority lists.
Since the disruption of the pandemic, most businesses haven’t revisited these efforts to clean their content garden. Since few new web properties have been launched in the past couple of years, the focus has centered on improving the most important of the owned media properties — the website.
However, we see a real shift emerge as 2024 gets underway. Marketers shift their focus to owned media as a way to acquire better first-party data, reinvigorating efforts to launch new platforms.
Among the new initiatives we see considered:
- Content hubs launched to escape the confines of PDF and other more document-oriented content containers.
- Email newsletters are segmented for subscribers based on the customer’s journey.
- Resource centers and blogs provide centralized access to thought leadership programs, influencer programs, podcast episodes, and webinar series.
- Communities launch as marketers double down on customer enablement, training, and ongoing education.
But businesses haven’t learned the lessons from the earlier purge attempts. They view these platforms through the lens of “projects” or “campaigns” — short-term or one-off initiatives — rather than an ongoing content product. But when you refer to a content product as a temporary platform, product launch site, or campaign hub, it loses effectiveness because it’s not a strategic business offering.
I often ask senior leadership at a company, “How important is (the owned media property in discussion)?” It might be the corporate blog, the resource center, the Friday newsletter, or even the corporate website.
If the senior leader doesn’t say the content vehicle is as important as the company’s products, I ask, “Why is it there?”
If the senior leader agrees the content platform is as important as the products, I ask, “Why not add a product manager or team?”
Owned media is working media, too
I argued recently with the CMO at a large company. He didn’t want to invest in the company’s web properties or video platform because they weren’t “working media.”
Working media refers to the portion of the advertising budget that reaches the target audience—what appears on screen or in print. The non-working media component covers agency fees, market research, tools, etc. Generally, at least 85% of the advertising budget should go to working media.
Though not exactly apples to apples, the CMO considered the effort toward their owned media properties as non-working media — and not worth spending as much money on.
I didn’t suggest they spend the millions they spend on TV ads and other media placements on a blog, resource center, or community. I pointed out that spending less than 1% of the TV budget on owned media properties indicated they didn’t care if those content products existed.
People responsible for this new strategy
As owned digital media platforms grow as an incredibly important part of marketing operations, demand for editorial product managers in marketing should rise.
The products in a traditional media company are easily identified — the books, newspapers, magazines, television shows, radio broadcasts, films, etc., in the marketplace.
With modern digital marketing, product- and service-based businesses can also have these kinds of digital media products. In the internet’s earliest days, businesses recognized that an always-available media property like a website, email newsletter, or blog could circumvent their need to always advertise on other media properties. Then, as I mentioned, the 2010s rolled on with these same businesses competing for attention by entertaining, educating, inspiring, and otherwise engaging these audiences. Businesses recognized they could become the media.
However, many businesses also neglected to create responsible teams and charters to manage these owned media as products. They treated them as projects, digital billboards, time-limited access to information, or temporary campaigns to drive a short-term result and be replaced.
They fill their weedy gardens with campaigns that have no defined purpose or objectives. People fight to keep them alive, and people fight to let them die. Both are probably right. The garden doesn’t hurt anything, but it doesn’t help either.
Some businesses, though, create prosperous gardens with nary a weed. These companies codify a set of skills where every published owned media property has an editorial product manager — a person or team with “content gardening” skills.
Skills of an editorial product manager
We find a successful editorial product manager possesses these skills:
This skill set doesn’t necessarily relate to writing or content creation, though these people probably can do that. It refers to managing the quality of the platform from the customer’s (or audience’s) eyes. These skills allow a team or person to act as the “arbiter of good” — they recognize, acknowledge, and have the power to approve what good looks like.
2. Product management and design-thinking
With these core competencies, the person or team can build, manage, and change the media product by prioritizing the audience’s needs over the internal pressures coming from functions across the business.
This person or team must have aligned business objectives and be able to manage that alignment. For example, suppose the business objective of a thought leadership blog as a media product is to drive leads. In that case, the editorial product manager shouldn’t measure it against a brand awareness goal nor capitulate to a request to inject content that doesn’t directly support the lead-gen goals because “it’s the only blog we have.”
3. Technology and data knowledge
Every successful media product is not measured by vanity metrics, such as total output or views. It is measured by its impact on the target audience. Those metrics could be positive comments, responses, views, or other qualitative metrics. But, more likely, the metrics involve numbers, such as first-party data acquisition, target audience acquisition, conversions to the marketing journey, etc. An editorial product manager must be able to access this data and assemble the technological capabilities to capture and use the right data at the right time.
4. Business and marketing acumen
When you treat owned media platforms as strategically as you do products and services, you should create, manage, and measure them as such. They also deserve to be promoted and evolved. Thus, the editorial product manager must be able to market the owned media platform, build upon its success, communicate that success internally and externally, and operate the platform not unlike a profit-and-loss statement.
ServiceNow does this amazingly well with its owned media property Workflow. The digital magazine isn’t a digital campaign or a temporary content hub. It’s a company product. The platform includes all manners of content — trending articles, a quarterly magazine, guides, and even editorial courses. It’s a media product with multiple ways for customers to engage with it.
Richard Murphy and Sheila Dowd operate like a media company, leading Workflow as editor and publisher. Richard focuses on the content (see skills one and three), and Sheila tackles audience development and paid and organic search (see skills two and four).
Lean into your strategic content products
As you count your company’s owned media experiences, look at them through the lens of a product portfolio. Which should you keep? Which should you end? Which aligns business goals and a purpose that you can identify? Which makes business sense to keep as a media product, and which are best weeded out as simple campaign initiatives?
If any don’t provide a clear answer to these questions, prune it from the content garden. You will be left with a garden filled with media products that can be grown by the appropriate people, processes, and technologies.
Marketing thought leader Seth Godin says, “Don’t find customers for your products; find products for your customers.” In the world of marketing in 2024, I’d tweak that slightly, “Don’t find audiences for your content; find the right content for your audiences.”
Your owned media properties are the strongest tether to attracting, growing, and retaining your audiences. Treat them that way.
It’s your story. Tell it well.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute