Why I get up to work on something I hate

I really loathed “content”. In many ways, I still do. In a former life as a journalist, and then a consultant, I sat through hours of wacky races to the bottom: indiscriminate and immoderate content production, entirely for content production’s sake: “everyone else is doing it; we’ll start at it, even if it’s bad, messy and downright inappropriate.”

This preoccupation with inputs still plagues content creation. People determine that they need a report, a white paper, to “start producing blogs”, with little emphasis on the other end. Focusing on outputs (and results) means defining the audience at the beginning, along with answering ‘how is this going to be lead-generative?’ and ‘what do we need to do to get there?’. Then, you work backwards.

For content to be truly useful, it must have a telos. And, the production of that content must be commensurate with that end goal: sinking a VC partner’s time into grand op-eds or podcasts, when there is no plan for how to land it (how’re you getting it in front of those target founders and companies?) or orchestration to production (have you determined, upfront, how much derivative content can be squeezed out of one pillar piece?), is just daft.

It also bothers me enough that I want to change it. If I, and the rest of the world, are going to spend our lives (online) swimming through content, I’d really rather it wasn’t shit.

Content today exists almost like data did five years ago. Now, we can position a data startup in a value chain — is it generating, governing, deploying or harnessing data? But go back half a decade, and we were all buzzing merrily around “big data”, data lakes and worrying about having it all nicked.

At HSG, we talk about content as currency because it’s clear to us that we’re still in the foothills of deploying language across media as a tool for commercial growth in the digital world. In five years — no, less, two — we want the content value chain to be as established and understood as any highly-digitised market.

There are exciting signs of where we’re heading: individuals productising and monetising their words; threads as articles; Clubhouse… But the wonderful explosion in thoughtful, high-quality content is being led by individuals, not organisations.

We intend to change that. It is why we talk about media platforms. It may feel irrelevant or intimidating for smaller businesses to hear “oh, you need to think ‘media company’ when building out your content function,” but this is a mindset — a telos — not the starting point.

To compete in a world where content has elided with all forms of communication, and can be a driver of growth in and of itself, means thinking like those who do it best.

Next time, I’ll write about what on earth a media platform is.

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