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In a world with an abundance of content, the most valuable thing brands compete for is our attention. Giving your audience a reason to read, and then come back again to read the next edition, is the challenge publishers have faced since the printing press was invented.

So I was intrigued to learn what some traditional (and not so traditional) publishers and editors had to say on this matter at a recent Vivid Ideas event in Sydney: creating cut-through content.
Georgia Frances King, former Editor of Kinfolk and Frankie magazines, Nick Shelton, founder of Broadsheet, Joanne Grey, Editor of the AFR’s BOSS magazine and the irrepressible Melissa Gaudron, deputy editor of Marie Claire, took to the stage to share some revealing insights for brands who see themselves as publishers, including…
1. It’s all about emotion
Or as Melissa described it, ‘the feels’. Strong images, provocative headlines and a unique writer’s perspective are all part of the publisher’s toolkit to make you laugh, cry, get angry or gain hope. This echoes what I also learned from Jane Caro at a Sydney Writers Festival event last month: the key ingredients for persuasive copy are emotion, emotion and emotion (you can basically choose from hope or fear as they are ‘future state’ emotions).
But forget clickbait. That’s just ‘fast food’ content that over promises and under delivers. Content with substance starts with a question, and then answers it with credibility and meaning.
2. You need to know (and respect) your audience
This is where a talented editorial team can make all the difference. Georgia described her editorial meeting story-filtering process as “if your team doesn’t think it’s a great idea, it won’t be.” To stay ahead of what people think they want and also stay ahead of the imitators, you need to intuitively be your audience.
And for BOSS magazine, the audience is the story – it creates its own community of influence by having unmatched access to C-suite decision makers.
3. You need a cunning plan
Done well and done consistently, content is hard work. So you need a plan to manage and scale it effectively. That includes committing to publishing regularly (welcome to the pressure of the news cycle). To do that you need regular editorial meetings, and you need to read widely to spot trends. Plus, get a style guide and stick to it.
4. Creating content is not enough
You also need to build an audience. Your goal is to create a conversation, content is the way you do that but distribution is the key. As Nick said, “There’s too much box-ticking in branded content.” And no, traffic does not equal audience.
5. Find a hook
Your publishing platform needs a unique angle, and every piece of content has to reflect that – Broadsheet is a great example of this. What started as a website to help people find cool stuff to do in Melbourne then became a printed quarterly broadsheet (purely for distribution: to bring people to the website) and is now a platform for so much more – from a cookbook to a pop up restaurant.
The trick, according to Joanne, is to cut through the bullshit – something ‘old school’ journos know how to do. And if you can do that, you can do more than cut through the content clutter – you can set the agenda and lead the debate.

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