Tom Critchlow

Brands as Publishers Need Content Ops

How to build content operations at brands

I’ve long been an advocate for brands hiring for an “editor in chief”.

https://twitter.com/balajis/status/1313644937729077249

I was advocating for this [back in 2017(https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1T6REY1iEGlZpZxpSf6zo_h1W5MtiqA34SUZbl-c5kHA/edit#slide=id.p) pretty strongly.

But I’ve recently changed my mind. Not about content - I’m still bullish on that. But rather I’m increasinghly wary of the “editor in chief” title when embedded inside brands.

From my vantage point working across traditional media companies (The NYT, Mashable etc) and my work with brands producing content at scale (Gartner, Wirecutter etc)

There are some key mistakes that get made:

  1. The “brand as publisher” model is often pitched by creative agencies - and as a result the focus is placed on creative production. This drives the cost/content piece too high. This unsustainable price produces “good” content but leads to the brand not creating enough content to reach scale.
  2. Through hiring an overly “editorial” folks they underinvest or neglect audience development - distribution is often heavily weighted to paid channels and they neglect the longer arc of compound organic growth through building organic distribution channels (e.g. SEO)
  3. SEO practiioners meanwhile are often not actually very good at editorial work
  4. Brands lack the connective tissue to conversion (e.g. email signups)

So - I’m re-evaulating my positon on the “editor in chief” role. Instead I see an emerging role that I’m going to call “content ops”1

Content Ops is a new embracing of the hybrid role that editorial people inside organizations need to play.

Editor in chief has the luxury of publishing mechanics being “built into” the organization. But within a brand it’s not a given and many things need building or investing in deliberately. Namely:

Conversion and commercials Technology Distribution

Worked Example: RobinHood

APp based Editor in chief for stock news? sure but….

The role of “editor in chief” is a positive one and sounds like the right answer because it implies the thing that people care about - strong point of view, meaningful, interesting content. But when you look at the organizational dynamics of the brand what’s more often required is a pragmatic leader capable of a hybrid role

  1. I’ve previously called this the practice of “media design” 


This blog is written by Tom Critchlow, an independent strategy consultant living and working in Brooklyn, NY. If you like what you read please leave a comment below in disqus or sign up for my Tinyletter.
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