This spring saw John Brown Media host the 2019 Content Summit in Cape Town. Matt Potter, John Brown Media Group’s Chief Content Officer, flew in from London for the event. He shares his reflections on the event.
Every day you get to bring the combined forces of journalism, creativity, big media, technology and psychology together for different audiences, in vastly different industries. This creates the magic that helps clients light fires, generate love and shape everything from sentiment and behaviour to the future of their business itself.
And suddenly, content is hot. That magic ability to smash deep brand goals at the same time as achieving tactical product ones has CEOs sitting up and taking notice. Suddenly, it’s the thing CMOs need to be able to navigate for their brands… and do it right. But until now, it’s not had its own dedicated event.
“It comes down to making things people trust, love and develop lifelong affinities for. There’s not a single person out there asking for a quality content blocker.” – Matt Potter, John Brown Media Group’s Chief Content Officer
This month changed that. The John Brown Content Summit 2019, held at John Brown Media’s chic SA headquarters in Cape Town – in a neighbourhood fittingly called Observatory – really was like a laboratory.
The concept was a simple one: to create a space outside of daily exigencies and demands, where scores of the best and brightest stars of the SA brandscape – C-suite clients, agency thinkers, strategic and commercial leads, and creatives alike – could come together and see what they could spark off each other; and for major sectors like food retail, banking, telecoms, electronics and fashion to take a few tips from each other. Left brain, meet right brain. Let’s see what happens.
The line-up of speakers and panellists reflected that founding idea in their varied backgrounds and remits, too. We had Michelle van Schalkwyk-Haley, the woman behind Pick n Pay’s current content-led hot streak; Dawn Rowlands, CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network’s sub-Saharan Africa operation; Justin Gomes, creative director of award-winning advertising agency FoxP2, an outfit busily rethinking the ways above-the-line advertising can feed off below-the-line-style storytelling; and there was Justine Drake, celebrity food journalist, broadcaster and John Brown Media’s content director.
And in the middle, fresh off the plane from London, scheduled to open the event, and buzzing with a strange (and if I’m honest, brilliant) mix of impostor syndrome and excitement, there was me, with my chequered past encompassing screenwriting, investigative journalism, TV, news media and being the John Brown Media Group’s chief content officer. Whatever else this was going to be, it certainly wouldn’t be the usual echo chamber.
I was down as opening act, warm-up guy for the stars. That freed me up to have fun looking at just what we mean when we talk about ‘content’. And specifically, what makes for great content marketing. Because right now, with everyone wanting to say they ‘do’ it – and do it cheaper – brands run the risk of mistaking ‘content’ for ‘stuff’, and filling their channels up with keyword-driven rubbish that creates more problems than it solves. One of my favourite quotes about journalism is that it’s simply taking something people don’t know or care about, and making them care very much. Which happens to be a pretty good formulation for story-driven content marketing too.
That journalistic approach is also what makes content marketing such a pleasure to talk about, and what makes meetings like this one such a buzz. Just like big news stories, there’s not a single client problem that’s like any other. But with a commitment to impactful work, and keeping the audience’s inner lives and motivations front of mind whatever the subject or channel, you can turn your brand into the place they trust and turn to.
A great example is the work Michelle does with Pick n Pay. Michelle is one of the most engaged and forward-thinking brand marketers in South African retail, and the way Pick n Pay continually redefines itself, switching on different parts of its DNA to face a number of challenges in different fields – from taking back ownership of ‘fresh’ to helping South African beer-drinkers to become consumer-fluent in wine – is talked about around the world. Her talk looked at a few of the different ways great, story-first approaches to content have been brought to bear on her key goals.
You know that fantasy-dinner-party question, where you get to host any celeb or historical figure on the basis of their wit and conversational value? Having Justine chair a panel event onstage at your event is a bit like that. As a result, the panel discussion was everything you’d hope it would be – equal parts fireside chat and Dragons’ Den grilling.
Justin Gomes’ points on the need for ad land to get smart and underpin their campaigns with storytelling values was a huge crowd-pleaser. Dawn issued the biggest rallying cry of the day, though. ‘Don’t underestimate the African consumer’ was her message to the Summit.
Dawn outlined how the rising generation in sub-Saharan Africa is going to have a massive effect on the world; that by 2050, sub-Saharan Africa’s young population will have grown by 50%, and will be the largest population of under-24s in the world – at 945 million, nearly twice that of South Asia.
She sketched a powerful picture of a continent that’s poised, not just to rewrite the rules for marketing – and the world to come will be agile and mobile in ways few brands are even imagining – but also to redraw the global maps of consumer power.
This is a landscape of sophisticated consumers. And the path media owners, brands and marketers will follow to reach them won’t be the same as the one in SA, or the US, or Europe, or anywhere else, but something negotiated with this new, experience-hungry, endlessly varied audience on its own, ever-changing terms.
It’s a message that would daunt most media summits, but this one was electrified and inspired. Content marketing has always been the avant-garde of adland – not blasting markets into submission with broadcast campaigns, but quietly winning hearts and minds with its commitment to people, to storytelling and to the value of time spent together.
If the talks and panel event were the fuel, the fire of conversation and ideas glowed well into the evening, and the sun went down on a country with more brilliant ideas, more exciting plans, and more alliances forged than it had risen on.
So here’s to the coming weeks and months, and here’s to Content Summit 2020 next year.