Contently is a technology company that helps brands create great content by connecting them with the best storytellers to tell great stories while collaborating on a shared editorial dashboard. In this interview, Contently CEO Pearl Collings tells the company’s story and shares some valuable tips for creating great content that drives success.
Please describe the story behind the company: What sparked the idea, and how has it evolved since?
The founding story was one of the first things that drew me to Contently—one of our co-founders, Shane Snow, was graduating Columbia Journalism school when he got a call from his childhood friend, Joe Coleman. Joe was a tech entrepreneur looking for good writers for his blog, so he could build deeper relationships with his customers. Meanwhile, Shane was busy helping all of his journalist friends build portfolio websites to get freelance work in the middle of The Great Recession.
They quickly realized there was a great opportunity: freelance journalists needed work, and companies desperately needed talented freelance creatives to help them engage their audiences. And so they brought on a third co-founder, Dave Goldberg, to build a platform that would connect the two.
The story really evolved when we got our first customers—like Amex, Chase, and a number of other large finserv, healthcare, and tech companies. We realized that they needed a robust platform to manage approvals, brand guidelines, SEO, voice and tone, analytics. So we collaborated with our customers closely to build features that would help them create content more intelligently and more efficiently, every step of the way.
Fast forward, and our robust content marketing platform has made us a three-time leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Content Marketing Platforms. We’ve put tens of millions of dollars in the pockets of extremely talented, hard-working freelance creatives across the globe. And we’ve also built out a robust strategy offering to ensure our customers are successful.
This brief video explains how Contently works:
What are the current challenges that content creators are struggling with, and how does Contently help?
On the freelance side, it’s obviously a tough time to be a freelance creative in the current media environment. We have a Freelance Advisory Board and try to do everything we can to help the freelance community — ensuring they get paid fairly for their work, offering free portfolios, paying freelancers immediately upon submission of their first draft, and other efforts outlined in our contract with the community. Our product team is also always trying to develop as many tools for freelancers as possible.
We’re also trying to grow Contently as much as possible because when brands invest their budget in great stories that build relationships with people instead of intrusive or non-relevant ads, freelance creatives are a big winner.
On the brand side, you’re often limited. Even some Fortune 500 companies have a few person content teams. Contently gives them the ability to run a content program at scale through technology that saves them a bunch of time, and access to specialized freelance writers, videographers, illustrators, interactive designers, and more that allow them to literally create any content they can imagine.
What would you say are the best strategies for brands who wish to become thought leaders in their industry?
You have to tap into the internal expertise of your SMEs and truly put something new into the world. Original reporting, research, ideas that help your audience succeed at their jobs and see the world in a new way. GE does this brilliantly, and so does MD Financial. Copycat content isn’t thought leadership. True thought leadership needs to be authentic and new, a continuous dialogue and relationship with customers.
Which content trends or technologies do you find to be particularly interesting these days, and why?
The first is an oldie but goodie: search. Search remains paramount for brands–especially B2B brands. The average B2B buyer consumes 5 pieces of content in the research phase before they ever reach out to sales. If your content isn’t discovered in that phase, you’re not even in the game.
And so where do those buyers find that content? Search engines. We’ve found that 67% of the traffic to brand sites comes from organic search. And right now, Google is placing a huge emphasis on robust, original reporting and content in their results. So after a brief obsession with snackable, curated, empty calorie content, the pendulum is swinging back to robust, high-quality content that truly builds trust and relationships with people.
The second is ROI. Most marketers know that content works–that it’s the essential element that makes all of their marketing perform better. But it’s been hard to isolate the ROI of content from the rest of marketing, which is crucial for securing a budget. We’ve developed a couple of different models to help our customers prove that out, but one that we’re testing is a new one within our product, and so far, it looks to be a game-changer for the way brands showcase performance and their contributions to the larger business that makes the case for budgets internally.
How do you envision the future of your industry?
I like how our head of marketing put it: Content is everything now. Great storytelling makes your search and social campaigns more effective, your website more engaging, your emails worth opening. It increases the cost-efficiency of everything you do, and makes your sales team’s lives a lot easier because you build up so much trust before your prospects even talk to sales.
The future of content and the future of marketing are intertwined. In an ANA report, enterprise marketers projected that their marketing budgets would grow 42 percent over the next two years. With the impact COVID has brought, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s double that.
You simply can’t do great digital marketing without great content, whether you’re a startup or part of the big four. The content revolution is here, and we look forward to powering it.