Vikki Chowney is director of content & publishing strategies at Hill+Knowlton, joining the agency at the start of the year to oversee the creation of multichannel content. Vikki's extensive experience in digital communications will make her a critical addition to the judging panel at the Performance Marketing Awards 2015.
PerformanceIN talked to her about the ever changing landscape of digital marketing, and her tips for standing out at the awards this year.
Hi Vikki. As a former journalist, what do you feel makes successful and compelling content?
Vikki Chowney: There are lots of different theories; you'll see a million lists online – all picking up on various attributions. The core of it all though is creating something that makes someone feel something; typically that's a 'laugh, cry or get goosebumps' type of approach, but it also could be content that makes someone think – or be surprised that they've learned something. Largely, if you can tap into an emotion, you've got it nailed.
How have advancements in tech disrupted the content and publishing landscape?
VC: Entirely. Technology is changing everything, every day. The way we consume content, the way we publish it and share, who creates it, and where they put it. Technology is evolving at a pace that's faster than most people's ability to keep up. It's tough, and the only way to do it is to test, learn and watch how others have succeeded or failed.
How important is it for agencies to experiment and play with new ways of communicating with an audience?
VC: See previous comment! 'Play' is vital. Experimentation, and iterative planning, is the the only way to learn. It's not just about new platforms though, it's about content strategy and publishing. Constant measurement of performance, then feeding that back into content creation, is really the only way to make your content marketing more efficient. Otherwise you're just going on gut, and while that's a factor in producing content, it's not enough any more.
In an interview last year, you mentioned how some agencies have created newsrooms, or ‘war rooms’, in order to observe and respond to live events in real time. Can you expand on that?
VC: That war-room concept is where agencies can add a lot of value. The creation of day to day content is something a lot of companies are taking in house, which makes total sense, but when you look at a level above that – in-depth event coverage, multimedia content, working with third parties – that's where an agency with multiple skills and roles can join together to become an extension of a brand's team.
You also mentioned agencies working with each other to produce integrated work for the client. Is this something agencies should embrace in 2015? What effect will this have on agency structure?
VC: We've all been banging on about integration for years. It's do or die at this point. Clients are starting to put work under one-stop-shops again, and so working in silo is just incredibly detrimental to your brand-agency relationship. You either properly work alongside others, or you lose the work.
How has your experience working as a journalist and in social prepared you for your new role at H+K?
VC: What's exciting to see is an appetite for cross-discipline content. It's incredibly rewarding to work on purpose and story first, then explore how that plays out across different channels. It makes for more meaningful campaigns. That's how a journalist thinks; story first, distribution later.
You have extensive experience working closely with social influencers. What common traits do these individuals share?
VC: Passion, discipline and a bit of ego. When you love something enough to make it your specialist subject, that attracts others to your work, which in turn makes you influential. You then have to have enough discipline to maintain that. Influencers nowadays are producing a high volume of content across multiple channels, and you've got to have the focus to stick to that to maintain a level of influence. After all, people don't just look at relevancy any more, recency is a big deal as well. The ego thing is obvious; even those that are introverts have to have a bit of ego to put themselves front and centre.
At the end of 2013 Nate Silver tweeted a prediction that ‘advertorial’ had about a year lifespan before audiences became immune to them. How do content marketers avoid saturation in this market?
VC: I think audiences had become immune to the classic advertorial way before 2013 to be honest. But that's a very traditional way of looking at sponsored content. We're now in a position where tools like Outbrain and Sharethrough allow us to post content as native advertising, which is a far smarter way to distribute.
The focus for advertorials these days is more so working with influencers. But there are strict regulations of that by the ASA. Savvy influencers now expect to be paid, for a large percentage of work with them. And commissioning an influencer is now seen as an ad, not as influencer outreach. There's a blurring of ownership around this, but the way forward is collaboration and co-creation, rather than what's actually a return to 'get a celeb to mention my product' days.
You’ve worked closely with influential bloggers in the past, but by what methods do you use to measure an individual’s reach? It’s not as simple as a number of followers is it?
VC: There are proprietary ways of calculating this, which all agencies will have. It can never be about reach alone, I've mentioned relevancy and recency, but then there are a myriad of other factors; from existing relationship to a brand and competitors, to quality of content, tonality and more.
What are the key challenges that content marketers are likely to face over the next year?
VC: The key thing is noise. Everyone is a publisher, or wants to be, and the volume of content online is overwhelming. Working out how to cut through that is the biggest challenge we all face.
What are you most excited about in the world of communications this year?
VC: New sectors. Taking B2C learnings into niche industries that haven't started exploring content marketing yet. It's a real challenge, but there's masses of potential.
What was your social media campaign of 2014 and why? Let’s avoid any PMA competitors for obvious reasons!
VC: I absolutely adore Rice Code. It's not a social campaign, but it's an integrated one founded around proper social purpose. Community-changing stuff, not just gaining retweets.
We’re delighted to have you on board as a judge at the PMAs, what advice would you give those entering the awards this year?
VC: Be really clear about aligning results with business objectives. That's the whole point of what we do, and you've got to be able to prove that.
With Standard Entries for the Performance Marketing Awards closing on January 30, and Late Entries on February 6, there's still time to get your digital campaign of 2014 in the running for one of 26 awards spanning the full breadth of performance marketing - and have your company's excellence and innovation recognised by an industry audience at London's Grosvenor House Hotel in April. Find out how to enter here.