Cutting-edge content for thought leadership

How does content help define you and your company as thought leaders? Reflections from the #eacd10 event at Sofia

Take content seriously: it's what defines brands as thought leaders in their field, and plays an important role in solidifying relationships between you and your customers. This point was repeatedly made yesterday, in different formulations and from very different perspectives, against the imposing backdrop of the National Palace of Culture, the communist-built congress centre located in the heart of Bulgaria's capital, Sofia. Speakers from SAP, Fox Networks Groups, BTV Media Group and PR Media told a packed audience what content can do for corporate communicators now and in the future. The discussion was part of the series of #eacd10 events taking place this year across Europe to mark the 10th anniversary of the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD).

Breaking with the past

How does a brand new content strategy take shape, who implements it... and what do you do when the early reactions from inside the company are not exactly overflowing with positivity? Just some of the questions addressed candidly by the afternoon's first speaker, Judith Magyar. Director of strategic content development at multinational software corporation SAP, Judith is also a member of SAP's Global Content team, which is responsible for developing and producing corporate content using a digital approach to communication. With the aim of becoming a truly 21st century newsroom, Judith and her team began a process two years ago of revolutionising the way SAP does content: recognising the huge appetite among employees for content that matched the immediate, concise and visual type of content they regularly consume at home, SAP hired stars from US television news to help transform the traditional approach to communications so far favoured by the Germany-headquarterd company. The details of the process is covered in Judith's earlier blog post for Communication Director, but suffice to say the innovation was initially met with a mixed reception. The greatest resistance was againt the new notion that all content is generated for external eyes, with new dividing wall against internal and external communications (apart from the extra-sensitive stuff handled by the employee communications team): anyone can watch SAP videos online and see stories taken from across the company. We'll be posting our interview with Judith where she elaborates on SAP's journey in shaking up the way it communicates – and why support from the very top of the company helped Judith and her team push for cutting-edge content.

The press club of Sofia's National Palace of Culture, the venue for the latest #eacd10

Branded entertainment

Knowing your customers – measuring their behaviours, studying their interests, meeting them wherever they are – is the first, fundamental step to creating strong messages that connect with today's diffused audiences. It also doesn't hurt to be entertaining while you're at it. Milena Filcheva, marketing director for Balkans at Fox Network Group, shared with the #eacd10 audience her experiences of putting together attention-grabbing content for National Geographic: an approach of keeping control, being brave and having fun helped Milena and her team. And in answer to the eternal questions of who 'owns' content, marketing or PR, Milena's view is that it is much broader than that and  multi-channel communications is obligatory: everyone in the company can have a siginficant input into the success story. It is also important to make news with your news, so to speak: Milena's example of Fox debuting a major new series live on Facebook across 61 countires was a combination of good storytelling and headline-grabbing behaviour. In a follow-up interview with Communication Director, Milena shared how exactly Fox identifies audiences and spoke more about the marketing/PR breakdown – we'll be sharing that interview here soon.

"A thought leadership strategy should be a sustained stream of educative and advisory content"

Thought leadership is not about you, your products or your services. It's about audiences, and that represents a big shift for communicators, according to Philippe Borremans, who joined the event live via Skype from PR Media's office in Morocco. Philippe used his own highly popular PR podcast Wag The Dog as an example of how to research, create, promote and add value through content. Flying in the face of the popular move towards more disruptive, bite-sized content to match our decreasing attention spans, Philippe firmly believes that podcasts answer a resurgent need for longer-form content that is delivered intimately and directly to wherever the audience are – usually right to their pockets. A thought leadership strategy should be a sustained stream of educative and advisory content, Philippe told the audience, and with the advertising offering a potential business model for podcasting, perhaps now's the time to look again at podcasting as part of a future-oriented communications strategy.

We'll be sharing more content from this event, including in-depth interviews with the speakers, in the coming days and weeks, so watch this space. Thanks to Vanya Babanin and the management team of the National Palace of Cultures (NDK)  for organising the event and to the entire team at the NDK for ensuring the success of the event. For images and tweets of the event, be sure to visit the Facebook and Twitter pages of the EACD. Find out more about the EACD's next anniversary event in Helsinki on August 23 here.

Image: Thinkstock