Mark Jones and Heather

A word with … Mark Jones

In Interviews by Peter Gearin

The Filtered Media co-founder believes in the power of great storytelling.

Former journalist Mark Jones and his wife, corporate communications expert Heather, established Filtered Media in 2007. Based in Sydney’s northern suburbs, the broad-ranging business provides content marketing, PR and social media and video expertise for a range of clients, including Telstra and Adobe Asia Pacific.

Brand Tales: What originally attracted you to the world of PR and content marketing?

Mark Jones: I’ve been fascinated by journalism, media and communications since high school. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life, and remarkably nothing’s changed. I’m a storyteller at heart so if you give me a platform to talk, write or communicate, I’m a happy man.

BT: What do you tell people has been the best thing about starting Filtered Media with your wife, Heather?

Jones: It’s a rare privilege when your best friend and life partner shares your interests and complements you in the business world. Back in 2007 we had this crazy idea that we could combine the best bits of journalism and PR and work with iconic brands. Remember that back then it was akin to wondering if oil and water would mix. We gave ourselves 12 months to give it a go and see if we could work together. The deal was if this working-together thing didn’t work out, we’d stop and go get a job. Ten years later our little brand storytelling agency as grown to employ 30 people and work with some fantastic clients across the business, technology, consumer lifestyle and not-for-profit categories. The best thing now is looking back and knowing it wouldn’t have happened if I tried to do this journey on my own.

BT: Do you have a story that best explains your business philosophy?

Jones: My business philosophy maps pretty closely to my personal philosophy on work and careers. We spend decades at work, so you better make sure it’s something you really enjoy doing. If you get that right, success follows. We’ve tackled this by helping staff to understand who they are, and realising that they bring a perspective and personality to the team that’s not right or wrong, but unique and part of the diversity we need. It was fascinating to watch the reactions when we began inviting staff to take a personality test called the Clifton Strengthsfinder, an online tool based on positive psychology theory. You fill out a big questionnaire and it identifies your top five personality strengths. The idea is you focus on improving your areas of strength, and any so-called weaknesses will also improve over time.

For example, I discovered I’m a Learner. I’m happiest when I’m discovering new ideas, figuring out how stuff works and soaking up information. It kind of explained why I love documentaries. It also turns out Learners make great entrepreneurs and journalists, so I’m calling that a win. If you apply this more broadly in business, it has a profound cumulative effect. If your teams are more aware of their strengths and how to leverage those collectively, it quickly flows through to clients. After all, we’re not just a marketing agency but a people business. You can never underestimate the power of strong interpersonal relationships between upbeat, positive staff and clients.

BT: How do you define the concept of “corporate storytelling”?

Jones: Do many corporations think of themselves as corporate storytellers? I’d suggest no, not yet, but they should. Corporate storytelling, or brand storytelling as we call it, challenges brands to really understand the power of their own story as the foundation of all marketing activities. I’ve actually developed a keynote presentation called Beliefonomics that brings together 12 months of research into this topic. I talk about how brands can use the power of story to build lasting emotional connections with customers, moving them from unbelief to belief in a brand.

As an example, most marketers neglect one of the most important brand-storytelling types: the Origin Story. When was the last time you really enjoyed, or even understood, a company’s About Us page? Instead of baffling us with buzzwords, tell me a great story about how your business was conceived. After all, your Origin Story is completely unique and sets you apart from the competition. Just look at famous examples like Apple and HP, where the founders hacked away in a garage with no money and a big dream. They’re evocative and inspiring stories that we never forget.

“We rarely meet marketers who want ‘content marketing’. They are looking for storytelling.”Mark Jones

BT: Do you have a pet peeve about the content business?

Jones: Yeah, we expect stories to do so much heavy lifting for us in marketing. There’s this idea that if I write a story on the company blog, the customers will come, read my words and buy my widget straight away. We all know it doesn’t work like that. You need to develop credibility and loyalty with your audience, and when they’re ready to buy, they will. Also, don’t discount the importance of paid amplification for your content.

BT: What advice do you have for brands (and agencies) that want to use content as part of their marketing mix?

Jones: Start with the customer, not your own story. What questions are they asking about your industry or product, and what problems can you solve? Get the data to inform your thinking and figure out how to help people first, and the results will follow.

BT: What’s your biggest challenge when creating and executing content for your clients?

Jones: Every client has a different idea of what success or quality looks like. We make a point of asking lots of questions and finding out what style of writing the client loves. If you get that right up front it saves a lot of time on story revisions later in the journey.

BT: In your opinion, which business is doing really great content?

Jones: I’ve been watching the Virgin Australia Supercars championship with interest because I’ve loved the V8s ever since I was a boy growing up in the 80s (yes, I’m a middle-ager). Since then, the old Touring Car Championship has grown up to become this multimillion-dollar business that’s embraced the web and social channels to roll out a stream of high-quality video and written content that keeps the audience engaged between race days. I’m forever watching video clips on Facebook, and they do a great job of telling stories about drivers, teams and geeky car stuff. It would also be remiss of me if I didn’t give one of our clients a quick plug. We write stories for Telstra IN:SIGHT, a B2B digital publishing platform for senior executives. I’ve had senior executives tell me they enjoy its ability to frame emerging technology trends within the context of enterprise business, which is gratifying because it’s a nuanced type of storytelling.

BT: Can you nominate an Australian brand producing consistently good content?

Jones: You can’t go past on Facebook. Compelling video storytelling, stunning images and they’ve really nailed community engagement. Obviously it helps given the subject matter is so beautiful, but what I really like about their approach is they stand back and let the story do the work. There’s no big sell, no desperate pleas to be liked and followed. They’re all about the love of Australia and it’s infectious.

BT: Is there one specific content execution that you think works well? What can brands learn from this?

Jones: Western Sydney University’s award-winning Unlimited still resonates with me, months after I interviewed the campaign’s creators on The CMO Show, an independent podcast we produce out of our studio. It’s got all the right elements of a great story, and fantastic execution. The story’s hero, Deng Adut, left Sudan as an injured child soldier, was rescued and ended up seeking refuge in Australia. He overcame challenges like living in a car and eventually became a lawyer working for people in western Sydney, giving back to the community who helped him build a new life. Strategically, the story perfectly illustrates the university’s strategy of focusing on the western Sydney community. They’re all about encouraging the first generation in a family to attend university. Couple all this with great creative direction and emotive music in the video and you’ve got a winner. And no, our agency wasn’t involved, but I am a WSU alumni so it’s a pride thing for me, too.

BT: What are the prospects for content marketing in Australia?

Jones: Very good. With the declining reach of mainstream and trade media, companies are developing their own channels to fill the gap and talk directly to customers. As I said earlier, I’m interested in the broader idea of brand storytelling rather than content marketing as an end in itself. We very rarely meet marketers or communications people who want “content marketing”. But they are looking for storytelling – it’s a word that resonates and lights up their eyes, which as you could imagine is quite gratifying.

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