Sarah Mitchell and Lush Digital Media

A word with … Sarah Mitchell

In Interviews by Peter Gearin

Brand Tales speaks with one of the straightest shooters in Australian content marketing.

You might have heard Sarah Mitchell on the Brand Newsroom podcast or speak at a marketing conference, or perhaps read her blogs on the Lush Digital website. Whichever way you came across the US-born, Perth-based content marketing specialist, you will know she’s a clear thinker on every subject she turns her mind to.

Brand Tales: What’s your current role, Sarah?

Sarah Mitchell: Director of content strategy at Lush Digital Media.

BT: What are your main responsibilities?

Mitchell: I lead the talented content team at Lush Digital Media. They are focused on developing content marketing strategies, running brand newsrooms for our clients and producing a variety of original content. I oversee every strategy produced by Lush and take an active part in developing them with my team. In addition to consulting assignments, I have a select few clients I work with every month. I attend as many monthly editorial meetings with our customers as possible. I also develop and deliver workshops in the content marketing and brand journalism space for corporate clients and the general public. I’m a regular speaker at conferences, mostly focusing on topics related to content marketing and brand storytelling. I’m the co-host of the Brand Newsroom podcast with James Lush and Nic Hayes – the most fun thing I do at work every week. I blog at Lush, Traction News and also at Global Copywriting.

BT: What are some of the key things you have learnt about the content game since you started Global Copywriting in 2008?

Mitchell: I first started in content marketing in 1996, even though we didn’t call it that. I was selling software in South Africa and found out very quickly a well-written case study or a white paper helped get business closed. When I started Global Copywriting, I assumed I’d be writing case studies and white papers for tech companies. It was about that time social media was taking off and so was blogging. I hadn’t considered every business would be struggling with content production or that I was perfectly positioned to deliver content marketing services. But here’s the biggest lesson; your content marketing strategy has to be attached to business goals. That was how I started in South Africa and it’s the only way that truly works. If your content marketing is not explicitly designed to drive some sort of profitable customer action, it won’t get long-term support from management. Marketing goals don’t cut it. You have to focus on business goals first, especially so you can measure effectiveness. But even business goals aren’t enough. You also need to make sure you’re delivering the right message for your audience. When I first started, I spent a lot of time working on communicating what I wanted the audience to know. If you don’t focus on the audience first, the best strategy in the world won’t work.

BT: In your opinion, which international company is doing content really well?

Mitchell: My favourite international example is Traction News. It’s a magazine designed to help tyre business owners in North America become more profitable. It’s published by Tireweb Marketing, one of my first customers at Global Copywriting. Traction is a full-blown brand newsroom and a great example of how a small business can influence an industry with a relatively modest spend. Traction News won Best Transportation Publication at the 2016 Content Marketing Awards and was short-listed for Project of the Year, so that’s a good endorsement we’re on the right track.

BT: Which Australian brand is doing a great job with its content? Why is this so effective?

Mitchell: I don’t see a lot of Australian businesses stick with content marketing for the long term. So many are still focused on campaigns, excluding it from true content marketing. I love what acQuire Technology Solutions is doing. I’ve consulted to them for ages but Meesha Stacker, acQuire’s content marketing specialist, developed and implemented their content marketing strategy. I’m fascinated by how she squeezes value out of every content opportunity – she’s a master at repurposing, recycling and re-using to get the maximum benefit from her budget. Her background in event management helps a lot; she knows how to direct a diverse team of freelancers working in several different mediums including video, audio and written content. acQuire sells geoscientific information management solutions to the natural resources industry so there’s nothing sexy about her subject matter but I think she’s killing it.

“I’m frustrated by service providers who claim they’re providing content marketing services but have actually relabelled advertising, PR or SEO.”Sarah Mitchell

BT: Can you nominate one specific example of a content execution that you think works well?

Mitchell: My latest fascination is Dan Rather on Facebook. If you don’t know him, he’s an American journalist who hosted the CBS nightly news for about 20 years. He’s a hardcore journalist, covering war zones, the White House and everything in between. Rather is long retired but about a year ago he started a Facebook page. His reporting on the US election and Trump presidency is fantastic and all the better because he’s completely unfiltered. It’s a testament to good writing, having an opinion and not being afraid to piss people off.

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

Mitchell: Start with the business goal you’re trying to achieve and develop a documented content marketing strategy to achieve those goals. It’s essential to focus on the audience, not on the brand. It’s essential for brands and agencies to educate themselves about what content marketing is and what it isn’t. A strategy must address original content, distribution and amplification. If only one or two of these areas is present, it’s not content marketing.

BT: What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to creating and executing content marketing for a client?

Mitchell: Almost everyone I speak with has a hard time accepting content marketing is a long-play discipline. They want quick results. They want to get started without taking the time to do a strategy. I rarely take on this kind of work any more because it’s very hard to prove success after a couple of months. There’s still a lot of education to be done. I’m frustrated by the number of service providers who claim they’re providing content marketing services but have actually relabelled advertising, PR or SEO. It never works and ends up confusing the market.

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

Mitchell: I think the prospects for content marketing are limitless, to be honest. If you’re willing to think through what you’re doing while keeping the needs of your audience in mind, you’ll have success. In the process, you’ll build long-term business assets from your marketing investment. I’ve seen it happen too many times in too many businesses to debate whether content marketing works any more.

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