Trevor Young

A word with … Trevor Young

In Interviews by Peter Gearin

The Zoetic partner says brands with passion, purpose and a plan will likely win the battle of perceptions.

The original PR “warrior”, Trevor Young, is one of Australia’s most prominent public relations and content marketing advocates. These days, the author, blogger, live streamer and podcaster is a partner and principal strategist of Melbourne-based public comms agency Zoetic, and looks forward with enthusiasm and optimism.

Brand Tales: Why are you attracted to personal and corporate communications?

Trevor Young: I was a journalist originally, so writing and telling stories has always been in my blood. With the advent of social media, I’ve embraced pretty much the full gamut of online publishing platforms – blogs, podcasts, and online video and live streaming. After a couple of decades in PR having to communicate with people via the gatekeepers in traditional media, I now find it liberating to be able to go direct to an audience and build a following using online tools and platforms that are either free, or cheap as chips. You could say social media has allowed me to hit the refresh button on my career, and as a communications professional, I see exciting times ahead.

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

Young: Being able to get your story and your message out into the marketplace by showing, not telling. Organisations that can strategically shape their narrative in a consistent way, through the body of content they produce over time, are the ones that will benefit most in terms of projecting a cohesive brand their intended audience can identify and resonate with. An updated version of corporate storytelling is what I call social reporting. This is where organisations use an ‘in-house’ social reporter to create content in real-time that tells the brand story in different and interesting ways – for example, they might live-stream from a company event, tweet a public announcement by the CEO, or interview an internal expert on a topical issue that has broken in the news that day. Social reporting is about being agile, authentic and audience-focused, and over time should build upon a company’s narrative in the marketplace. It’s a real opportunity for in-house PR and communications teams.

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

Young: My philosophy revolves around being fully connected with the marketplace and professional community in which I operate, and using content and conversation to deliver value over and above the products and services I provide. As a result of living this philosophy day-to-day, I’ve been able to build relationships with countless people who have impacted my life in positive ways on both a personal and professional level. Attracting like-minded people is a real side-benefit of content marketing; I see evidence of this every day at Zoetic Agency, the firm I run in partnership with Dionne Lew. Working with people who are aligned philosophically and on the same wavelength brings real substance and energy to what we do. Being open and visible online enables people to check you out first, to validate in their minds that you’re the right consultancy for them (or speaker, or writer etc).

BT: You recently wrote about the “loop of opportunity” that comes from writing a blog. Do you think these kind of opportunities are available to anyone who sticks with a well-conceived content strategy?

Young: I do, yes. Obviously your blog needs to be pretty well defined and operate with quality and consistency in terms of topics covered and output generally. Let me qualify though. I think the opportunities tend to lend themselves more to individuals in terms of speaking, writing, media coverage, consulting and advisory gigs, events, digital product sales etc. That’s not to say businesses won’t see positive outcomes from maintaining a focused and professional blog, but we tend to relate to people, not logos. It’s the individuals and human beings behind the logo who we resonate with and gravitate to, and that’s when opportunities start to bubble up as one’s influence grows through blogging.

BT: If you re-issued an updated edition of microDOMINATION (Young’s book published in 2013), what would you now include (and exclude)?

Young: Great question! While many of the individuals mentioned in the book have kicked on to bigger and better things (and I’d update their progress in some condensed way), I’ve got heaps of fresh examples I could use in an updated edition, so I’d probably tell the stories of these new and emerging names to reflect and reinforce the themes outlined in the book. And of course, there are heaps of new and emerging technologies, tools and platforms that simply weren’t around when I first wrote the book – video live streaming, for example – so I’d include these as well.

BT: What is your pet peeve about the PR/content business?

Young: Probably the fact many people who haven’t really cared about content in the past are simply jumping on the bandwagon because they see a buck in it. This has caused a flood of operators to enter the market, in turn further adding to the confusion experienced by clients and brands who face the daily challenge of cutting through the clutter with their story and their message. Unfortunately we are starting to see a lot of mediocre by-the-numbers content being churned out, which only adds to the growing levels of informational noise we all have to put up with.

“If you follow the cookie-cutter approach to content marketing, you’ll probably end up becoming disappointed.”

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

Young: Do it only if you wholeheartedly believe in the power of content to influence outcomes and create impact. If you don’t fully embrace the notion of content marketing and all it has to offer – if you’re only doing it to tick a box, thinking it’s something you have to do because it’s sexy and on-trend – then it will show in your output. The concept of brands becoming their own media channel is very real, but it needs to be approached with passion, purpose and strategic intent. You really do need to adopt the long-term view. Anything else and I think you’ll be disappointed, and none of us want that.

BT: What Australian blogs, podcasts or branded video channels do you think are invaluable resources for those of us in the content game?

Young: I’m a huge podcast fan. The Aussie shows on my list include Adam Fraser’s EchoJunction podcast, Brand Storytelling with Rakhal Ebeli, and Brand Newsroom, hosted by James Lush, Sarah Mitchell and Nic Hayes. I invariably gain insights and ideas from listening to these three shows on a regular basis and regularly recommend them to people working in the PR and marketing space.

BT: Can you nominate Australian brands producing consistently good content?

Young: In B2B, Darren Woolley and the crew from TrinityP3 is a shining example. Darren’s efforts are effective because he’s strategic, consistent and multi-channel. The TrinityP3 blog is the heart of the brand’s content marketing and it’s a ripper; the team is relentless when it comes to adhering to a publishing schedule. What Darren does that’s really smart is take the most popular 50 blog posts per year and package them into a book.

In B2C, at the big end of town, Matt Allison and Bupa have been doing well with their content hub called The Blue Room. I think the hub is effective because Matt and his team understand their audience and have guided its growth strategically from day one. I also love the thinking behind the launch of The Blue Room. The sheer amount of health information available online was confusing for people, especially as much of it was produced overseas and not always relevant for Australians. Bupa saw opportunity amongst all the noise and grabbed the chance to position itself as a trusted source of health-related information for Australians. Smart move.

BT: Is there one specific content execution (not necessarily Australian) that you really admire? What can other brands learn from this?

Young: There are heaps! One that caught my eye recently was – it’s an invoicing and time tracking app for freelancers and independent contractors. They recently released a mini-documentary called Solo NYC. It’s billed as “intimate look at the trials and triumphs of New York’s rising class of creative freelancers”. The film is well shot and edited, and I think really captures the subject matter. If you’re a creative freelancer working in New York, or any other big city for that matter, undoubtedly Solo NYC is going to resonate, and in doing so expose you to the brand. By making it about their audience – their ideal client – are using the film to stand out from the informational clutter. And let’s face it, that’s half the battle these days.

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

Young: Terrific! Well, terrific for those brands that are both passionate and purposeful in their efforts. If you’re going to follow the cookie-cutter approach to content marketing, I think you’ll probably end up becoming disillusioned and disappointed. However, if you take a genuine audience-first approach, if you’re committed to using content to deliver value over and above your products and services, if you are passionate about sharing the collective expertise and knowledge of your organisation, with openness and transparency, then I think you will over time start to reap the rewards that come with being your own media channel.

Links & references

Trevor Young’s interviews with Darren Woolley and Matt Allison

Brand Tales’ story about The Blue Room