Let me start with an apology: In this blog I will focus on a subject that we try to avoid in these pages. That subject is namely us, New Narrative (N/N).
In March we’re celebrating our 10-year anniversary. That’s a milestone that we think deserves a bit of reflection – not only on where we’ve been, but where we’re heading.
But before I proceed, let me offer a big thank you to our readers and clients. You make this possible. I wouldn’t have the privilege of writing this blog without your trust in us.
On the other side of that gratitude is my endless thanks to the entire N/N team, past and present. Without their talents, sacrifices, and willingness to ride out the inevitable turbulence (*please refer to the photo above), we would have disappeared a long time ago.
A penny for your thoughts
So, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I look back on the first decade of N/N’s existence?
I’d say it’s the transition we made, sometime around 2016, from copywriters to consultants.
To be frank, in my mind we were never just copywriters. We were – and are – professional financial journalists producing agenda-setting work (or ‘content’, as per the parlance of the times) for global banks, technology companies, asset managers, professional services firms, and other corporations. Copywriting is a word we like to avoid because it seems to discount all the planning and thinking and research that goes into producing written work of a high standard.
Even so, our first engagements in those early years were mostly about producing copy. A client would need to write a white paper on say, China’s Belt & Road Initiative, but they lacked the time to write it. Or they lacked internal staff who considered themselves ‘writers.’ Or a combination of both. We’d put our hand up and, after a series of meetings and interviews, produce the paper for a reasonable fee.
But then something magical happened. A few of our clients started to ask us what we thought about their editorial programmes – and whether their editorial output fit in with their overall marketing strategy. That is the moment we became consultants.
Nowadays we spend a great deal of our time laying the strategic foundations for quality editorial output. These engagements include everything from messaging frameworks, audience profiling, and SEO keyword mapping, to lead-nurturing campaigns, value propositions, and content audits.
After all, if you’re planning to launch a campaign on, say, Asia’s crypto sector, it makes sense to first understand your target audience, craft a unique tone of voice, reach internal consensus about what you plan to say and why you plan to say it – and determine what ROI you hope to achieve.
A future foretold
What about the next ten years?
First, our transition from copywriters to consultants didn’t occur in a vacuum. In fact, it came about at a time when content marketing and thought leadership moved out of our clients’ ‘nice-to-have’ budget bucket and became an integral part of their overall corporate marketing strategies.
Of course, corporate content marketing has been around for a long time. Lego launched ‘Brick Kicks’ magazine in an attempt to sell more toys back way back in 1987. But the social media explosion of recent decades birthed a multiplicity of new distribution channels – empowering companies to bypass traditional media and speak directly to customers and stakeholders like never before. It’s become a bit of cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true: every company is now a publisher.
In the years before the pandemic, not a month passed by without some large-scale content marketing summit, in Singapore or Sydney or Shanghai, where corporate leaders concluded that CMOs need to start thinking like CEOs: How does this campaign help sales? What is our desired ROI?
That means it’s no longer enough to publish ‘engaging’ campaigns. CMOs now need to define, in precise commercial terms, the desired ROI of a particular campaign, and understand how the campaign fits in with the company’s overarching ethos and identity – all the while trying to close the gap between how the company perceives itself and how it is perceived externally.
That’s broadly why at N/N we think the role that editorial output plays in executive decision making will continue to grow in the coming decade – especially now that the world has entered an unstable period.
Whether companies are trying to recover from the pandemic, mitigate the impact of rising rates and inflation, navigate US-China tensions, or calculate the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now is not the time to crawl into shells. Every campaign counts. In fact, to keep quiet amidst such turbulence is to risk irrelevance.
At the wishing well
If I can whisper two hopes into your ears before signing off, they would be the following:
1) Remember, it’s ultimately about the editorial output – It’s easy amidst all of the planning and strategising, whether that’s crafting messaging frameworks or drafting value propositions, to forget about the actual editorial work: the blogs, infographics, podcasts, and videos that bring such plans to life. But forgetting about the editorial work – or discounting its importance – is akin to a restaurant owner putting all his or her time into décor and marketing, while downplaying the importance of the menu and food quality. We’ve all been to such establishments, and we tend not to return. Elevating form over substance won’t get you very far.
2) Accept that no single voice can be all things to all readers – We understand it’s a fact of life that you need to factor in a complex web of regulatory and commercial constraints before you publish. However, sometimes these considerations can sink an editorial campaign at the starting gate – either due to excessive self-censorship, or an attempt to appeal to all readers. If I may stick with the restaurant analogy, this excess caution will result in nothing but bland output that inspires few readers. It’s always better to cultivate a distinct flavour that serves your core audience with confidence and clarity.
Well, that's it for now: It’s time to pass the baton to my esteemed colleagues, who will follow-up with their own reflections in the coming weeks.
Thank you from all of us at N/N for the past ten years – and here’s hoping we’ll celebrate again come 2033.
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