Dharmesh Shah, Founder of Hubspot in October 2020 tweeted that "next-gen software companies will have a media company embedded inside". Hubspot went on to buy a media company called The Hustle in early 2021 for a reported $27m. The acquisition enabled Hubspot to access The Hustle's community of entrepreneurs and over time to build awareness and desire for Hubspot's software.
I have seen the extraordinary advantages that a well-executed content strategy can bring to a business first-hand. At the turn of the century, we built our "Streaming Media" events from a small conference in San Francisco into a diversified media company that published content about the nascent online audio and video industry. We didn't need to charge for our publications or sell advertising because we sold tickets to our events off the back of our content. However, the benefits were far greater than just conference tickets, we also built a brand and established a community that was near impossible for competitors to match. This community gathered twice a year at what became a series of very successful exhibitions. The brand benefits were sufficiently strong that we could attract speakers like Bill Gates & Mark Cuban.
The point here is that running a media company without the benefit of being able to sell a related high-value product or service has become a very hard way to make a dollar; publishing is nowhere near as profitable as it once was. But the benefits of building an online community, creating events for that community, and then delivering a product or service to that community remain extraordinary. You can just charge much more for good software or, say, professional services than you can for banner ads.
Professional advice is among the most high-value and specialized services available so the concept of building a media company to deliver high-value content to your core audience and consolidating your brand at the same time is very good business. You need only look at the brands of McKinsey or Gartner for a blueprint of what success can look like.
None of this is new; the Michelin tire company has been publishing its guide for over a century. However, delivering helpful, relevant content to your target audience is much easier today than it has ever been. The graph below is the interest in the term "Content Marketing" over time, according to Google Trends (the arrow is when we started Passle).
Perhaps the best news though is that with publishing becoming so much easier, one of the most difficult parts of creating great media content today is accessing true experts. And brilliant experts are the core asset of a professional services firm.
The rewards that can be accrued from a concerted, well-planned content marketing strategy are immense but it requires the firm to change its view of where content sits as a priority in the business. To deliver at a strategic level, content needs to be embraced at a strategic level. It should not be an as-well approach to building a firm's brand, it should be core business with a clear focus and measurable outcomes.
Finally, it is often said that content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. This is somewhat true but we managed to get Bill Gates to speak at our show just 18 months after we launched our first event, which I think is pretty rapid progress.