After receiving a rather unorthodox request from a competitor, our founder and MD Bobbi Mahlab shares her thoughts on the content marketing quandary.
One of the most valuable aspects of the digital age is the ability to access, read, share and disseminate content for free. But producing high-quality content isn’t free – in fact, it can be a very costly exercise.
Traditional publishers struggle with this challenge and try to put pay walls up so readers have to pay to access the content. Content marketers, on the other hand, happily and enthusiastically publish content for free so that it can be accessed by as many people as possible. The pay-off comes from the content positioning the marketer’s brand as a trusted thought leader. The content nurtures prospective customers, builds trust and, ultimately, helps to increase sales.
However, in this new land of free content for all, there seems to be an increasingly common misunderstanding that needs addressing.
Just because you publish content for free doesn’t mean that it’s freely available for anyone else to use as they wish.
Recently, I received an astonishing request from a start-up content marketing competitor to use, without any form of attribution, proprietary research our company had developed. He was pitching to a new client and wanted to use our research – but he didn’t want his prospect to see our name.
As one of the earliest players in content marketing in Australia I take an active interest in helping the sector to grow. Perhaps this is why the man in question thought it appropriate to ask whether I would be ‘comfortable’ if he used our research without mentioning its origin. He acknowledged, he said, that his request was ‘unorthodox’.
I pondered his use of the word ‘unorthodox’. His request was indeed unorthodox but, more importantly, it was gobsmacking coming from a content marketer – one with a decade’s experience in publishing, at that. Companies, including ours, invest significant time and money in content marketing strategies to establish thought leadership. Yes, we want our content shared, but we want it to add value to ourselves as well as others.
When I put to the man in question that his request was more than unorthodox, it was unethical, he responded with disbelief – he wasn’t going to attribute it to himself, he said. He was just going to use it.
Evidently he thought that if he asked for our permission to use our research, without acknowledging Mahlab Media as its source, we would have been happy. While I suppose on one hand we should be grateful he at least asked before using it, he was clearly misguided in thinking that we would say yes.
There’s a valuable lesson here for content marketers and clients alike. Content marketing as a discipline is growing fast and with that, it sadly seems, comes poor behaviour.
Clients should rightly expect that when they invest in and publish research or content of any form, they as the source will be acknowledged if and when it is reproduced.
They should rightly expect that the content agencies they commission understand both the ethical and legal boundaries. Plagiarism, for example, is a potentially felonious violation of intellectual property and/or copyright law. They should expect that when they are paying for original content creation it is indeed original, and they should rightly assume that when they are provided with curated content, it has been appropriately credited.
It’s not rocket science. Ensuring that content aligns with legal and ethical frameworks is a basic function that any reputable content agency should be doing.
At a time when content marketing is flourishing, it is vital that agencies get the basics right.