Previously, on British Outfitters...
Lisa Hughes, a New York-based content marketer for UK apparel company British Outfitters, was on the phone with Tim, the company's PR head.
For months Lisa had been working on a new marketing campaign aimed at resurrecting British Outfitters' tainted image, caused by a messy image crisis created by her old boss, Don. The company is less than a week away from a new marketing campaign launch that revolves around an Instagram video contest that would connect user-generated content with the company's new TV ads.
Lisa couldn't believe the email Tim sent to her before he made the call.
Did you miss the previous installments and want to catch up now? See "Conquering Content Marketing in 5 Steps: It All Starts With a Plan", "Conquering Content Marketing, Step 2: The Content (and Plot) Develops" and "Conquering Content Marketing, Step 3: Facing the Fans" before continuing.
Lisa sat there in complete shock, staring with disbelief at her computer screen and Tim's forwarded email. It was a disturbing announcement from a major competitor, American Denim (AD).
Tim's voice on the line broke the silence. "Lisa, you OK?"
"Yeah, yeah; I just can't believe they stole our idea. Who does that?"
Days away from launching the new campaign, AD's email landed in Tim's alias inbox he used to sign up for competitor newsletters. The email announced AD's own Instagram contest with TV tie-ins!
"That's not all," Tim said. "You'll never guess who is behind this."
"What do you mean?" Lisa asked. "It's American Denim."
"No, no. 'WHO' at American Denim is behind this?'" Tim pushed.
Tim moved the phone a few inches from his ear before replying, "Don Makerfield."
"What? That's impossible!" Lisa shrieked. "Don is in the hospital."
"Not exactly," said Tim. "Don was in the hospital. He was discharged about a month ago and signed with AD a few days later. I thought you knew this."
"I did not know this! No one told me. Arrgh. OK. So Don takes my campaign, copies it, then he launches right before we do. How did he even find out?"
Tim let her vent a bit before asking, "So, what are you going to do?"
Lisa paused for a moment. Then with resolve she proclaimed, "I'm going to flush that turd."
Tuesday morning Lisa called an emergency team meeting. She briefed them on her call with Tim and Don's underhanded plan to sink their campaign with a knockoff of his own.
Kelly, the youngest and newest member of their marketing team asked with spunk, "So what's the plan, boss lady?"
Lisa walked up to the white board and in big, capital letters she wrote "DISTRIBUTION."
"Distribution is the key to beating Don. He may have announced his campaign first, but that doesn't matter. What matters is who owns the distribution network."
Kelly raised her hand, as if the conference room had magically turned into a classroom. "Yes, Kelly?" said Lisa, assuming the role of a teacher.
"What do you mean by 'distribution network'?"
Lisa began to explain, "Before the Internet, people got their news primarily through newspapers, TV, and radio, the three big traditional distribution channels. A major newspaper or broadcast station might send out a reporter to get the scoop on a hot story. Once that media outlet broke the story, all the others would rebroadcast it to their readers and listeners.
"Today most people get their news from blogs, news sites, and social networks. When one blog breaks a story or enough people share it, others pick it up and republish it for their readers. With enough buzz, bigger blogs and regional news sites will feature it. It moves up the food chain until the national news networks catch wind. From there, the story can leap to TV and radio, the traditional distribution networks.
"We need to make this campaign a hot news story and distribute it up that food chain. That is how you get massive exposure without paying a dime."
30-Second Commercial Break
Let's take a step out of our story for a moment to consider how the concept of distribution plays into content marketing.
Most companies are at the stage in their digital marketing lives where they are focusing very hard on content creation. Why? Because the search engines and social networks have convinced them that they must produce high quality content, or else it won't get much exposure on their platforms, but it's not that simple.
A high-quality article on a new blog won't be seen by anyone, yet a low quality article published on Mashable will get hundreds of shares and thousands of views. The difference is the distribution network.
For your content to get featured on major distribution channels such as search engines, social networks, or news sites, it must be fed into their system through trusted conduits. For search engines those conduits are trusted websites. For social networks those conduits are power users. For news sites those conduits are bloggers and editors.
Find the people behind those trusted conduits, and try to provide them with some useful news, research, or information. Connect with them directly, and try to build a professional relationship. Once they know your name, continue to feed them great info, but now publish additional content to your website and point them there as an extra resource for them.
Now you are successfully connected to the main distribution system through these trusted intermediaries. As they distribute your content through their networks they'll leave traces back to you, the source, in the form of links, likes, and shares.
Those activities draw attention to you and your profile/site, which raises your credibility with the major distribution channels, which allows you to become the trusted conduit yourself. Once that happens your content will get direct exposure in the form of higher organic rankings, trending stories and featured posts.
Now back to our story...
Kelly and the team were getting excited at the thought of their campaign getting so much attention, but a question lingered. "How do we make this campaign a hot news story?"
Lisa knew they would eventually arrive at that question, but she didn't yet have a good answer.
"Let's think through this," she said. "A marketing campaign isn't necessarily newsworthy on its own. It needs some sort of drama, like those controversial ads Don put out when he was here. Those riled people up and got all sorts of media attention." Lisa paused to think. "As much as I hate Don for stealing our campaign idea, he would be useful in a time like this. He just naturally attracts attention."
Then it hit her.
"Don! He's the story!" she blurted out to the group. "Isn't it weird that two competing companies launch the exact same campaign, on the exact same day?"
Kelly piped up, "But ours doesn't launch until Monday, and AD's campaign launches today."
"Well then," Lisa replied, "it looks like we're launching today as well. And when word gets out that identical campaigns went live at the same time, it's going to naturally raise some eyebrows. People are going to wonder if one of them is a copy, and indeed, one of them is.
"Don thought he would sabotage our campaign by copying us, but we're going to expose the fact that he's knocking us off as news bait for our own media coverage!"
With a quick transition from teacher to commander she began to delegate tasks to the team.
"Kelly, work with the development and creative teams to change the campaign dates on the website and promotional emails. Make the new contest section of the site go live, and have them push out the email announcement about the campaign today.
"Seth, head down to IT and find Frank. Tell him that some confidential information was leaked, and see if Don's old British Outfitters email address is still active.
"I'll reach out to those mom bloggers I met when all this started. I think they're going to be the key to get this campaign off the ground. Everyone meet back at here at 3 p.m. with an update."
At 2:45 Frank walked into Lisa's office. She was multi-tasking like a mad woman, but she managed to politely offer him a seat.
"What did you guys find?" she asked. "Was Don's old email address still active?"
"Not exactly," Frank said coyly. "Don's email was shut off when he left, but we started digging into the email access logs, and it looks like your company email has been accessed by some strange IP addresses."
Lisa was concerned and confused. "What does that mean?"
"Well," said Fred, "it appears that you've been hacked."
To Be Continued...
Was it Don Makerfield who masterminded the email hack? Will Lisa and her team be able launch the new cross-platform campaign on time? Find out which campaign – and company – comes out on top in our final installment.