Hold the presses! Corporate content catches fire – especially in print

Social media is raging like wildfire across the corporate landscape.

Finally, companies can produce and distribute their own content far and wide without having to persuade traditional media outlets their products, services and brands are worthy of coverage. Not that all of this mostly self-serving content is good, but it is voluminous, if often ham-handed.

Given the new social media tools at their disposal, corporate marketers are taking full advantage. The 11th Annual Industry Characteristics Study conducted by ContentWise and sponsored by the Custom Content Council, found that companies are spending 29 percent of their overall marketing, advertising and communications budgets to produce and distribute their own content.

But the $47 billion original-content craze isn’t just a social media jubilee. A big slice of the financial pie is being committed to print publications, no doubt surprising media watchdogs who have been prophesying for years that print is headed to the bone yard.

ContentWise is published by McMurry, a Phoenix-based marketing firm specializing in custom content. Through its ContentWise publication, McMurry researches and reports on the best practices among companies that produce and deliver their own content. Its recently released study contains several eye-opening findings, chief among them, the continued durability of print publications.

The research found that companies and other organizations are creating a staggering amount of original content, and they’re distributing a great deal of it via print magazines with high production values.

Once a thing of the past, glossy, four-color magazines are now apparently the thing to do. Although the number of publication titles put out by the average company has dropped from 2.3 in 2007 to 1.7 in 2010, and the frequency of the average title has dropped from nine issues per year to six, the volume of content has increased.  That’s because marketers have invested in less-frequent, higher-impact pubs. So the average per-issue page count is up from 22 pages in 2007 to 29 in 2010, and way up from 14 in the first year of the Industry Characteristics survey, in 1999.

The report says this has come to pass because marketers are coming to the conclusion that the frequent, low-cost newsletters that were all the rage a decade ago didn’t deliver as intended. Now 88 percent of companies are using four-color production in printed custom publications, an all-time high. And 56 percent of respondents’ custom publications are magazines, while only 37 percent are newsletters.

Especially astounding is the dramatic rise in corporate magazine distribution. Circulation has eclipsed an average of 52,000 per issue, up from 30,000 in 2007 and dwarfing the 19,600 circulation average of 1999.

While employee communication is increasingly achieved by electronic communications, print publications are primarily used for marketing pieces designed to raise revenue. Seventy-nine percent of print publications are produced for external audiences, compared to 21 percent for employees.

In total, marketers spend $24 billion on print versus $16.1 billion on all other custom media.

So much for print being dead.

Naturally, companies are shoving content through a plethora of other channels. The reports says, “In the following order of intensity, these custom content vehicles are thriving: website updates, email newsletters, branded video, RSS feeds, white papers, virtual events, podcasts and other audio, mobile content and ezines.”

“White hot” is how the report characterized the use of video in custom content. The use of video will rise markedly this year, according to the report, with almost two-thirds of marketers saying they’ll do more video this year than last year.

“Brands everywhere are turning into media,” says Chris McMurry, CEO of his namesake firm. “Consumers trust branded media more than classic media, and brands will be the leading source of information, news and education on the planet, if they are not already.”

An enormous claim to be sure, and McMurry isn’t exactly a disinterested bystander. He is obviously profiting from this trend, and probably quite lavishly considering his firm’s stature and the major hiring campaign it currently has underway.

Then again, Mr. McMurry didn’t make that audacious comment in the report without a bit of ammunition. He points out that the most popular website for recipes in the U.S. is not Food Channel or any other traditional media outlet. It’s Kraft.com.