Subject matters

Subject matters





Subject matters


Tony Hallett
Managing director

Tony set up Collective Content in 2011 so brands can more easily become publishers and tell stories. This built on 15 years in media, from reporter to publishing director at Silicon Media Group, CNET Networks and CBS Interactive.

How much do your agencies know about your line of business and your sector? Does it matter if they don’t know much?

As an agency that specialises in high-tech, especially B2B tech (and at risk of offending some of our peers), we’re always amazed at the generalists. In content marketing, we need to write authoritatively, and for that we have to know about the appropriate subject matter for any piece of content or client, just as those clients have subject matter experts (‘SMEs’, for short) who will brief us, alongside their day jobs.

What is this ‘content’?

The definition of the word ‘content’ has never been clear or satisfactory. Journalists will speak about their stories (and I’m speaking as a former journo). Broadcasters and film-makers will have their programming and films. The definitions go on. Few are OK with the term ‘content’. I was in a room with a journalist just recently who called it ‘the C word’ – and that’s not even unusual or harsh. And yet we use the word – it’s even in our company name – because it’s the best catch-all term.

To some, content is what Instagram influencers create. One company once told us that content is “What goes in the gaps after the designers redo our website”. (This sounds dangerously close to the executive at a national TV broadcaster who once told me their channel is “Ads with time filled in between”. Quite.)

Whatever the format, content – for want of a better word – is fundamental to what we all do. Take away the latest shiny medium, and the best content of all time would often still be effective on a stone tablet – or in a plain ASCII document, tech folks.

Ask about subject matter expertise

This all means that the idea of content – content from an informed place, knowing the subject matter – as an afterthought is a big problem.

Some clients we know understand that deep knowledge in a niche area sometimes requires a freelancer working with their agency. But if that’s the approach, consider two things.

Firstly, is your agency being open about who the freelancer is? Were they introduced properly? A good agency will explain their credentials and why they’re on that job. Such transparency is one of our core values and has been since we started out with a team that was mainly freelancers, unlike these days.

Secondly, if your agency always has to use freelancers on your account, can it claim to be expert in what your company does? There are big agencies out there with clients across every sector. But smaller agencies usually do better by specialising. That’s for commercial and other reasons too. But coming back to content marketing, knowing a client’s world is important.

We worked for a prominent, high-growth B2C brand during the pandemic. We wrote for its CEO – insightful, smart thought leadership articles for LinkedIn – mainly to attract top developer talent that would otherwise be courted by big tech and internet companies, the usual suspects. This company’s direct-to-consumer market was different from the B2B markets we usually work in. But this client knew we were a go-to agency for the kind of pieces that talk about exciting tech roles in a fast-growing team, dealing with Big Data and solving problems that improve people’s lives.

Looking back, when this comes up in conversation, some existing clients and prospects are surprised we worked for this rising star, ostensibly a retailer. But this project succeeded because the company in question knew it needed subject matter expertise, empathy with its CTO’s large team and technological cutting edge know-how – all things that we provide.

All about SME

Marketing with content is now a no-brainer for most companies – and has been for a while in the B2B tech sector. But whatever you call content, seek out content creators who know your world, including the type of people in your company, your industry and those who buy from you. Whether they’re in-house in marketing, at an agency or lone freelancers – because all these approaches are valid – look for subject matter expertise. Sure, it can be learned. But don’t let anyone tell you it’s not important.

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