Erin Madsen is no stranger to the content business. Formerly in daily newspapers and lifestyle magazines, she moved client-side to work at Target, helping launch its content site, A Bullseye View. Now at MSP-C she is VP of Content, with clients such as Delta, 3M, UnitedHealthcare, IBM, and University of Phoenix under her guidance. Here as The Content Council’s Rising Star, Madsen talks to Content Magazine about her success with a major CPG corporation, the importance of authentic content, and why former journalists make great marketers.
As lead content director at MSP-C, what does the content director role involve?
Content directors at MSP-C are responsible for the creative direction, development and strategy of all of the content work that we do for our clients. We create and produce a range of custom print publications and digital services tailored for each client’s specific needs. Content directors are also part of the new business process, including discovery sessions with prospective clients to better understand their business challenges so we can help solve those through creative content approaches.
You’ve had amazing success with a well-known food media platform. Can you tell us how you managed to double its audience in five years?
We were tasked with reviving an iconic baking brand that a lot of people considered to be their Grandma’s brand, and one that they didn’t see as modern and relevant. My team overhauled the voice and tone, the look and feel, the types of recipes we were producing, and most importantly the distribution model—from how we were sharing the content, and how it was all connected, to measurement and reporting. We had wonderfully rich data to look at, which meant we were able to constantly update and tweak what we were doing, since we could see in real time what was resonating and what wasn’t.
How did you differentiate (and elevate) the content from other food media sites?
When we first started working with this corporation six years ago, we were well aware of the power and influence of many of their brands. There was so much rich heritage and legacy there, which we wanted to reclaim and celebrate but also modernize. We spent years working in the test kitchens with food developers who really tested food in ways that certainly out rival food-bloggers. We wanted to emphasize quality assurance with these brands. Every recipe that comes out of the test kitchens is tested no fewer than five times, that’s pretty considerable, so there’s a level of trust there that you can’t find in the mass recipe development space.
How easy is it to recognize when you’re making mistakes, or when your content bombs?
There is so much work done up front with research and strategy that I can’t remember a time that we were so far off that we totally bombed. It’s more about fine-tuning what we do to realign with what the audience wants.
What role does video play in your client work?
We’ve been doing visual storytelling for many clients for many years, and video continues to be an important format for us—one more and more clients are asking for. Last year MSP-C created more than 300 videos for our clients—across industries—and considering we were doing a fraction of that number just two years ago, we’re incredibly proud of that scale.
How do you use data and audience feedback to drive content decisions?
Listening to our audiences in something we pride ourselves on—whether that’s analysing content performance, moderating social channels or conducting email surveys. Using data to inform content decisions is the best way to give people what we know they want, and help us work smarter as a team; it doesn’t mean we’re not going to try new and unproven ideas, it just means we’re being attentive and responsive.
How important is it for brands to create authentic content?
It’s everything. If you’re not creating authentic content, and writing like a human to another human, people will ignore it. You don’t have to be just in the content space to understand when something is an empty shell of words. There is so much content out there, people are just inundated, so you’ve got to sock them in the guts and connect with them and make them feel something.
What are the key ingredients for authentic content?
It all comes down to a shared humanity between your brand and your audience. If you know what your brand stands for and have established guiding principles that set you apart in your industry, those should be your guiding light for content strategy and development. If you don’t, you have some work to do!
What do former journalists bring to the table that straight marketers can’t?
They bring a lot—everything from good news judgement and storytelling instincts to a natural ability to engage with people, build genuine relationships and navigate complex organizations. In this line of work, you have to be an exceptional listener who’s also proactive and always anticipating what’s next. Content marketing also requires a healthy amount of resourcefulness and creativity. And fundamentally, journalists know the point of the story and how to make it relevant, useful, and engaging for their readers.