content marketing

Jesper Laursen, the Jerry McGuire of content marketing: Brands rarely embrace the full power of content

A good-looking Danish guy, in his forties now, who wanted to change the world of journalism in Denmark. It all started at the newspaper he worked for as an intern, during his years in college. Inspired by Jerry McGuire, that movie from the nineties, he wrote a seven pages long mission statement on how to improve the lives and careers of the interns and send it to the CEO of the newspaper. From seven pages of ideas, only one idea was approved. At that moment he realised that he wasn’t fit for a job in a large and heavily structured organization. And that worked out well for the world of content marketing in Denmark and beyond. Meet Jesper Laursen, the Jerry McGuire of content marketing. 

How did you start your career in content marketing? 

I started at the The Danish School of Media and Journalism. At the time there was only one. It was 1995 and when you studied journalism you went to college for one and a half year. In the following year and a half, you worked as an intern at a media company. After that, one last year back to school. As an intern you were part of the workforce. When I did my internship at a big newspaper, I believed that the way they worked with interns could be a lot better. So, I wrote a 7 pages long mission statement filled with ideas and sent it to the CEO. I was inspired by that film, Jerry McGuire; a sports manager who wrote a mission statement about how he could change the business of sports management. And I, a bit naïve, believed I could do the same with this big newspaper. 

Unfortunately, only one idea, out of seven pages, was approved. That was my very first experience in the big, hierarchical world of media. At that moment I realized that I wasn’t fit for that kind of organization. I like to come up with ideas and see how I can make them happen. So, the moment I returned to school after my internship I started a business with another student. We noticed that there were a lot of production companies in Denmark at that time, around 2001. Production companies that created programmes for TV. But there was no such thing in text, in editorial pieces. That’s why we started our first company: InMente. In those days newspapers bought articles from different freelancers every now and then. But what we offered was the opportunity to buy entire sections at once. The first contract we closed was for 150 articles a month. We hired people to write them for us and suddenly, we had 22 employees and 4 offices throughout the country. 

As a real Jerry McGuire you must have thought: “Show me the money.” 

When we were still students it was brilliant, but the margins are low. Of course, we earned money, but after 3 or 4 years we couldn’t make enough anymore due to our business model. So, we started another company in custom publishing, what would now be known as a content marketing agency. We created client magazines and a bit later also a lot of digital content. When that went well, we thought we could start another business in publishing and so we started to publish our own magazines… The first launched only a few days before the financial crisis hit in 2008. We did not survive. This new business brought the other companies down with it and we went bankrupt. 

My partner and I parted ways and I started a similar media company which is now called MediaMovers. Another company in journalism, I still have that. MediaMovers creates entire sections for newspapers, content, design, and print. Later I added BrandMovers, a content marketing agency and the Native Advertising Institute

In 2012 I went to Content Marketing World in Cleveland, which is now known as the largest content marketing conference in the world. When I was there, I realized: this is it! This is what we are doing, it just didn’t have a name yet. But the problem was, when we went back to Copenhagen, nobody else knew it. Custom publishing was familiar, but content marketing was new. 

That’s why we started with a conference, and we have done that for 8 years. We always managed to gather around 200 people. In addition, we organized one-day masterclasses with great names in content marketing. We also started a print magazine: Content Marketing Magazine, but that became too expensive. I would like to start it again someday.  

We did all those things just to build the industry. Someone once told me that the bigger the share of voice, the bigger the share of market you would have. In our cases that wasn’t the case. BrandMovers existed from 2 to 3 people. We were way too small for such a well-known brand.  

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Could you say that you and your companies created the content marketing mindset in Denmark? 

There were others of course, but I think you could say that yes. When we started the Native Advertising Institute the two worlds of journalism and marketing came together. With the Institute we tried to create something like Joe Pullizi did with the Content Marketing Institute. But that is difficult in this patchwork that we have here in Europe. With our conference in 2019 we had people from over 40 countries, but with a max of 400 people to join us, the numbers are low. Maybe if we were stationed in the US, we could have done it. But in Europe it is difficult. Germans generally only attend conferences in German or in Germany. The French ask for the same thing and they would not join a conference in Germany let alone, when it is in German. This goes for a lot of countries in Europe.  

You have done so many things and I still see a huge drive. Is Denmark big enough for your ambition? 

Ambition is a funny thing. It changes along the ride and depends on where you are in life. I don’t think Denmark is too small for me, because we have a lot of international clients which means we are not limited to Denmark. My ambition goes more towards building something that hasn’t been built before. Like the Institute. It still is a good business.  

What if you had to move to the States to do that, to build something new and make it work, would you go?  

At this point, no. My family and friends here in Denmark are too important to me. And you know what? I just think I don’t want it enough to be rich, to make the sacrifices just to see if I can make a bigger business. Apart from the fact that there is no guarantee that I would make it in the first place. 

You’ve been pioneering in content marketing in Denmark all these years. How would you describe the current state of content marketing in Denmark? 

Content Marketing is becoming increasingly just marketing. That is certainly happening in Denmark. Companies are buying help to succeed with their business. They don’t care if that help is coming from a content marketing agency or from something else.  

I had a client who mapped out the buyer’s journey and found out that they didn’t have anything for the top of their funnel. They don’t care what it’s called, they just need help with their issues. Content can play a key role in the buyer’s journey for example, but what about conversion optimization? Is that content marketing too? Not in its pure form, but it’s needed to succeed at the end of the funnel. We can create great stories and content to get thousands of people to a specific landing page, but if that doesn’t convert, who’s problem is that?  

It’s easy if you just think of content marketing as a discipline to build an audience for your brand. But no business only wants an audience. They want profitable customer actions. But who takes care of that last part? Advertising agencies? Digital agencies? Content marketing agencies? I believe that we, as content marketing agencies facilitate the work of the salespeople: we help them close deals.  

But what if ‘sales’ is not the job to be done?  

We also work for Arla, the big dairy company. We created content for moms. Not to sell more baby food, but to create brand awareness and brand preference. The same goes for a big pharmaceutical company who had a hard time attracting IT-specialists. It’s not the first company an IT-developer thinks about when he’s looking for a new job. So, we did a lot of employer branding for this pharma company. But what we actually did was lead nurturing. Lead the entire process from storytelling to conversion.  

Having said that, if content is the main driver of every action, you can say that content marketing will become marketing in the end, because “All marketing will include content.” 

And that’s something that brands are not yet fully aware of. In the last couple of years, I have seen some great tv-commercials, great content, but unfortunately it was not created as such. It was created purely as a commercial, as an ad. For example, a Volkswagen case from the UK. They really tried to understand their audiences. They had done research and came to a profound insight that was the basis of their campaign for small business owners. The ad concluded with ‘Who is looking after the people that are looking after the company?’ And that was it. No follow up, nothing.  

Another example in that regard is Velux. Based on a European questionnaire which concluded with the fact that the indoor climate we let our children grow up in sucks. Velux created a commercial about ‘the indoor generation’. Great fact as a basis for content, also very suitable for a brand like Velux. But when you look at the landing page… that sucks too. They could have gotten so much more out of this! 

And one more: a Danish example from a broadband company. A great commercial about the fact that our kids are very vulnerable online. A team of grandma’s are getting lessons in how to hack the devices of their grandchildren. And then they do. They hack turn on the webcams of their grandchildren and chat from their accounts. Great video, great message, but then… nothing.  

So, what’s next for content marketing, or all marketing then? 

From all commercials, 90% is just bad, but even with the other 10% you rarely see brands embracing the full power of content. And this frustrates me. Especially when you hear what kind of budgets are involved. I honestly believe that content marketing agencies can do a much better job on the deliverables if they were given that kind of budget.  

It also worries me that advertising agencies are buying content marketing agencies, but it’s a different DNA. Besides, they don’t realize yet that the money for content creation on a big scale is low. At least for the budgets the agencies and their creatives are used to work with. I can only hope that the brands will conclude themselves about what is needed for great content that does deliver on all accounts.  

Come meet Jesper Laursen and other thought leaders at WeContent Festival 2022, the first and only outdoor content marketing festival in Europe, taking place at Știrbey Domain, Buftea, May 26-27.  

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