After 35 years with Canadian Press, the past 15 as its editor-in-chief, Scott White shocked the daily newspaper industry last month when he announced he was resigning to take on the new role of vice-president, content strategy and business development with Postmedia Network.
Described by CP president Malcolm Kirk as a “newsman through and through,” White is now responsible for developing content strategies for native advertising and branded content across Postmedia’s platforms. He recently spoke with Marketing about his new role.
On the transition from editorial to ‘content’
I wanted to get more on the business side of journalism because, like a lot of journalists, I’m worried about the future of the industry. There definitely has to be some new thinking around the business model. I went and did my MBA at Rotman and finished that up last fall. I’m in a class of 63 people, and everybody’s staring at me like, “What’s a journalist doing taking an MBA?” and I jokingly said, “I’m trying to save democracy.” The truth of the matter is that what always drove me as a journalist still drives me in this job: news organizations need to exist so they can present the public with information that’s honest and objective, so the public can make up its own mind about important issues. News organizations need to find new forms of revenue so they can continue to do their traditional work.
On the key to making content marketing work
The key to this whole issue of native advertising is transparency – for the audience, for the publications and the advertisers. Why would an advertiser want to trick someone? You’ve got a good story to tell, let’s make sure it’s labeled, everybody knows, and people get to make up their own mind. That’s where we’re starting from.
On free donuts… and the distinction between content and content marketing
One of the issues that more and more newsrooms struggle with, and I can speak with total authority on this, is they don’t want to write a story [that is] doing nothing more than promoting. When Krispy Kreme came into Canada, they sent donuts to every radio station, TV station and newspaper in the Canadian Press news service. At Canadian Press we had a long discussion: “Should we eat the donuts? Would our ethics be compromised?” I think in the end we ate the donuts and did a news story about the fact they were coming into Canada, but that Tim Hortons would probably crush them, which is kind of what happened.
At all strong news organizations, the first question you’re having is “Why am I doing this story. Who benefits?” If the public doesn’t benefit from a news story, you shouldn’t be doing it. Brands are so smart at getting earned media or free media by doing smart promotions. There are some news organizations that make a news story about the fact that “Roll Up the Rim” is back – you can’t beat that. I think brands have some very interesting stories to tell. Either they want to promote subject matter that is of interest to them, or they want to tell something about their own brand in a long-form story. I think there are a lot of interesting stories to tell, so long as they’re labeled transparently. The public is going to decide if it’s interested in it or not.
On the stigma of content marketing among editorial… and how to create valid content marketing
I’m still getting up to speed on the issue of native advertising, but I did a fair amount of research on it before getting into the job. I think the negative vibe it has comes from the fact that where it’s been done in other places in the early days, people didn’t think all this stuff through. We’re spending a lot of time thinking it through, working on some guidelines – I call it transparency labels – so that everybody knows what it is and there’s no confusion.
On why Postmedia is the right fit
I decided to come to Postmedia after 35 years at Canadian Press because I’m excited by the overall strategy at this company. Now that I’m actually inside the door, I’m more excited. I understand that all media companies are challenged. You can do one of two things: stick your head in the sand and say “Woe is me,” or put a plan together and get on with it. There’s been tremendous work done here by [president and CEO] Paul Godfrey, [COO] Wayne Parrish and [executive vice-president, chief financial officer] Doug Lamb and our chief marketing officer and chief transformation officer, and this is one part of the strategy going forward. I’m quite anxious to get in and provide any help I can. At Canadian Press I would go out and meet with our clients and talk to them, so I had a glimpse into everybody’s strategy. I can absolutely say, and people may take this with a grain of salt because I work here, that the ideas being implemented here are more exciting and forward thinking than any other traditional media company in this country.