SYDNEY: Marketers must prioritise strategy to ensure their content marketing is successful, the head of Fairfax Media's content marketing arm has said.

According to Simon Smith, the Managing Director of Made, Fairfax Media's growing content marketing division, content without strategy is a waste of time.

"Strategy has got to come first – if you don't have the right strategy, your content will just be another piece of content on the internet that's never seen," he said, in an exclusive interview with Warc. (For more on Fairfax Media's approach, read the Warc report: Fairfax Media on brand-building with content marketing in Australia.)

The emerging discipline continues to suffer from fuzzy metrics and concerns about ROI, and a recent Content Marketing Institute survey of Australian marketers found 81% of organisations are investing in content marketing, but only 46% have a clear and documented strategy behind it.

Meanwhile, Fairfax Media has faced pressure this year with journalist layoffs and wrote down its publishing assets to the tune of A$1bn citing "market realities" of declining advertising revenues, particularly in print.

But for the publisher, which owns several of Australia's leading newspapers, the distinction between its journalism and content marketing initiatives has become critical.

So much so that the company ring-fences its newsrooms from content initiatives, although it often calls on its network of wider contributors.

"As a big, quality publisher – one that has the tagline 'Independent Always' – we're always about full transparency and disclosure to the audience," said Smith.

"[If] we lose that trust, we lose the audience. If we lost the audience then we're all screwed. So we make sure we have, right at the beginning of the article, that it's branded or sponsored content, or from a commercial partner."

Smith added that Made's "secret sauce" is produced by combining the art of storytelling with science and data.

"When that comes together, it's really powerful. It's no longer a gut instinct or editorial instinct about the type of content you write. We use the data to inform the strategy and then we use the data to help measure how effective it is,” he explained.

"If people aren't consuming it – if we're getting drop off rates, or certain things aren't working – then we can adapt very quickly and do more of what is working and less of what isn't."

Data sourced from Warc, Financial Times