From hate to contempt: Bob Hoffman’s campaign against content and why he’s wrong (sort of)

The task: write a piece about the role of content in PR, its benefits for clients in achieving exposure, and how it helps tap into previously untappable consumers.

But first, the editors of this fine publication suggested I read a couple of columns by Bob Hoffman to focus the mind (and the piece).

Mr Hoffman is no doubt an expert when it comes to all things marketing, and is world-renowned as a best-selling author, speaker, and advisor. He makes his views known on his site ‘The Ad Contrarian’, named one of the world’s most influential marketing and advertising blogs by Business Insider – and they know what’s what.

But I must disagree with a few points made by Bob (can I call him Bob?). Back in late 2014, he explained why he hates content and set the tone for a piece that appeared about a year later titled ‘Let’s Call Content Shit‘.

Hate is a strong word, but it has a reduced, and a certain detached, quality when describing something inanimate or conceptual such as content. In this context, hate loses its inherent anger and become a harmless judgement.

In many ways, I agree with Bob; in the piece, he writes of his ‘hate’ of worthless pictures of feet, cats’ arses, and handkerchiefs.

He’s absolutely correct (excuse the tautology) in this respect, and I’m a fan of a good hanky.

But where he is wrong is to compare that worthless picture of a cat’s arse with a Shakespearian sonnet. Yes, in the broadest possible terms they are both “content”, but anyone with half a brain can tell what is worthy of the term – and what is just plainly worthless.

Companies have embraced content, specifically the search for quality content, and they shouldn’t be discouraged from that by comparisons of what they do and a happy snappy of a foot.

For them it’s about making sure what they are commissioning is connected to their product, and their company story. This is when the experts take the stage. The way to get a great story is to have great storytellers working with clients.

Journalists, writers, those people who have spent their careers using words, ideas and pictures to keep an audience interested and engaged are worth their weight in gold. It’s a rare skill to be able to create a story that appeals to a broad spectrum of people and remain relevant.

I believe the key is to team PR’s and journalists, giving you not only expertise in creating conversations but an all-around, 360 degree, view of a brand.

Not only can we then design a content strategy for you, we can implement it, deliver it to you, and get it out to market.

Bob asks if there has even been an asset with a lower value – he’d like to know what it is. We’ll Bob. The lowest value is in the eyes of the consumer who refuses to recognise value, and steadfastly rejects the needs of both those who commission content and those who the content is made to appeal to.

So, Bob. Why did you then move from hating content to calling it shit? You explain in your second piece that “everything meaningful has a specific designation, if you write something meaningful, it’s called a book, or a play, or a poem. But if it doesn’t have a specific designation…it’s just a cluster of words you’ve gathered to engage an unsuspecting audience with your brand or persona…and is almost certainly a piece of shit. But when it is uploaded to the web it automatically gets promoted to content”.

Spot on, Bob! I agree that there is a lot of shit out there, from the angst-fuelled ramblings of the YouTube teenager to the blood-soaked failures of the wannabe extreme athlete, it’s all shit. Sometimes entertaining, but mostly shit.

But, there is a clear delineation between what’s described above and what I believe is good content. The key word being good.

As I said earlier, anyone with half a brain can tell the difference between a foot and a Rodin sculpture (unless it’s The Thinker’s foot, I suppose).

Good content tells a story, brings the consumer into the brand, makes them believe in an experience, makes them want to get involved, makes them think.

Bob makes the comparison between a video recording becoming a movie, and a recording of a client’s manifesto on how to disrupt the frozen chicken industry. One is a movie, the other is shit. But I wonder what the person who commissioned the work on frozen chicken thinks.

For that company, it might be just what they’re after, and their group of consumers and influencers have lapped it up. Is it still shit? I would argue, no. If those who commissioned the work are happy, and it meets their brief, then it’s content, and not shit.

This is the key to producing good content. Content producers need to understand what the company is trying to achieve, and the company needs to understand what a quality piece of content can achieve for them.

If both sides of the content production aisle are singing from the same song sheet, then content is produced. If they’re not, it’s just more shit, and can be consigned to the depths with all the snaps of feet, dogs, cat arses, and your summer holiday.

  • Konrad Kasiske is the content director at Pead PR 

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