There's a scandal this month in the content marketing world.
That's an unusual occurrence. In its most common forms, content marketing is a bit innocuous. But sometimes content marketing goes wrong. Badly.
And when content marketing does go wrong, it's almost always because a company has decided its content should be more like journalism, but not actually be journalism.
The embarrassing situation that Sequoia Capital found itself in this month perfectly illustrates this. As Bloomberg News reports, Sequoia is one of a number of venture-capital bigwigs that has invested heavily in long-form content, high-end documentary films and top-tier content creators in an effort to bolster their brand reputations.
There's nothing wrong with that, of course. Brand boosting is one of the things content marketing does.
The problem for Sequoia is that it ran a fawning piece in September about Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of crypto exchange FTX. And in November, FTX collapsed.
It didn't take long for people to start mocking Sequoia's article.
And it didn't take long for Sequoia to panic.
Rather than retracting the story publicly, or adding an editor's note, or commissioning a follow-up story or doing any of the things a journalism outfit might do after something like this, Sequoia at first just yanked the story from its website without explanation.
That nothing-to-see here reaction by Sequoia seems to have prompted the Bloomberg article. And the Bloomberg article itself seems to have later prompted Sequoia to publish a sort-of, kind-of Editor's Note confirming the story had been pulled.
If you're a longtime reader of mine, you know I've long held hope that content marketing would grow to be more journalistic. (Here's a piece I wrote about exactly this nearly 10 years ago.) I believe that content marketing can do more than move people through a sales funnel, extend brand reach, etc.
But if that is ever to happen, the companies that hire content marketers, writers, filmmakers and the rest will need to develop thicker skin. The problem, as I put it in an interview with Jon Bethune 11 years ago, is that "These companies don’t have the stomach for news and the confrontations it can promote. They panic when someone complains. They’re afraid of controversy."
And as any journalist can tell you, complaints and controversy are nothing to panic about. They are the air we breathe.