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The Battle For Customer Attention

It used to be so easy. With the right amount of budget and the right Madison Avenue “Mad Men,” any business could reach their target audience.

But now, the consumer marketplace is fragmented almost beyond recognition. We receive more marketing messages than we can handle and the battle for customer attention has moved from being mainly about the medium to technology to content.

If “content is king,” then customer attention is the “Holy Grail.”

That was how I kicked off my presentation to the International Advertisers Association in New York on January 20, 2012. Here is an overview of the presentation and the slides as well…

When I was young, the way to reach the typical American household was relatively simple: TV, radio, newspaper, magazine, mail and phone were the common tactics. 1974 was also the year when the first UPC was scanned at a U.S. supermarket ushering in a new era of marketing information. For the first time, marketers could track all 4 Ps systematically to understand the place where all their products were selling, at what price and on which promotion.

20 years later, the internet and the PC age ushered in the next step in this evolution, where software and technology allowed businesses to take even greater advantage of customer information in order to determine how best to reach consumers. At this point, the marketing playing field was leveled as any business could setup a website and market to their audience.

Today, we are all connected. Information flies around the world in real time. Consumers are participating on both ends of the spectrum as content producers and as content consumers. This process has in many ways “dis-intermediated” marketers, agencies and publishers and our ability to control the message. Now it’s the cost of content that has come down to close to zero.

And so, I think it makes sense to go back and consider the aim of marketing: “to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself. The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous” (~ Peter Drucker). But when businesses are not selling something as truly customer-focused as something like the iPad, they have to pay to acquire new customers with promotional messages and approaches.

This has caused the mess that many of us see today. Marketers have spent more and more time and effort chasing an audience that is increasingly rejecting marketing messages. This is causing a decrease in the ROI of outbound campaigns like direct mail, telemarketing, email and banner ads.

The answer to all this is Content! We have to stop pushing messages and start creating messages our audiences are interested in. We need to be more interesting and we need to distribute interesting content in multiple forms across all the channels where our customers are consuming it. To quote Ryan Seacrest from / Fortune Magazine:

We’re seeing platform, technology, and content all converging, and it’s happening quickly,“ It’s exciting to me. There’s an appetite for more original content than ever, and I have a company that creates content, whether it’s distributed in short form, reality form, live form, or game form.

The crux of the problem for marketers, agencies and publishers: marketers have budget but in many cases do not have the content our audiences are interested in. Publishers have great content, but cannot get consumers to pay for it. And agencies are at risk of being left out of the party as new models emerge combining paid, earned and owned media.

So how can marketers, agencies and publishers work better together? According to Susan Popper, SVP of Marketing Communication at my employer, SAP:

“We need strategic “big” ideas that blend paid/earned/owned. Our greatest challenge as marketers is staying fresh and a fragmented environment so the right people can see you at the right time!”

I concluded the talk by urging marketers, agencies and publishers to understand that there is a whole new, real-time, hyper-connected world in media and marketing.  To make it all about their customers.  And to balance customer needs to be informed, educated and entertained. Now, I’m interested in your thoughts…?


Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of “Mean People Suck” and “The Content Formula” and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.


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The Battle For Customer Attention