Pan American World Airways wasn’t just the U.S.’ largest international air carrier for more than 60 years– it was also the first airline to ever introduce an in-flight magazine.  Today, more than 150 of these pervasive publications are created around the globe, by airlines big and small, representing some of the earliest and most successful forms of content marketing.  Here’s why. 


1. It’s not about you. The airlines work hard to find article ideas that appeal to their target audience.They understand their customers—their interests, goals and challenges.Would you read 100-pages all about Delta?Of course not, but an engaging piece on the nation’s biggest jazz festivals or the world’s nicest airports will certainly grab your attention.

2. But it’s a little bit about you. Airlines’ purpose in creating content isn’t just to engage and entertain their audience.The editorial has a clear marketing objective.You must find the place where your customer’s challenges or interests and your own offerings intersect.So you’re a jazz aficionado?Delta will get you to the year’s can’t-miss jazz festivals. The link between the articles and the marketer’s objectives are clear and strategic.

3. Use an editorial calendar. Creating a content marketing strategy is one thing, sustaining it is another.Airlines create detailed editorial calendars that map out the key topics they’ll be covering throughout the year.They tie their coverage to seasonal events and holidays, as well as their internal happenings. You should do the same.Keep track of the content type, topic, author, distribution plan and if applicable, SEO keywords in a central place, such as a Google Doc to start.

4. Look inside and out. One of the chief reasons why companies invest in content marketing is to trot out the knowledge of their in-house resources.  You truly are an industry expert—that’s what makes well-done brand journalism credible; but if you only use your own executive team your stories will get stale, and fast.  This is one lesson we truly take seriously.  For every campaign, we secure an impressive line-up of editorial contributors—experts who share our marketers’ commitment to raising awareness about the issue we’re addressing.  (And by “impressive,” we mean celebrity.  We mean influencer.  We mean the type of person who stops our readers in their tracks.) 

5. Find a captive audience. It’s unlikely you’ll find an audience quite as captive as a cabin-full of airline passengers (ever forgotten your book or tablet on a television-less intercontinental flight?You’re reading that in-flight magazine—possibly twice.)According to Nielson Radio (formally Arbitron), more than 80 percent of passengers read their in-flight magazines, and averaged 30 minutes with the publication.Your content has a lot of competition (click here to see just how much).To achieve its own impressive stats, it needs to be high quality.But even the best story is useless if it’s just sitting on your website, waiting for the occasional reader to stumble across it.Give your content legs!Promote it on social media and invest in a search campaign and/or paid distribution channels. ]

6. Think beyond the written word. In-flight magazines bolster their pages with beautiful imagery, often touting photographs any traditional magazine would be proud to publish.You, too, should invest in vibrant photos and infographics.And here’s something airlines can’t do yet.Video and mobile are the fastest growing content marketing segments, according to Pulizzi.(Although this advantage likely won’t last long.As in-flight connectivity improves, a future where the magazines are linked to digital versions accessible from our phones and in-flight TVs seems inevitable.)Regardless of the medium, aim to evoke emotion from your readers, just as airlines do.Emotional content is often the most effective.
 
7. Call in the experts. Many airlines hire publishing agencies to create their magazines for them, which makes sense.They’re not experts in publishing, so why not work with those who are?When outsourcing, be sure to work closely with your external partners to ensure they understand your brand and communication goals.You’ll benefit from their expertise, outside perspective and professional journalists, adept not only at writing but at securing high quality sources your internal team may not have access to.

You see where we’re going with this?Give us a call.This is what we do.And be sure to reach in that seat-pocket next time you travel, and think about how you can learn from some of content marketing’s earliest adapters.