‘Branded content studios’ o er boon for publishers
As more and more media companies look to native advertising to save diminishing revenues, they’re also investing dollars into making sure that content melds seamlessly with the rest of their products. Condé Nast, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are a few of the companies that have opened branded content studios in the last year.
At NYT, native advertising fueled a 16.5 percent increase in digital-ad revenue during the third quarter, the company said. Digital ad sales reached $38.2 million from July-September, representing more than a quarter of total ad sales.
“The biggest drivers are the launch of, and positive growth of our paid post business,” Meredith Kopit Levien, NYT advertising chief said in a call with investors. NYT’s paid posts, paid for by advertisers, are developed by NYT’s T Brand Studios to mimic editorial copy.
NYT launched T Brand Studios in January 2014, with a collection of freelance stories for Dell.
“In addition to distribution, we saw a significant demand for new expressions of branded content beyond what currently existed, and a higher level quality that deserved to sit side-by-side with New York Times newsroom content,” Sebastian Tomic, vice president of advertising and branded content for NYT told News & Tech.
In order to create the kind of ads that could flow with NYT content, Levien hired former Bloomberg Businessweek Editor Adam Aston to serve as editor-in-chief of T Brand Studios.
Over the summer, NYT hired 21 people, including designers, technologists, project managers, content strategists and social media experts to round out the team. During those same months, the newspaper cut 100 jobs from its newsroom. And Tomic said T Brand Studios is hiring more staff, with plans to build up to a team of 35.
By the end of 2014, T Brand Studios created 41 campaigns and Tomic hopes to double that
number in 2015.
T Brand Studios partners with at least one client from nearly every advertising category, according to Tomic. It now has almost 50 Brand Studio clients including Cole Haan, Netflix, Google, Shell and Volvo.
“Differentiation is crucial for us,” Tomic said. “Rather than work with the same pool of freelancers and platforms that brands can work with directly, we now have a highly skilled team that brings a Times’ perspective to brand storytelling.”
The point of it all is to keep the editorial side of the paper producing content for another day — and it seems to be working.
A United Airlines interactive graphic produced in partnership with NYT showed how far athletes traveled to compete at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The result, according to Levien, was nearly 200,000 clicks.
An article on the women’s prison system sponsored by Netflix to promote its series "Orange is the New Black," meantime, made the top-10-most-viewed articles on the website when it was published. Levien went on to say that Times readers are spending roughly as much time on paid posts as they are on traditional editorial content.
“The best way to preserve editorially independent, high-quality journalism is to preserve the business model,” Levien recently told Capital New York. “And I think the idea of branded content that shares a form factor with editorial is a great first step.”
The Wall Street Journal shares that sentiment. The paper launched its branded content division WSJ. Custom Studios in March 2014.
“WSJ. Custom Studios was created to empower brands to tell their own story and connect more deeply with the customers,” Sarah Dale, vice president, head of digital and content at The Wall Street Journal told N&T. “All brands have a story to tell and we want to help them — be it through custom content, native advertising or infographics.”
WSJ. Custom Studios is made up of a team of editors, designers and interactive developers who are separate from the editorial staff at the paper, that, according to Dale, uphold the high content standards of WSJ.
“We’re more than just a content shop though,” she said. “We partner with our advertisers and provide an intellectual, authoritative and informed point of view.”
This point of view is a key selling factor to both advertisers and audiences. WSJ reaches a highly influential audience for which advertisers are willing to pay.
Dale said the revenue uptick from the content studio has been, “dramatic.”
One of WSJ. Custom Studios’ content solutions products is Narratives, which uses storytelling to create content-driven advertising for
brands. Narratives content resides on the WSJ.com homepage.
The first content released from WSJ. Custom Studios was a threemonth partnership with Brocade and Godfrey Q and Partners. It featured a campaign of 12 articles that focused on game-changing technology and data.
Trevor Fellows, global head of advertising sales for WSJ, gave a presentation at the Digiday Publishing Summit in Key Biscayne, Fla., in September 2014, where he suggested that, in order to run a successful native ad campaign, one must work with the news cycle.
“Advertisers who produce native (that) can be aligned with the news are able to enjoy a great deal of attention,” he said.
Newspapers and magazine companies may certainly be the best positioned to help their clients do just that. Having a team of individuals dedicated to being the first to know positions these publishers to offer the timeliest campaigns for their clients.
In a bid to capitalize on con- tent creation for advertisers, Condé Nast this year created its branded content studio, dubbed 23 Stories by Condé Nast, through which content for its advertising partners is developed and distributed by CN's editorial and digital video staff. The content is then distributed throughout the publisher’s many platforms.
CN offers a vast market reach for advertisers, ranking No. 1 among affluent millenials (ages 18-34, with annual household incomes of $100,000 and more) in comScore’s lifestyle category. The company reaches a monthly average of 77 million upscale customers across its digital, mobile and video platforms, accompanied by an equally affluent print audience of 51 million.
“The industry is evolving,” said Anna Wintour, artistic director of CN. “So too are our ways of storytelling. It is exciting to have new opportunities that will allow the vision and intelligence of our editorial teams to reach consumers.”
WSJ's branded content project with Mercedes Benz.