The Branded Content Project, funded by the Facebook Journalism Project in partnership with Local Media Association and Local Media Consortium, didn’t want to take small steps.

The Branded Content Project alpha group accepted the challenge, created large action plans and took giant leaps.

Broadcasters, print and digital media companies are all making bold moves and working together to create real change for the industry. We are inspired by their fearlessness and their willingness to take risks with each other.

Our first projects are big jumps toward revenue growth, streamlined processes that save time and money, and content production for new audiences. This group is tackling hurdles and obstacles, such as client education and sales training, that often plague media groups who wade into the deep end of branded content. The initial projects were defined following focus groups of local advertisers, conducted by Magid, which revealed opportunities and obstacles in the branded content space for media organizations.

And we are pleased to report that their planning and innovative first steps are already paying off.

Below are the seven branded content projects selected by our alpha group. These seven teams have jumped in to enormous projects and are seeing the first round of results come in with exciting success.

The project

Graham Media Group’s Taking Off campaign features regional destinations as well as content categories determined by the company’s data-driven approach to high-value sponsored content. The elements in production will be a combination of video features for digital, social and OTT, as well as creative writing of branded content articles.

Graham‘s testing plan centers around data. Team members are tracking programmatic advertising targeted on categories of content created for the Taking Off site, and other categories determined by data insights. Comparing content category data from Trove, their internal content categorization tool, and impressions, reach, and engagement from Google Analytics and Google Ad ManagerSocial News Desk, and Tubular Labs, they determine how to best place, distribute and target content and sponsored advertising.

Early results

Taking Off has taken off! It is now on the air and clients are coming on board. The “everything but the kitchen sink” strategy for packaging created brilliant cross-platform opportunities and options for advertisers. Graham’s clients are buying in — and quickly! 

In parallel, Graham is taking the success of Taking Off and the category data and starting to seed the next content category vertical.



Lauren Batcheller, national digital sales manager for Graham Media Group, is excited about the quick start and new revenue. 

“Graham Media Group’s Detroit station, WDIV-TV, has been successful in capturing incremental revenue by securing several advertisers in the tourism/travel category as part of this initiative,” she said. 

Graham just launched their Taking Off online page on and are consistently producing travel segments branded as Taking Off and creating content for both sales and programmatic revenue.

The team at WDIV is currently planning a primetime special, Taking Off, which will focus on travel destinations near and far and will feature unique client placements.

“With the support of the Branded Content Project, Graham Media Group has implemented organization around our branded content products. Graham Media sales teams now have the infrastructure in place to help our teams better understand what it is we have to sell and how it benefits our local and national clients,” Batcheller said. 



Next steps

Graham has great plans for the future of Taking Off, including a primetime special to air in Spring 2020, highlighting travel locations in the company’s other TV station markets and potentially branching the Taking Off franchise into the Graham Media Group podcast division.

The project

The first anniversary of the Localish brand is the perfect reason to throw a birthday party! Celebrating what Localish has accomplished and what’s to come is the perfect way to “educate internal teams and potential advertisers about our brand and sponsorship opportunities,” according to Rachel Schwartz, director of content operations at ABC Owned Television Stations. The event will include a panel discussion with Localish leadership and opportunities for conversation between clients, sellers and content creators.

We want to educate our sellers and advertisers about the value of Localish by bringing them into the Localish family, at least for one day,” she said. 

Early results

Planning is in full swing for a late August event in the New York City area. A special host will interview the Localish team about the benefits of sponsorship with Localish, the quality content being created and the ability to highlight local businesses in a unique way. With a celebratory vibe the event will feature bowling, ping pong and skee ball for the guests. A custom cocktail called the “Out of Office” will be poured and gift bags — loaded with items from previous businesses highlighted by Localish including taffy, hot sauce, luffa sponges, and fortune cookies — are all tied to Localish stories.

And the party becomes the content. The event venue will be featured in a future Localish segment, helping to manage costs of the event and show another example of how content marketing can work for local media companies.

Several general managers and general sales managers from other ABC Owned Television Stations are on the guest list. Sharing the success of the event and extending the learnings from the New York team will add to potential growth and revenue possibilities for the Localish brand and for ABC.

Top takeaway

“We’re really happy with the progress we’ve been making. Working with other alpha partners in the Branded Content Project has allowed us to learn from what they’re doing in the live event space – everything from event pacing and how we measure success, to recommendations on interesting ways to insert messaging through items like cocktail napkins. Bringing people together to celebrate what’s good all across America is a core part of the Localish brand and our event is an extension of that – connecting our sellers with potential clients and our content creators to engage authentically with our product. It’s definitely a growth opportunity for our business but we’re having fun while we do it,” Schwartz said. 

The project

The initial goal for The Dallas Morning News FWD>DFW project is increasing awareness and conversion for FWD>DFW’s volunteer program, thus elevating the social and economic impact of service hours in the community. The project will be utilizing a company called MarketChorus. MarketChorus uses machine learning and natural language processing to effectively understand and target people based on the content they are already reading and sharing. The testing in Dallas will include digital and social ad pass-through placement.  

The team also hopes to gain learnings and audience insights that can be applied and shared across the branded content and storytelling Dallas Morning News implements for each of its FWD>DFW partners, further elevating the value of the partnership while creating case studies for prospective partners.

During the test period, Dallas Morning News will also be actively launching and continuing conversations with signature-level partners. Dallas Morning News recently signed its first signature sponsor, Dallas Mavericks, specifically on the basis of their community impact stories and service-oriented initiatives off the court.

Early results

In week 1, MarketChorus drove:

  • 1,000+ landing page views. (LPVs mean someone went to the page and stayed more than 2 seconds.)
  • 65,000 impressions.
  • Social engagement: 385 post reactions.
  • 114 post saves (on an ad) and 64 ad shares (direct sends).
  • The highest time on FWD>DFW site of anything other than organic (vs. all the paid and referral traffic) by almost 5x, as well as the lowest bounce rate by 5-10%.

“We drove these initial results by targeting audiences who had read and engaged with content related to charity events, human interests, and some articles contextually about Klyde Warren Park, Dallas Independent School District, AT&T Performing Arts Center, and other things like SPCA/animal shelters/Operation Kindness,” said Rachel Watkins, senior marketing manager, Belo Media Group and Dallas Morning News.

Next steps

The team at Dallas Morning News is looking forward to continued testing and watching positive results pour in for their project.

“We’ve only used a tiny portion of the budget, and are actively continuing to moderate in real-time as we gather learnings from these initial results,” Watkins said.

The project

The Creative Lab @McClatchy team has created an event series named The Urgency of Branded Content and is focusing on three events that will help educate clients and their sales staff. 

Eric Brandner, General Manager, Creative Lab @McClatchy explains that they will “simultaneously educate current and potential clients on why they need branded content while also reinforcing concepts to local McClatchy sales teams.” 

Part of the plans for their events include a workshop featuring a presentation and panel discussion, a takeaway informational and strategy package, a meet-and-greet happy hour with post-event video, written stories, and social posts for marketing.

Early results

The Creative Lab @McClatchy‘s first event launched with a bang on August 1 in Sacramento at McClatchy’s New Ventures Lab.



The Creative Lab team is also busy planning at least two more events in the fall. One of the important elements of the events is their plan to educate the attendees in multiple ways.

The education elements are evident throughout the event, even down to the smallest details like napkins with eye catching stats, sharing the value of branded content for advertisers. 

The Creative Lab has also seen early success with the first in a series of branded content educational videos. One of the takeaways from our focus groups with Magid was the need for education of advertisers and sales teams. These videos accomplish both. They published the first one in late June, which is now their best-performing LinkedIn post of the year to date, and expect to publish a second in early August.

Top takeaway

“One of the most valuable parts has been the enthusiasm our fellow alpha group partners have brought to the process. The discussions the Branded Content Project has facilitated have been especially informative for our team as we continue to refine our approach to creating and selling in this space.” Brandner said. 

The project

WRAL‘s project starts with tapping into a trusted PR company to help them with media list development, media outreach and opportunity/event outreach. The goal is to ensure WRAL gets speaking engagements that would in-turn increase awareness of branded content products.

The team also plans for a major overhaul of their presentation materials and pitch decks including producing four new “sizzle” videos. Updating and refreshing the offering will allow WRAL to leverage freelance 3D animators (for infographic creation), videos, and additional writers to take on more native work and make the product more engaging for consumers.

Early results

Katie Fulp, manager of client services and operations at Capitol Broadcasting Company / WRAL, and the WRAL team are moving at a quick pace and happy with the initial results. 

“We’re in the middle of production on four videos and have conducted various interviews for each of them. We are also working through the look and feel of the sales materials,” she said.

The four topics for their marketing videos cover their three branded content products: cause marketing, WRAL TechWire, and WRAL Spotlight, and the fourth is an explainer video about the value of branded content for advertisers. 

The team is also working on adding premium packages to their sales offering as well as setting up a native offering in WRAL’s custom-pricing tool. This will add more customization for the clients and the sales executives.

Next steps

“There’s a lot of value in our branded content products and we want to ensure the materials used to sell them and their quality match up,” Fulp said. “We plan to complete all assets by the end of August and are looking forward to seeing them out in the field.”

The project

The Texas Tribune is diving into development including new design and UX work to create branded content styles and templates for their main site and associated media. 

Rodney Gibbs, chief product officer at Texas Tribune, said he believes that the “transition to the main site will allow the Texas Tribune to increase pricing and add new advertisers plus create better user experiences.”

On the marketing side, they plan to create collateral material, such as decks, one-sheets and videos, to educate clients and aid sales efforts. 

Early results

The new design is ready for integration! As you can see with the screenshots below, the new templates beautifully showcase branded content clients while improving the experience for users. The Texas Tribune team has also added easy-to-find information for their audiences explaining the difference between sponsored posts and traditional advertising or editorial articles.

The team has also begun testing paid social posts for clients and are making plans to include video elements for new advertisers. These two items plus a refresh of marketing materials will put the sales team in a fantastic position to increase package pricing and clients counts, and will help with renewals of current clients.


Top takeaway

“In the first part of the project, we focused on the design and publishing logistics to bring branded content to our news site. For the second half, we are turning our attention to developing collateral and testing promotional tactics that will help our sales team better communicate and sell branded content,” Gibbs said.

The project

Shaw Media‘s focus for their project testing is to improve campaign reporting and demonstrate positive results for advertisers. They are expecting increased renewals and increased spend plus time saved and redirected to better customer service. All of these things in unison will provide better content and client organization. Shaw also intends to use the improved data plan to assist with their current summer sales blitz. 

Early results

The first takeaways from using NinjaCat are as Evie Kevish, project manager at Shaw Media puts it, amazing.

“After years of searching for a vendor that can help me with a super manual, somewhat complex reporting process, I am relieved to find developers at NinjaCat are able to help me,” she said. “I have been very impressed with their entire team and staff. From our AE to our trainer, it has been outstanding.”

The Shaw team has been busy getting accounts uploaded and all APIs synced. They have been training once a week and learning more about custom reporting and metrics. 

One important lesson learned early by the Shaw team is the need for examining URL structures and naming conventions for automatic report building. Using the client name in the appropriate spots can help avoid more manual intervention when it comes to pulling reports for multiple clients.

A multi-market sales blitz for all of Shaw’s sales teams is also underway. They are acquiring new clients in their smaller markets which had previously been somewhat of a challenge. The reps are feeling more confident and able to educate potential advertisers, which is helping them reach their goals. The final push is on!

Top takeaway

When we asked Evie what she has learned from the other alphas so far, she was relieved to report, “We are all in the same boat; all of us are learning to better understand how to educate our sales teams, and clients to understand what branded content truly is and the best way to use it. Seeing that the biggest problem across the board is the education of the reps and clients is something we need to tackle and fix, and we are. We’re learning about new tools, vendors and programs to make our packages more exclusive to our markets. It is neat to see branded being used across all avenues of media and seeing its effectiveness within campaigns. This is the future of advertising. We need to be better storytellers,” Kevish said. 

Coming up next…


We’re learning as we grow and the resources, advice and guidance from the Facebook Journalism Project, Local Media Association and Local Media Consortium will keep pushing this team forward. The biggest impacts are still to come.

Join us in September at Elevate! to hear from each alpha live, learn about the results of our research project with Magid, and participate in a hands-on workshop about branded content. We are also opening up an application process for a beta round that will include 20 more media organizations.

You can always follow along with our progress at