Through the Branded Content Project, funded by the Facebook Journalism Project, a variety of news organizations have reshaped their branded content product lines.

Branded Content Project learnings— from both advertisers and news organizations — will be on full display at the upcoming Elevate! conference in Chicago, Sept. 17-19.

We talked with Julia Campbell, project lead, to learn more about what’s happening with the project.

Julia Campbell

First, can you remind us who is in the Branded Content Project and the overall goal?

The Branded Content Project has been made possible through a partnership between the Local Media Association and the Local Media Consortium and $1 million in funding from the Facebook Journalism Project. The project’s first step was to select an alpha group of local media organizations who already had strong branded content initiatives. 

The alpha group includes three broadcasters with Graham Media Group, WRAL and ABC’s Localish, and three print publishers with Dallas Morning News, the Creative Lab @McClatchy and Shaw Media, and one digital publisher/non-profit with the Texas Tribune. 

The goal of bringing these seven together is to find the best strategies, best implementation and best sales techniques by working together and testing new elements and projects. Each company has taken on a very ambitious project and those first results will be shared with the industry at Elevate!.

The next step for our project will be to open up an application for a beta round of 20 more publishers. We will announce and open this application at Elevate!. We’re calling it our snowball of knowledge: we’ll take all that we are learning with the alpha group, roll that information and continue the process with the beta group, and keep that snowball rolling so we involve the full industry in all our findings along the way.

What are you hearing from advertisers about what they think about branded content and the value they are seeking? 

Advertisers are looking for unique solutions that tell their business’ story. Branded content gives them the opportunity to share deeper details, educate the consumers or potential clients, and inform them in an entertaining way. Many businesses need more time to explain than a 30-second spot can provide and need more space to educate than traditional digital advertising can allow. Branded content solves those issues in a way that engages with the audience.

One of our favorite quotes is: “We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in.”

Craig Davis, Craig Davis on: interruption marketing | Collective Content

That’s really what our advertisers need us to do right now – put them in position to be the content that audiences want to consume.

We’re also working with our alphas on the best ways to educate the advertisers on branded content benefits and explain the ROI on branded content. We’ll be tackling these topics during our workshop at Elevate! and sharing our advertiser focus group research results conducted this spring with Magid. We did a deep-dive in seven cities to determine advertiser needs and local media opportunity. We’ll share the details at Elevate!.

How are audiences reacting to your branded content experiments? Are there paths to success you are seeing?

We’re seeing exciting engagement numbers starting to reveal themselves through Dallas Morning News’ testing with MarketChorus. We’re also learning a lot about focusing on specific content areas, like travel, through Graham’s testing with their Taking Off initiative. And the possibilities to engage new audiences are endless with initiatives like Localish, that focus on multiple content categories like Secretly Awesome, Pumped, Bite Sized and Glam Lab. 

One thing we’re realizing is that there are many unique types of content that can live as parallel brands alongside traditional news, weather, and sports content. Building separate content brands that include unique branded content sponsorships are a successful way for local media publishers to gain new audiences, new advertisers and new revenue.

Is there an interesting model or interesting approach that you are testing right now that you think others could duplicate or learn from?

We have seven interesting paths we’re taking. Each one addresses different issues – Creative Lab and Localish are taking on client and sales team education through events. Dallas Morning News is reengaging audiences using unique tools. Shaw is improving reporting for advertisers. WRAL is creating marketing material that help our sales teams sell. Graham is creating niche content that allows for increased sponsorship opportunities. And Texas Tribune is helping audiences discover and engage in branded content initiatives through improved user experiences.

The common thread through most of them really is improving education and understanding. There is a lot of confusion surrounding branded content and our alphas are creating solutions.

We’re looking forward to sharing our experiments at Elevate! and revealing action plans for media organizations to include many of these tests in their own initiatives or build new initiatives following the lessons learned from our first group. We’re planning takeaways for all types of media publishers of all sizes.

Click here to register for the Elevate! conference.