The Branded Content Project, a partnership between the LMA, the Local Media Consortium and funded by the Facebook Journalism Project, recently released the first edition of a branded content guide for local media organizations.

What’s in the guide? The pages are filled with advice for those creating their first branded content initatives, those who are leading sales teams who have branded content in their toolbox, and those that are creating content for advertisers and looking for best practices and techniques. The articles in the guide are written by experts in the branded content space who have built impressive programs and are able to share strategies to help you navigate through this unique and sometimes complicated area of potential business. We’ve also included checklists geared toward sales, content and development to start and grow your initiatives.

Every few weeks, the branded content project will give you a snapshot of some of the expert advice you can find in the guide. This week we’re starting with the history of content marketing so you recognize the long and successful track record of branded content.

But before we look at the history of content marketing, Steven Goldstein, CEO of Amplifi Media shared his thoughts for the future of branded content.

Why should local media organizations create or grow a branded content strategy?

Well, not all brands and content are national in nature. Medical centers come to mind. They have great local stories to impart. Branded podcasts are a great connection tool.

What should be a top concern when creating branded content campaigns?

That they are built with the listener in mind. We have a little axiom we use – WIIFL – What’s In It For the Listener? When content starts with a client-first focus, it often fails.

What should an organization not do when building branded content? 

Create “check the box” content that is to not useful or entertaining or informative. That’s bad for the brand and bad for the local publisher. It will fail and disappoint.

Is there opportunity with branded content initiatives in the audio and podcasting space?

Oh my, yes. That’s why partnered with Skyview Networks to create content that resonates on the national and local level. My DNA is local broadcasting, having been a co-founder of a publicly traded broadcast company. I am very attuned to the needs of the local listener and advertiser; this space is great for them.

Look to the past: A Brief History of Content Marketing

To get a solid history lesson and a better view on why this type of advertising has been successful for over 100 years, we shared excerpts from Steven’s original full story on the journey of storytelling for advertisers, A Brief History of Content Marketing

From podcasts to social to digital video, content marketing is attracting a lot of attention of late, but this “it” marketing tactic is actually one of advertising’s more enduring traditions. Like a classic novel or a beloved movie, advertising that emphasizes storytelling is proven to be both memorable and effective. While new media choices and new gadgets have expanded how Americans can consume content, branded content endures because it engages the audience. At its best, it also spotlights a brand in unexpected ways.

From print to video to audio, in a cluttered media landscape, branded content elevates a brand from commercial to stand-out. Through the history of advertising, the most effective examples of branded content have been audience-centric, rather than an extended commercial. These campaigns have created value for consumers, whether that is informational, entertainment — or both. The secret sauce has been content that feels less like marketing and more like exclusive, original programming, no matter the medium.


The art of sponsored content has a rich history that dates back to the country’s agricultural roots. In the 1850s, John Deere, the iconic lawn mower and farm equipment company, launched a print magazine, The Furrow, to be a resource for its farming customers. Another pioneering example was all about taking consumers on a journey. In 1900, French tire company Michelin created a travel guide, The Michelin Guide, for French motorists. It encouraged drivers to go on adventures and — no surprise — wear out their tires from their travels. Four years later, they expanded to neighboring Belgium and, nearly a century later, in 2005, Michelin published the first American edition. Michelin stars are now the gold-standard for restaurants worldwide. How’s that for an enduring campaign? And, yes, Michelin still sell tires.



Some of the best content marketing projects are subtle, but highly effective. Did you know that soap operas got their names from the consumer packaged goods companies, including soaps, that sponsored them? In the 1930s, Procter & Gamble created audio dramas, called “soap operas” that were sponsored by its household products. In 1950, P&G expanded its work to video with the first television soap, The First One Hundred Years. While the direct connection might between these shows and products may have faded over time, some of these “soaps,” as generations of mostly female fans have called them, are still on the air today. Although many viewers may not know the direct connection with cleaning products, they still see female-targeted ads during breaks.


In another testament to branded connections in media, Chicago’s venerable radio station WLS, pays homage to its original owner Sears-Roebuck through its call letters, short for “The World’s Largest Store,” the retailer’s nickname. The station launched in 1924 with a variety of programming that included music, arts and farming information. The relationship between the station and its owner was symbiotic: Sears marketed its products on the air and sold radios in its catalog to boost listening.



Despite the declining audience for print publications, there are some success stories for print branded publications. Toymaker Lego, for instance, publishes a quarterly magazine that feels editorial, but is essentially a catalog for the latest Lego products. The magazine offers kids building inspiration, and likely sends them begging their parents for new sets. (In a sign of shifting consumer trends, in 2017, the company added a corresponding app.)

The Lego Life app is just a single example of the explosion of content marketing opportunities on digital. As digital video streaming explodes, there’s fertile ground for brands to make video series that can reach a large and highly-engaged audience. Legions of Americans, particularly younger consumers, stream videos on their smartphones and scour YouTube for content, allowing marketers to produce video branded content beyond traditional — and expensive — TV campaigns. Take Skincare brand Dove’s “Real Beauty” project with veteran TV producer Shonda Rhimes, who partnered on a series of stories about real women — the type who might use Dove products. The series of short videos featuring real women defining what makes them beautiful.  The brand connects with women through honest, relatable content created for women, by women.


In another widely-cited example, GE’s fictional sci-fi podcast, “The Message,” is regarded by many as one of most successful branded podcasts ever. The show has nothing to do with the medical devices or aircraft parts the company manufacturers. Rather, it is a fictional sci-fi series about messages received from space. But GE is synonymous with invention and innovation, and that’s the halo that shines on its brand.

Whether your branded content is audio, video, print or social, done properly, it will create positive associations with your brand. That halo effect produces action and increases engagement. Branded content is so popular now that an estimated 88% of brands now deploy content marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, while media industry boasts some standout examples of branded content, there are countless projects that fall short of delivering value for consumers.

To avoid the pitfalls of over-commercialization, you want to create value for the audience and approach content with the “WIIFL” filter, or “What’s in It for the Listener?” Don’t focus on how the content will benefit your brand. (We know it is hard, but forget about sales for a minute) Rather, consider how a consumer will connect your company with the content and build a relationship. The best branded content leaves a lasting shine on your brand. And that creates value for your brand and your customers.


Steven Goldstein is CEO of audio innovation firm Amplifi Media. Amplifi works with top media companies, corporate brands, podcasters and individual talent to define and create effective digital strategy and content for on-demand audio including podcasts and smart speakers. Amplifi also produces content for brands via its Amplifi Originals initiative. Goldstein has long been recognized as a thought leader in audio programming, marketing, and management. He has created and developed scores of successful radio brands around the country, as well as nurtured and advanced local and national broadcast talent.


What’s your game plan?

Take a tour through the guide to get action plans, step-by-step instructions, advice and recommendations. And don’t forget to check out the checklists before you get started.

If you are taking your first step into branded content or giving your program a refresh, take a deeper look into our “DEVELOPING IT” section and hear from the following experts:

  • 6 reasons why you need branded content now – Eric Brander – Creative Lab @ McClatchy  
  • 7 Tips for Creating a Successful Branded Content Initiative – Mike Mocklar – Mocklar Consulting 
  • Corporate Social Responsibility Matters: 5 reasons CSR should be considered as a branded content strategy – Rachel Watkins – Dallas Morning News  
  • 3 Reasons to Make Promotions Part of Your Branded Content Strategy – Liz Huff – Second Street