As local media organizations look toward 2020 opportunities for revenue growth and increased audience engagement, there is a path that shows unlimited potential and a proven track record of success for advertisers and media teams: branded content. This is not a new shiny object but a time-tested marketing method that has worked for all media types in all types of markets.

Through the Branded Content Project, a partnership between the Local Media Association, the Local Media Consortium and funded by the Facebook Journalism Project, we are uncovering, discovering and developing sustainable and profitable paths that will work for all local media organizations, no matter the market or media type.

An exciting opportunity available for anyone and everyone is an in-person crash course in branded content sales best practices, distribution strategies and content creation examples during our Branded Content Innovation Mission on November 12-14. On this mission, we’re visiting The New York Times T Brand Studio, Vox Media, Wavemaker, IAB, Facebook and will have sessions with experts from Social News Desk, Tubular Labs, Graham Media Group and The Dallas Morning News.

As we prepared our agenda, we talked with the media and branded content experts that will be hosting us during next month’s mission and asked them a few questions about trends they are seeing, why branded content should be a part of future business models, and areas of focus to consider. Here are a few responses from our mission’s industry leaders.


“The space is evolving on multiple fronts at once. In strategy, our brand partners are expecting to see increasingly sophisticated, omnichannel proposals from us. Executions may still be centered around branded content at, but they’re often extended into live activations, out of home, and for longer flight durations. In format, the buzz is growing around branded audio content, mainly podcasts but also interactive voice skills. And in targetting and promotion, our first-party data capabilities are becoming more important, as we’ve become more subscriber-first, and more privacy-conscious in the wake of GDPR.”  – Adam Aston – vice president / executive director, editorial for T Brand Studio at The New York Times 

“The biggest trends are around creating branded content that can be distributed in many different places and is built from the outset to be featured in social, digital, on-demand and streaming video, and even places like airplane seat backs. We are also seeing a desire to be able to better understand the impact of branded content on audiences through measurement and even sequential messaging.” Noah Mallin, Wavemaker’s head of content and experience

“There is a lot of buzz about influencers — micro-influencers, nano-influencers, etc. Media organizations need to remember they are also influencers, and they need to position their brands as such. The same piece of content marketing distributed in partnership with a TV station or newspaper versus just from the brand itself will from perform two to four times better with the influence of the media company.”  Apryl Pilolli, Social News Desk’s head of innovation

“Content for the sake of content isn’t enough. Advertisers, especially those working on branded content for the first time, really want to know the why. Insight-driven strategy should be behind all branded content campaigns you pitch—whether that’s surfacing cultural trends, performance metrics from your site, or finding unique audience overlaps.” – Alexandra Hartz, senior account director, enterprise at Vox and Sara Reinis, associate director of creative strategy at Vox

“Brands are leveraging branded stories to establish and cement a positive social position. With millennials increasingly turning to products that align with their own beliefs, branded content is the most effective channel to express a brand’s values.”  Zoe Soon, vice president, mobile center of excellence, for IAB

“The platforms want media companies to put out entire slates of video programming that look a lot like television programming. When we look at our video performance data, we can see that longer videos are getting significantly more viewership on average, even on Instagram. So, when you go to figure out your content strategy, don’t think that crazy cat videos are going to move the needle for you. Focus on the story arch, the on-air talent, and other factors that make great TV.”Jason Whitney, director of sales, Tubular Labs


“The strength of local news sites is in their content and ability to tell stories, and branded content allows us to put that strength at the forefront and better gain control of the monetization in ways that have been lost on the internet.” – Mike Katona, Graham Media Group’s director of digital operations

“When a brand’s messaging is based on things that really matter, consumers engage differently and even volunteer their attention. It’s a move from ad interruption to ad attraction.” – Rachel Watkins, senior marketing manager, Belo Media Group and The Dallas Morning News

“For the print and broadcast folks out there, branded content can be a key product for solving demographic gaps in your ads offering. I’m 30 and I don’t watch the 5 o’clock news. I never will. I have a Sunday-only delivery of the NY Times print edition and it piles up next to my cat’s litterbox. For contrast, I just checked my iPhone and I spend about 90 minutes every day on social networking apps. Building audiences on major apps and selling branded content against those audiences is the most straightforward way to create advertising products for targeting working-age consumers.”  Jason Whitney, director of sales, Tubular Labs

“If you are a media company, storytelling is the very heart of what you do well. You get what it takes to engage an audience. What we know is that ads alone are having a harder time impacting and even reaching audiences, and that this gap increases as we go further down the audience age bracket. For brands to reach an audience effectively they must include a strategy that goes beyond ads and embraces compelling narratives that people will choose to see and not skip. Media companies are uniquely positioned to help create this and distribute it efficiently.” – Noah Mallin, Wavemaker’s head of content and experience

“Consumers are increasingly demanding that advertising be personalized, relevant and authentic. Branded content supports meeting those objectives by delivering content to consumers that is beneficial to them and that they find value in. This leads to increases in brand affinity, trust and recall. Branded content is also more effective than traditional display advertising. Branded content video, moreover, outperforms pre-roll in nearly every category.”  – Zoe Soon, vice president, mobile center of excellence, for IAB

“Consumers have grown uncomfortable with their advertising experiences due to intrusive formats and privacy-invading practices. That is why we see an increase in people using ad blockers. However, they are much more accepting of branded content formats that educate and don’t just sell products. This is why media companies need to invest in creating quality branded content.” – Apryl Pilolli, Social News Desk’s head of innovation

“When done right, branded content can be an effective tool for marketers looking to grow an engaged audience, shift perceptions, or generate awareness for a new product or service. Based on brand study results, we’ve found that memorable branded content can sometimes achieve better results than standard display advertising as it can capture attention in different ways and bring an advertiser closer to an editorial voice, building trust with the audience.”  – Alexandra Hartz, senior account director, enterprise at Vox and Sara Reinis, associate director of creative strategy at Vox


“Branded content is a growing segment in audio advertising. According to the IAB/PwC FY 2018 Podcast Revenue Report (PDF), branded content campaigns in podcasting grew nearly 65 percent to 10.1 percent of all campaigns executed via podcasts.

Influencer marketing is another growing area in branded content. While traditionally considered two separate channels, they do share similar qualities. Paying a YouTube influencer to create a branded video isn’t much different than paying a publisher to create a branded video, for example. Instagram’s recently launched branded content tool also allows advertisers to promote organic influencer posts as ads.” Zoe Soon, vice president, mobile center of excellence, for IAB

“Advertisers come to media companies to leverage their unique connection to audiences. So, take advantage of what you do best and what audiences love about your work. Is there a niche type of content that works particularly well for your audience? That’s exactly where you should focus.”  – Alexandra Hartz, senior account director, enterprise at Vox and Sara Reinis, associate director of creative strategy at Vox

“Media companies should analyze what industries and verticals their clients belong to and focus on content strategies that align. For instance, if you have a large contingent of health care service, clients creating segments and content around health and fitness would be a perfect fit.” – Apryl Pilolli, Social News Desk’s head of innovation

“The most profitable branded content businesses will integrate the most valuable group of advertisers’ products into the best performing content themes.” – Jason Whitney, director of sales, Tubular Labs

“Custom stories, innovative messaging, and strategic targeting all can amplify CSR initiatives while generating a significant halo effect and driving competitive advantage, brand awareness, consumer acquisition and loyalty, and targeted business results.” – Rachel Watkins, senior marketing manager, Belo Media Group and The Dallas Morning News

“The ability to create great content is a great way to add value to on-site events and activations, whether it’s a food pop-up or a financial conference – putting on events that can be amplified for brands with content that highlights their participation and turns that into stories is effective and smart.” – Noah Mallin, Wavemaker’s head of content and experience

Join these media executives on a unique mission to New York, where we will discover the best branded content revenue strategies, innovative content creation techniques and effective distribution methods. This Innovation Mission, focused entirely on branded content education and collaboration, will open your eyes to new possibilities for your organization and help you build or improve your business around storytelling.

From sales education, to reporting, to new content creation, we’ll send you home with tools and tricks that can be implemented NOW! We have limited spots available and several are already reserved, so don’t hesitate to register.

Join us in this unique mission and collaborative event as you plan your revenue strategy for 2020!