This article is one in a series reporting on key sessions at LMA Fest 2022, Aug. 16-18 in Chicago. Here we report highlights from the Opening Keynote session, “Big brands go local with content marketing.” Panelists: Vinny Chisari, performance marketing and experience leader, Deloitte Digital; Cherié Butts, P.h.D., medical director, therapeutics development unit, Biogen; and Shani Hosten, vice president, diversity, equity and inclusion, African American/Black strategy and LGBTQ strategy, AARP. Moderators: Julia Campbell, general manager, The Meta Branded Content Project; Andrew Ramsammy, chief content and collaboration officer, Local Media Association.

While small and medium-sized businesses will spend $80 billion in content marketing this year (source: Borrell Associates), you might be surprised to learn that some national brands are turning to local media to inform and educate communities on important issues related to their products and services.

LMA Fest 2022 kicked off with three executives from large national brands who talked about the success they’ve had teaming up with Word in Black, a collaboration of 10 of the nation’s leading Black publishers, in consultation with The Meta Branded Content Project.

All three panelists, representing AARP, Biogen and Deloitte, were naturals for using informative, high-value content to educate, inform, and empower local audiences about key issues related to their health and well-being. Partnering with the Word In Black publishers provided direct pipelines for that critical information to flow right to the local level. They used a combination of local stories, national stories, social media, newsletters and events to effectively communicate the message.


For Biogen’s Cherié Butts, it was a no-brainer.

“We’re scientists. We speak like scientists. We know the disease and medicine, but we don’t always communicate well, and we have to learn to speak in the language that consumers understand,” she said. “So we were humble enough to know we needed assistance, and we asked ourselves: How do we help people understand the early warning signs of various diseases?”

Biogen’s campaign with Word In Black focused on memory loss and included an event that was headlined by the popular R&B group Dru Hill, who delivered a 30-second public service announcement, along with other high-profile entertainers, scientists and experts.

R&B Artist Dru Hill’s 30-second public service announcement.

“Working with Word In Black was great in that it wasn’t just one city, it was many that helped connect Biogen to the communities to educate about memory loss. This is not about Biogen, it’s about getting the information out. For the people, by the people with lots of collaboration.”

At the end of the four-month campaign, 12 stories were produced and distributed across all 10 publishers and, in addition to the event and sponsorship of the weekly health newsletter.


The focus for AARP was to reach out to, connect with, and lift up those who have taken on the challenge of caregiving in their families.

“In this country you’re either a caregiver, or you’re going to need care. And it’s not just about taking care of the aging — 2.4 million grandparents are currently serving as the primary caregivers to their grandchildren, especially in the African American community,” said AARP’s Shani Hosten.

AARP’s approach often included “edutainment,” showcasing its available tools and resources made available to the caregiving community. Hosten felt that being down at the community level, with authentic information and a trusted vehicle, AARP could really engage the community.

“For this program, we worked with a former NPR journalist to produce national stories along with stories from publishers directly in their community, so we know they’ll resonate, and the information will get out there,” she said. “At the national level we can make million dollar media buys without leaving my office. But to get to the local level we need partnerships such as these to highlight personal stories, authentically with the way that they know — so people can see and recognize themselves.”

A view of the AARP Caregivers campaign on Word In Black and The Houston Defender.

The partnership was facilitated by The AFRO, one of the founding members of Word in Black, which recognized the opportunity to extend AARP’s reach beyond the Baltimore market.


The newest project is with Deloitte. Like the others, this pilot includes the 10 Word In Black publishers along with five other Black news publishers. It is expected to launch in the fourth quarter of this year. The focus is to reimagine business content for local diverse audiences.

This initiative began as a labor of love (rather than a corporate initiative) among a small group within the organization, and ratcheted up over time to have internal champions.

A slide showing the next steps for Deloitte branded content pilot.

One of those champions is Vinny Chisari: “This is something we really believe in, and are working to pivot into something substantially more thoughtful, to help local businesses thrive. This is a project about being more authentic, and we knew this partnership would have that authenticity, and the right collaboration to let those voices, and information, get out. We are just getting started on projects like these. It took a year simply because we have so many big projects going on. We’re very excited about the future.”

The goal is to expand it to include more content, cohorts, technology providers, and media company distribution.

How your company can connect with big brands

For any other company or organization interested in similar programs and successes, these three very different companies all agreed on one key: It can happen only if the project has an internal champion (formal or informal) to drive it, and the right partners to execute. Otherwise the focus to follow through and deliver at the right quality level doesn’t exist.

Industry collaboration is essential. Big brands still need scale. The Word In Black publishers are able to provide 10 markets (and more, if needed). Several other collaboratives (including News is Out and LMA Covering Climate) are currently working on similar opportunities.

Technology is critical. The Word In Black publishers are able to seamlessly distribute the content via a simple-to-use platform developed by Distributed Media Lab. This ensured a consistent content experience that added to the authenticity of the message and information that’s being delivered.

Meet the brand advertisers at their events. When asked how local news organizations can get on the radar of brand advertisers, they provided a simple suggestion: attend conferences focused on their industries, learn about their business and build relationships.

Click here view the slides from this session at LMA Fest.