I began writing for The New York Times at age 22. Shortly after, Vogue called and asked me to write for them. The year was 1993, and branded content was considered a boneyard for those who couldn't break news.
Twenty years later--after launching magazines for big media companies, a stint at The New York Post, and biz dev opportunities in both old-world media and online startups--traditional media budgets have shrank and brand journalism has gotten sexier (bigger budgets, better work), it seemed like just a natural transition.
Now, The New York Post has undergone a major branded content initiative under longtime editorial executive Jesse Angelo. Last week's New York magazine piece by Joe Hagen highlighted the fact that New York Times CEO Mark Thompson hired branded content veteran Rebecca Howard-- formerly of AOL and The Huffington Post--as general manager of video production. Worth noting, she's seated in the newsroom, but reporting to the business side.
When I decided to spend my time focused on creating branded iPad magazines like One212, sponsored by a major New York real estate company, and a quarterly publication for a top building supplier in the US, as well as the industry trade journal for content marketers, I knew there was a way to bring world-class storytelling to world-class companies.
I'm pleased to see my career choice validated by the presence of the big boys at the branded content party--and here are three tips for my former publishers at The Post:
1. Just because it happened to your client doesn't make it interesting. Every project needs to begin with an immersion in the client's space. We call it "discovery" and it's where we don the cartographer hat to write the road map. It's fine to say the client is the ultimate editor, but in reality, the client should be the ultimate reader. When a brand puts its "reader" hat on, the content has a greater chance to ring true.
2. To produce interesting content for your client, start where all storytellers look for dramatic arc: with your clients' problems, or, more precisely, your client's customer's problems (or fears). It's what your client deals with every day, and they've presumably developed innovative systems, culled from years of experience, to solve these problems.
3. Learn the playing field. Read Content Magazine, and hire a good consultant to avoid the myriad pitfalls along the way. Ultimately, branded content is most effective when it's a lot like journalism--readers come first.