• Julia Campbell

Branded Content Experts Share Top Tips During Sales Workshops

Whether your local media organization is new to the branded content game or already has an established brand studio, it’s crucial to continue to learn from the best and brightest in the business in order to adapt to an ever-changing industry.


The Local Media Association recently held two Branded Content Project Workshops to highlight members who are navigating their way through the content marketing landscape and sharing what they’ve learned along the way.

During day one of the workshop, Robin Gruen, vice president of content, revenue and strategy from Lee Enterprises Brand Ave. Studios offered her top tips on building a content studio from the ground up.


“It’s such a unique moment in time where being connected to local communities has never been more important,” Gruen said.



Her five tips for building a content studio include:


1 Absorb, Engage and Plug in - Look at the problems at your local market level. Where can you engage quickly with strategies while plugging into whatever foundation you have already built. Engage with clients by listening to them and find solutions for their problems. Create a content team that is an extension to the sales force. Position yourselves as a strategic solution rather than a product.


2 Identify your Ps: People, Process and Pipeline - Realize your content studio may be up against larger advertising or public relations firms. It’s crucial for your staff to speak the language of the business, while being talented writers, designers or videographers. Once you've become established, bring in people to fill the gaps and staff according to projects. With process, it is key that you plug in as an extension of sales. Your content should be seen as part of a holistic, integrated solution so that you’ll get buy in from your salesforce and clients. Gruen says you’ve got to build the pipeline based around clients that are the right fit for branded content, realizing for some it is the winning ticket while for others it won’t work.


3 Create on Spec - To truly get clients excited about your branded content solutions, you need to show them how it will look.


4 Commit to a Yes, and Culture - “This is something that I’m kind of die hard about which is I really don’t think I ever say no to sales or a client. There's alway a solution, there’s a way, so we have to be honestly always innovating,” she said.


5 Train Constantly, Pitch Frequently - Help sellers identify the right clients to get in the room for the pitch who truly understand the strategy. Sellers have to be comfortable and willing to learn.


Adrian Fulle, director of digital marketing & sales enablement at ATI Restoration and Variety Content Studio is the first to admit he knows nothing. Those who know him would disagree, as the media executive has learned storytelling from one of the most influential storytellers: John Hughes. Fulle also has a storied career himself, including helping build the Variety Content Studio into the multi-million dollar studio it is today. The realization that nobody knows anything gives him the freedom to understand that the sky's the limit for anything that we do in this space.



“Branded content is a constantly evolving thing and if you can enter this world knowing that nobody knows anything you’ll be free to accept that change and be ahead of that change and move forward,” he said.


His other rules are that branded content is not a commercial and ensuring the client understands that. He also recommends producing branded content with the same intention, focus and rigorous professional standards as the editorial content you produce.


Evie Kevish, project manager & native advertising expert at Shaw Media Marketing has the continuous goal to find new and innovative ways to enhance Shaw’s branded content campaigns and maximize brand exposure while successfully increasing revenue as a result of the project findings.


She recommends focusing on annual commitments and client content calendars to help meet these goals through their brand strategy.


In addition to always going for the annual sale so that there’s enough time to measure and analyze the success of the campaign long-term, Kevish says using a content calendar will help you get there.


“The content calendar is so crucial and so key, not only for the client but for the seller as well,” she said.


They also focus on engagements which they can then share with clients to see how successful their content has been on their sites.



Day 2 of the workshop brought in more experts including Graham Media Group’s Lauren Batcheller, the national digital sales manager of programmatic revenue.


Her overall sales strategy includes focusing on the touchpoints within the customer journey, tracking metrics to use those results to drive better performances, and looking at highly customized strategies.


“We rarely go on a branded content call,” she said. "We really go on a marketing consulting call and we are talking with our advertisers and understanding what their needs are, where they want to be, what their KPIs are.”



Quality content is one of Graham's major focuses. Their digital content hub consists of six journalists who generate ideas, write evergreen content and interview clients. They also frequently monitor the websites of large clients to see what kind of branded content they’re already producing, so sellers can then go to them and offer the media outlet’s platform and distribution.


Local media organizations have a big advantage over other firms because they have the distribution channels, in addition to content creators and established, trusted audiences.


Penda Howell, the chief operating officer at the New York Amsterdam News understands this. He’s had a lot of success with clients sponsoring content series from The Branded Content Project, without having a large content studio because he’s built a trusted relationship with advertisers.


"There was already an emotional connection with our client, with our paper, with our product, with our audience. The client doesn't have to think about buying you or vetting your product. They know you, they trust you, they have confidence in you as consultants,” he said.


Howell has sold four lifestyle series securing over $100,000 of new revenue through branded content in the first quarter of 2021.



Amber Aldrich, senior director of advertising for The Seattle Times knew it was important the paper branded itself as a well-rounded media solution.


The Seattle Times Content Studio was positioned to help businesses create content for their own purposes on their owned and operated sites and social media, as well as their site. They began the process by building an internal playbook and defining and outlining the types of branded content they’d work with and how it would be treated online.



“This gave everyone confidence behind what was happening while being respectful to the brand and being transparent to the reader,” Aldrich said.


That, in addition to sales training and support, helped achieve buy-in for the sales force. She also found success designating a sales champion that could accompany sellers on calls while the team grew confidence. For those just beginning in branded content, special sections are a great entry point for sales and clients.

The Branded Content Project is designed through a strategic partnership between the Local Media Association, the Local Media Consortium, and the Facebook Journalism Project to help facilitate additional growth, engagement, and revenue success for more publishers of all shapes and sizes.



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