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  • Penny Riordan

Branded content leaders share best practices for developing a package

Graphic with a package

One of the most common challenges that we hear from news organizations looking to sell branded content is: How do I put together a package? 

A branded content campaign may feel like more work than a traditional advertising campaign because you’re processing articles in addition to the traditional ad assets. 

We went to some of our best branded content experts at different types of media companies and got their advice for pricing, how to package, and what you don’t want to include. 

Branded content isn’t for everyone, but it should be pitched to everyone

For many sales teams, it can feel confusing or risky to pitch branded content. Why? Because it’s different than a traditional advertising campaign focused on clicks or impressions. 

Photo graphic of Ashley Marten
Ashley Marten

Ashley Marten, the director of operations for Studio 1847 at Tribune Publishing, said she spends a lot of time listening to a client’s objectives to make sure that branded content is right for them. 

“If their goal is strictly conversions, their budget might be better spent elsewhere,” Marten said. 

But even if it isn’t a fit right now, that doesn’t mean it never will be. Marten advised on building trust with the client so that when their goals may align more closely with a branded content campaign, then they have a solid partnership in order to execute. 

Martin Alfaro, the associate publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, has had a lot of experience building branded content campaigns at several media companies.  

Photo graphic of Martin Alfaro
Martin Alfaro

When speaking to clients, Alfaro takes it a step further and advises that branded content should be pitched with every campaign. He said that thinking of it as just another option undermines the power of an effective campaign.

“We are storytellers by nature, that is the core of what we do every day,” he said. “This should be our strongest client solution. Help clients tell their story.”

Don’t overcomplicate the package

We hear a lot that branded content can be confusing to clients. Our experts say they hear this as well. How do you combat that with your sales reps and your clients? 

Photo graphic of Amber Aldrich
Amber Aldrich

The advice that Amber Aldrich, the senior director of advertising for the Seattle Times has is simple: Don’t overcomplicate the package. She advises selling budget-based campaigns that can be scaled up or down depending on the client’s budget. 

It’s also important to be realistic about your costs.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for a minimum investment that makes the effort worthwhile for your team, and creates a meaningful impact for your client,” Aldrich said.

Robin Gruen, the vice president of brand and content marketing at Lee Enterprises, says packages can get complicated if clients want to veer outside of it. To protect your costs, she says that she always makes anything extra custom content. This could be something like additional words or even additional video content.

Photo graphic of Robin Gruen
Robin Gruen

“If it doesn’t fit, it’s not a package,” Gruen said. 

Allison McCann, the vice president of business development at the Maine Trust for Local News, confirmed that branded content can also be overwhelming for a team, especially if the team is new to selling it. McCann recommends making sure the process is clearly outlined, including who on the team does what. 

Photo graphic of Allison McCann
Allison McCann

If you’re looking for more advice on how to develop a package, the Branded Content Project has a lot of examples. With our Finances FYI campaign that can be purchased, we include a sample sales deck with a proposed package here.

Distribution is just as important as the content

One of the most common mistakes that media leaders make when developing a branded content campaign is they fail to account for distribution of the content in the cost of the package. 

This is something that LMA bakes into our branded content campaigns for our News is Out and Word In Black collaboratives. We call it audience extension. If your team creates a series of wonderful stories for a client, what happens if no one sees it? 

Marten at Tribune agrees.

You can build the most beautiful content pieces, but if nobody sees them, they aren't valuable to the client,” she said. 

Marten said she likes to allocate half of the budget towards promotional elements to drive traffic to the stories in the campaign. 

A “50-50 split” between audience acquisition and content creation is also a best practice that Gruen at Lee adheres to. 

“The biggest mistake is if you build it they will come mentality,” she said. 

At the Branded Content Project, we recommend making sure you include a paid social campaign to guarantee impressions on social media. We know organic Facebook traffic referrals have been dropping, so it’s important to include a paid element. 

This is also something that Alfaro at PGN said he insists on including in every campaign. 

Aldrich at the Times also includes social media in every campaign. She said it’s also important to understand the cost of reaching a certain impression or read number so they can manage performance expectations accordingly with the client.

It’s also important to take a look at places on your site where there is high traffic volume. Can there be a widget or a unit on the homepage, or even better, the article page? Is this content also distributed in the newsletter? 

Making sure you explain where the content will appear as part of your package will help level set their expectations and also understand the results. 


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

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