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  • Writer's pictureLiz Hayes

Emerging video trends and revenue opportunities from Lee Enterprises' Brand Ave. Studios

“What we encourage our clients to do is to really think about how we can help them in a full marketing strategic session,” said Robin Gruen, Vice President of Content, Revenue & Strategy at Lee Enterprises.

Gruen, along with colleague Dan Sher, Director, Content Strategy/Brand Marketing, were featured on the Big Branded Call (see the full recording here) this month to share with the local media industry what they’ve learned while creating video campaigns for clients at Lee’s Brand Ave.

Brand Ave. Studios delivers strategic solutions to businesses looking to humanize their message through meaningful stories, experiences and events.

Lee Enterprises has small and medium newspapers in 77 markets across the country. Every day they’re charged with coming up with meaningful solutions for advertisers across the board no matter what market they’re in. To understand more about each client’s unique needs, the team will always have a strategic session right off the bat.

Collaboration & Growth

Video content marketing has emerged as a crucial way to share a client’s brand and unique voice, no matter how big or small they are, but if you start too small, it’s difficult to then upsell down the road.

“If you start with a client and you’re spending $1,500 on a video, it's really hard to upsell them to $100,000 or $500,000,” Gruen said. "That said, if you start at a price point that feels fair and you use that as a strategy to build rapport with that client, it's then easier to grow," she said.

Brand Ave. is having success in a number of video formats including long form videos, which center around emotional storytelling, explainers and animation. Short form videos include TikTok, Instagram reels and traditional advertisements.

“Every client should have a video strategy. Actually, most clients should have five video strategies, and then there’s the distribution that we provide,” Gruen said.

Shorter form videos are distributed on social media. Savvy clients understand the need to share their messaging on these platforms. Explainer videos, like the example below, are still trendy and effective for advertisers.

Emerging Spaces

Sports betting, cannabis, corporate social responsibility and politics are huge areas of opportunity for video content marketing. The recently launched Cooking with Cannabis 3-part series has proven successful for a Missouri cannabis client. So much so, that the brand is significantly increasing its spend for the upcoming year.

Lee uses native advertising for the series across the cannabis network. Because it is an exclusive opportunity with unique content, they’re able to charge a higher CPM with guaranteed impressions.

Once you’ve created that partnership with a client, Gruen says the early conversations should always include what the advertiser can bring to the table through their own distribution.

“We can run it and put a media plan against it, but we’re not doing our clients any benefit if we don’t make suggestions to them,” Gruen said.

Recommendations include putting the video content on the client’s social media pages, website, or even run as a commercial. Additional questions to ask are: what are you going to do with this, where do you want to put it, and how long do you want to have rights to it?

Experiential & Interactive Video Marketing

While working with a liquor client that wanted to celebrate Day of the Dead in a big way, the Brand Ave. team hired a celebrity chef to create a recipe featuring Herradura tequila as the cocktail to pair with it. Because the video is interactive, users can click to see where they can buy that brand of alcohol or try in an area restaurant.

“The other cool thing about that is we did an influencer program on the side, where we had influencers in the area share how they celebrate Day of the Dead,” Gruen said.

That big social push thrilled the client and led to another upsell with additional videos and a longer runtime. It’s important to lay out expectations of an interactive video ahead of time. The client should understand that a consumer may not watch the whole video if it’s interactive, but they may buy the product, which is a win.

Scaling Brand Ave.

Sher admits that scaling Brand Ave. has been one of the bigger challenges they’ve had. The video examples shown above were executed in bigger markets, but the team has created compelling videos in smaller markets by delivering concepts that work locally and regionally and speak to both audiences.

Agriculture has been a huge growth area for the company. Tapping into this niche market has proven so successful, that the team is bringing additional sellers to focus on ag in the next quarter. Recently, Brand Ave. created video content for a company based in the Netherlands that builds technology to maintain the health and security of the dairy cows. Another client uses technology to protect swine herds.

“They want somebody that speaks their language and they’ve found that with us,” Sher said.

Another big space for revenue opportunity is in recruitment and healthcare. While working with the local economic development office in Rapid City, the team brought together the three hospital systems to create an online interactive experience that is designed to promote the area while addressing a nursing shortage.

“This is really about keeping people connected and tethered to your marketing projects so that down the line we can get conversions,” Sher said. “That’s another way in which we’re leveraging some of the interactive tech that we’re using to help with recruitment. Better storytelling, better ways to sort of catalog all of this great content in one place for folks,” he said.

Advertisers can use great video content to use in recruitment as well. If you're going to create content to attract customers, why not use that messaging to get more employees as a recruitment tool?

Shout out to Robin Gruen and Dan Sher for imparting some wisdom on the local media industry! To hear more great branded content strategy and advice, join our monthly Big Branded calls! You can get access here.


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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