As the Meta Branded Content Project continues to grow and evolve, we are thrilled to welcome Penny Riordan, director of business strategy and partnerships for Local Media Association and Local Media Foundation, to the team for additional support and guidance. Join us in welcoming Penny!
1. Penny, welcome to the Meta Branded Content Project team! You’re a familiar face for many of our branded participants. Tell us about what other projects you’re working on for Local Media Association.
Penny: Thank you! I’m starting my third year working at LMA. I spend a lot of my time supporting the work of our collaborations, including two that we launched: Oklahoma Media Center and News Is Out. We also serve as fiscal sponsor to two other collaborations: Solving Sacramento and New York and Michigan Solutions Journalism Collaborative. The News Is Out collaborative was launched with six local queer publishers to advance LGBTQ+ equality through solutions-oriented journalism. This group has already executed a branded content campaign with AARP.
Many participants of the BCP may also recognize me from the LMA Digital Club, a networking club that brings together senior-level media executives from print, broadcast, and radio companies to learn together and share best practices. The monthly calls we host usually focus a lot on growing revenue for media companies, which includes branded content.
If you’re seeing a theme here, it’s that I work a lot on collaborative projects that bring news organizations together to improve their path to sustainability.
2. What are the areas you’ve worked in the most in media before joining LMA? What are your strengths?
Penny: My first few jobs in media were working at local newspapers in Maryland and Connecticut, so I started out as a journalist. In 2010 I was one of the thousands of journalists hired by Patch to run a local news site, which I did for two years before moving to the corporate staff. There I started working on community engagement and more technical areas like features in our custom-built CMS.
In 2014 I came to Austin, TX to work on the corporate staff at GateHouse Media, which is where I continued to grow my skill sets in analytics, audience development, product management, and digital storytelling. I’ve always been a part of teams that wear many hats and have their hands in many projects, so I understand the juggling act many news leaders have day to day. After the GateHouse merger with Gannett I worked on the product side for about a year and then shifted to consulting and freelance work during COVID.
3. What are you looking forward to the most when working on the BCP?
Penny: Some news organizations still see branded content as a dirty word, yet we see again and again through studies and through results that more businesses would like this type of advertising. I know we have some great storytelling happening about branded content leaders, and I’m looking forward to seeing those campaigns developed up close.
I’m also looking forward to following the strategic partnerships that companies make with brands, especially around campaigns involving DEI initiatives. There can be compelling messages created to promote diversity in local communities, and many of our local media organizations are the best group to tell them.
4. What are some of the lessons you learned from your other projects at LMA that you think will apply to BCP?
Penny: As I mentioned earlier, collaboration is a big part of what I do at LMA. I’m looking forward to bringing new ways to collaborate to the project. The way news organizations grow and thrive is to share best practices and learn from each other. The more we can develop best practices that can be shared, the more we will break down silos within our own news organizations.
I also have tons of experience in rolling out products and implementing new technologies, so I hope to be able to lend my technical expertise as needed to the project.
5. What is the greatest opportunity for companies in the branded revenue space?
Penny: In a piece on Nieman Lab reflecting on the first 18th months of local digital news site Lookout Local, Ken Doctor shared that branded content has been a “home run.” In fact, advertising makes up 60 percent of their revenue, a percentage that might sound surprising to some given the growth in reader revenue in the industry. Doctor goes onto to share that the advertising program has attracted 50 marketing partners, which includes local businesses and nonprofits using paid posts to tell their story.
Local news outlets who continue to ignore branded content as a way to evolve their advertising are leaving money on the table. We still encounter companies who resist it, despite all of the free training, case studies, and boot camps we offer. I hope through more great examples like Lookout we can bring more media companies around.
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.