Inside the rise of publishers’ content marketing studios

In the past 12 months, Fairfax Media, News Corp Australia and NZME all launched in-house content marketing studios, but what is on offer and how will it affect the relationship between publishers, advertisers and agencies?

In January, when most workers were enjoying the end of their summer holidays, NZME’s Fiona McLeod was finalising a crucial strategy that would define the future success of the commercial content division she leads: the launch to market.

Ms McLeod is managing director of CreateMe, the latest content marketing studio to be launched by major Australasian publishers in the battle for better engagement and fresh advertising streams.

It is a growth area. Both News Corp Australia and Fairfax Media launched content marketing studios last year, with research indicating a vastly increased spend in this area in 2016 – despite its potential to disrupt traditional relationships.

The three content studios boast an ability to produce engaging, innovative, bespoke and multi-platform advertising solutions – an attractive proposition for brands amid the looming threat of ad blocking and the escalating battle for attention in a media landscape saturated with content.

A fourth entrant, NewsLifeMedia, will hit high gear this year with a multimedia content studio, LifeLab, that will offer clients tailor-made campaigns complete from creation to distribution.

LifeLab will draw on the expertise from NewsLifeMedia brands such as Vogue, GQ and Taste.com.au and will offer content creation solutions including digital, mobile, video, events and creative that are designed to empower brands to act as publishers.

At NZME, Ms McLeod has worked to unite core commercial content creators, strategists and existing commercial content units to provide a one-stop-shop for innovative sales solutions.

The underlying principle is content remains at the centre of everything CreateMe does, and that includes offering some products and services that overlap the traditional remit of creative agencies.

“It’s really important that we get (the official launch to market) right because the ambition is absolutely to have a unified approach and work very collaboratively,” Ms McLeod says.

“It’s not that we’re trying to encroach on that area and take away revenue from creative agencies. We just want to work together to produce the highest quality, creative campaigns that we can and deliver amazing content to our clients and to our audiences.”Fiona McLeod pull quote

It is nothing revolutionary for a publisher to offer brands more than simple advertising space, but Ms McLeod isn’t alone in wanting to ensure her division is received in a way that strengthens the relationship between publishers, agencies and clients.

Fairfax Media spent about 10 months in discussions with agencies and advertisers before the launch of its content marketing studio MADE to ensure it was open and transparent about its plans.

One thing, however, is clear: Australian marketers are spending more on content marketing, roughly a third of their total marketing budget (excluding staff), according to the 2016 Content Marketing in Australia: Benchmark, Budgets and Trends survey.

The survey – produced by the Content Marketing Institute in partnership with the Association for Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising and sponsored by MADE – also found 87 per cent of Australian marketers plan to produce more content than they did last year. The overwhelming majority listed creating more engaging content as their top priority in 2016.

However, these figures are somewhat at odds with other findings in the survey; only 55 per cent are clear on what a successful content marketing program looks like and just over a quarter said their organisations are effective at content marketing.

Mark Patterson, GroupM’s Asia Pacific CEO and chairman of China, is supportive of the content marketing initiatives by publishers and says if managed well by all parties, it should strengthen their already strong bonds with agencies.

“The more tailored, affordable, flexible, targeted content opportunities for our clients the better. Collaboration and innovation should drive this output,” he says.

To what extent these content units will change the role and relationships of publishers and agencies remains to be seen

Managing director of MADE Simon Smith said publishers were ideally positioned to help brands become better at content creation by capitalising on their storytelling expertise, extensive knowledge of audience and pre-existing client relationships.

“Brands are looking at new ways to engage with audiences. No longer can we rely on, or brands rely on, just traditional banners ads,” he says.

Mr Smith has been pleasantly surprised by the demand for MADE’s services since its launch in February last year. The division has been working closely with a number of Fairfax’s blue-chip clients including General Electric, American Express, Westpac and is producing around 200 pieces of content for the South Australian Tourism Corporation.

Simon Smith Pull Quote

Content produced by MADE can be amplified across the Fairfax network, but a brand can also distribute it on its own publishing channels, like social media, or even take it to a competitor.

Mr Smith describes the creation of MADE and similar divisions as “more evolutionary than revolutionary” and doesn’t see it drastically changing the relationship between publishers and agencies.

“At the end of the day we’ve both got the same thing at the front of our mind and that’s providing solutions for the client,” he says.

“Just as publishers are transforming and going through new ways of operating, media agencies are doing the same thing. They’re diversifying, they’re opening up new parts of their business and looking at new skills sets.”

News Corp’s content marketing initiative, News Corp Studios, was launched last year with the promise of helping advertisers distribute and amplify their content through social media agency, Storyful.

“A lot of clients have focused recently on content creation. I think a lot of clients are doing a good job, and a lot of clients are realising that their A-game isn’t making content,” News Corp Australia’s chief commercial officer, network sales, Sharb Farjami told The Newspaper Works. “So we turned our expertise into assisting our clients, so that aligns as best with what our customers want.”

CEO of Carat Simon Ryan notes that everyone is encroaching on the traditional territory of creative agencies. He points to the proliferation of influencer marketing where, for example, celebrities produce content on behalf of brands and distribute it via their social media channels.

“Ultimately they are somewhat becoming media marketing and advertising agencies themselves,” he explains.

“That’s why you need an independent like a media agency to be able to facilitate the transaction and the audience delivery, come up with ideas and maximise the money over many media portals.”

“I think media agencies have a bigger future than they did before because the media marketplace has become so complicated.”

Mr Ryan says both Fairfax and News Corp Australia have done a fantastic job at launching their in-house content marketing studios, but believes they are yet to be fully embraced.

It is a mindset issue more than anything and Mr Ryan believes once clients see positive return on investment through their linkages with publisher’s content marketing studios, the divisions will be more broadly embraced.

However there is yet to be an industry standard for the measurement of content marketing and while content marketing shows strong potential for future revenue growth for publishers, it is certainly not a silver bullet to the broader challenges they face.

Ms McLeod remains excited about the potential of CreateMe and is keen to work collaboratively with agencies to produce “ground breaking campaigns that have never been seen before in the market”.

“The individual components are already doing amazing things but as we come together as a unit and everybody’s working more collaboratively with each other, I think what I’ve seen is that we’re only just scratching the surface in terms of what’s possible.”

This article originally appeared in The Bulletin, which can be downloaded or read online here.

For more news from The Newspaper Works, click here.

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