Marketers to Tap Journalists for Content

The number of media vehicles available to PR and marketing pros could fill the Los Angeles Freeway. Social channels, blogs, online video, Twitter chats and memes can help brands tell their story, improve Web traffic and boost visibility. Now, as companies start to shift from “storytelling”—taking owned assets and churning them into branded messages—to “storymaking,” or creating organic content that didn’t originate from a slideshow or press release, they have another option to consider: the proliferating number of branded content studios designed to help companies tell their stories.

Late last month, microblogging site Tumblr rolled out Creatrs, which will pair brands with select Tumblr users to create promotional content.

Just a few days later Condé Nast announced the launch of a branded content studio, 23 Stories by Condé Nast, which will create content for brands and marketers.

Brands will collaborate with select editors from Condé Nast’s stable of magazines—which includes GQ, Wired and Vanity Fair —to create the content.

Digital pure plays, such as BuzzFeed and Mashable, and legacy media like The New York Times have introduced similar content programs in the past year, per Ad Age.

The programs present a decent opportunity for PR pros who are conditoned to working with journalists and setting the tone of a message.

Now the trend is starting to accelerate, and puts a new onus on PR execs to figure out how they can work effectively with their marketing and advertising counterparts to influence and develop content for these types of media programs.

“It’s a viable option because it’s similar to things we’re doing with other companies in terms of sponsored content,” said Ann Rubin, VP of branded content and global creative at IBM, referring to 23 Stories.
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Last summer, for example, IBM partnered with Bon Appétit, a Condé Nast publication, to create “Chef Watson with Bon Appétit.”

The app, powered by IBM Watson technology and Bon Appétit’s culinary know-how, allows home cooks to draw on Watson’s advanced cognitive capabilities to create new and unusual recipes.

To extend the program, IBM and the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) this spring will release a cookbook, “Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson,” featuring more than 65 original recipes.

“When communications and advertising at IBM come together last summer it made all the difference in how we can integrate our message and get it out to the right people at the right time,” Rubin said. “As the line gets softer in the market between advertising and editorial we need to make sure it’s getting stronger and one side isn’t influencing the other.”

Rubin recommended two tips for PR pros who want to help drive branded content programming:

1. Remain authentic. No matter the media channel or the amount or resources available, content must ring true regarding the brand’s attributes.

2. Strong ‘POV. ’ Have a strong point of view baked into the programming. Use in-house experts—in whatever realm of the business—to help tell the story.


It’s also important to understand how branded content fits into your communications and marketing system, according to Arati Randolph, senior VP, head of enterprise and executive communications and new media at Wells Fargo.

“Do you have the right partnerships across the company? For example, we recently worked with our Enterprise Marketing team on the company’s ‘Small is Huge’ campaign,” she said. The program “spotlights human stories of the many local nonprofits Wells Fargo supports and how small community efforts can add up to huge results. These are true stories. They are incredibly powerful stories, and Wells Fargo Stories is a natural place for them to live. The key to having a successful storytelling strategy is ensuring everything ties back to your culture, brand and vision.”

Randolph stressed that as the company tells its stories internally a recurring question is: Can I share these stories with my friends and family? “Now that we are our own publishers, that answer is yes,” she said. “And the team today uses that storytelling and creative skill set to tell stories to a broad audience.”


Arati Randolph,; Follow Ann Rubin on Twitter, @annrubin

This article originally appeared in the February 9, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.