The Branded Content Project, funded by the Facebook Journalism Project in partnership with Local Media Association and Local Media Consortium, has challenged the project alpha group to create large action plans and take giant leaps toward new revenue possibilities with branded content.
The first projects are big jumps toward revenue growth, streamlined processes that save time and money, and content production for new audiences. The alphas’ innovative plans are already paying off.
These seven teams have jumped into enormous initiatives and are seeing the first round of results come in with exciting success. Graham Media Group’s Taking Off initiative was our first feature; our second was The Dallas Morning News and their FWD > DFW initiative; and our third is Shaw Media and their work toward improving reporting for advertisers.
Shaw Media is the third oldest, continuously owned and operated family newspaper in the nation, dating to 1851. More than 550 employees put their very best into Shaw Media’s award-winning daily and weekly print and online publications located in Illinois and Iowa.
A large part of Shaw’s success has been in their branded content program sold at each of their publications. What are the biggest strengths of this initiative?
“A few strong elements to our program include having a content calendar locked in, having topics for the next campaign on reporting during renewal period and the client having direct contact with their Branded Content Project Manager,” said Tom Shaw, chief revenue officer for Shaw Media. “We have check-ins with quarterly calls and touching base to ensure all aspects of the campaign are being fulfilled.”
Evie Kevish, project manager for Shaw, explained that their uniqueness comes down to how they position their product for the sales team. “We are unique because of the way we package and sell the campaigns. They are yearly contracts that include print and video.”
Annual strategies and creating a long-term client content calendar are paying off with engagement from their audiences. Their branded content native articles consistently see twice the engagement of their editorial articles. Engaged audiences make their advertisers happy and keep their retention rate high.
Kevish explained the challenges she saw facing her team and many of the other teams in our alpha group: “Over the past six months we have learned a wealth of information about branded content. Each alpha’s initiative was unique and proved how branded can be used across any vertical if done correctly. After our research meetings with Magid, it was interesting to find out that all of us are in the same boat and the No. 1 problem is the education of branded among sales reps and advertisers. Now that we have the branded content guide, hopefully other companies can use this to help them launch their branded campaigns.”
What’s the challenge?
One of the biggest obstacles Shaw faced was the completely manual and extraordinarily time-consuming process of gathering advertiser report for native article and social campaigns across platforms. “50 tabs on a spreadsheet isn’t sustainable” became a topic of discussion for our Branded Content Project partners and the area of focus for the team at Shaw.
Shaw Media’s focus for project testing is to improve campaign reporting and demonstrate positive results for advertisers. Improving the look, the frequency and the depth of their current reports for clients is now central to their growth strategy.
Jason Hegna, Shaw’s director of revenue, told us why solving the reporting puzzle is so important to their branded content growth: “Currently our reporting process is a very manual workflow which includes pulling several stats and building into a PowerPoint. As our client base continues to grow we are not able to provide results as often as we feel we should. In some cases we are pulling reports only when we feel we may lose the client. Most of the time these reports save the account.
“In creating an automated report we will be able to provide our clients quarterly (at a minimum) reports on engagement, allowing more transparency and the ability to follow the engagement trends based on topics. This allows our team to heavy up on topics that gain more traction than others. I feel this would set us up to improve our already high retention percentage,” Hegna said.
What's the solution?
Kevish said, “Everyone is trying to figure out ‘how do we report on branded content?’ Thankfully, the amazing team at NinjaCat has been able to work with me to help Shaw get to where we need to be with our reporting. This will help with transparency and retention and also let me know if I need to shift gears within the campaign. I want my clients to be educated and happy with their branded campaigns.”
Knowing that their branded content client list was growing, and quickly, it was time to automate the reporting process allowing for three major improvements for their team.
1. Improved campaign transparency with more frequent advertiser updates and deeper metrics.
2. Increased retention due to quarterly updates for clients and the ability to make changes if needed mid-campaign.
3. Time saved for the Shaw branded content team, allowing them to take on more clients and allowing team members to spend more time training and assisting their sales team and guiding and advising advertisers with their content.
The build-out for Shaw’s new templates should be complete in Q4 allowing them to pull beautifully designed reports as needed for advertisers. The benefits of increased customer touch points should be realized in 2020 with the most important aspect being the ability to tell a great data story about the success of their campaigns.
“We have had meetings every single week for the past two months and we are working on providing a report to clients that tells the data in a story. It will be easy to understand and pretty!” said Kevish.
The first takeaways from using NinjaCat are, as Kevish put it, amazing.
“After years of searching for a vendor that can help me with a super manual, somewhat complex reporting process, I am relieved to find developers at NinjaCat are able to help me,” she said. “I have been very impressed with their entire team and staff. From our AE to our trainer, it has been outstanding.”
The Shaw team has been busy getting accounts uploaded and APIs synced. They have been training once a week and learning more about custom reporting and metrics. Their weekly training is combined with implementation and set up which makes an efficient process.
One important lesson learned early by the Shaw team is the need for examining URL structures and naming conventions for automatic report building. Using the client name in the appropriate spots can help avoid more manual intervention when it comes to pulling reports for multiple clients.
An innovative and interesting side experiment for team at Shaw was to test their social media posts using black-and-white pictures vs. traditional color photography. After reading an industry article about the benefits of using black-and-white photos, Kevish decided to see for herself.
The success was immediate.
Shaw’s client posts saw a 28% increase in impressions and engagements by simply switching to black-and-white imagery. They plan to continue this test for several months and will report back with more data by the end of the year.
When we asked Kevish what she has learned from participating with the project so far, she was relieved to report: “We are all in the same boat. All of us are learning to better … educate our sales teams and clients to understand what branded content truly is and the best way to use it. The biggest problem across the board is the education of the reps and clients. That is something we need to tackle and fix, and we are. We’re learning about new tools, vendors and programs to make our packages more exclusive to our markets. It is neat to see branded being used across all avenues of media and seeing its effectiveness within campaigns. This is the future of advertising. We need to be better storytellers,” Kevish said.
We will continue to document and share Shaw’s progress with their initiative and the results from all our alpha partners at sellbranded.com.