Future of Media 2013 recap: Branded content wooing brands, media

Mar 15, 2013   //   by admin   //   Blog, Media blog  //  10 Comments

Branded content, or content marketing, could save journalism from its financial precipice while also giving brands a 24/7 strategy to entice new fans, the audience heard at the recent Future of Media event in Toronto’s Drake Hotel.

Digital Journal hosted an insightful panel discussion on the role of branded content both in journalism and the brand communities. Taking place March 14 at Toronto’s Drake Hotel, the Future of Media talk invited respected speakers to offer their perspective on a topic on the tips of many tongues.Speakers included: Josh Sternberg, reporter at digital media news outlet Digiday; Steve Ladurantaye, media reporter at the Globe & Mail; Joseph Barbieri, former VP Content Solutions at TC Transcontinental and on the board of directors for the Custom Content Council in New York City; and Sabaa Quao, Chief Marketing Officer of Digital Journal Inc. and co-founder of /newsrooms.

The theme of the night looked at branded content’s increased visibility while also touching on the challenges news outlets and brands face when adopting a content marketing strategy.Hosted by Digital Journal editor-in-chief David Silverberg, the event began with a broad question on how branded content should be positioned in today’s branded marketplace. Ladurantaye quickly said it’s not a matter of if brands and media should adopt branded content but to what extent. “Brands are producing content at the speed of digital,” Sternberg also noted.

The conversation quickly turned to the controversy over The Atlantic giving the Church of Scientology a branded piece of content. Sternberg said the client’s polarizing nature may have raised the ire of readers, but he stressed the content was clearly marked as sponsored, so why the big deal?

Branded content is an essential revenue stream to fund the rest of journalism,” Ladurantaye added.

So who’s doing it right, the panel was asked? Quao said, “Brands and ad agencies aren’t built to create custom content efficiently or effectively,” but pointed out how Red Bull is winning acclaim for their content marketing work. He liked the Red Bull Stratos project, a space diving event involving Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner. “At this point Red Bull is a media company, they produce so much content,” Quao added.

“It’s not exactly media, but Rogers has a relationship with L’Oreal. Very seamless and profitable,” Ladurantaye said.

A veteran in the content marketing space, Barbieri said brands don’t need to try to be media. “They just need to borrow the talents and skill sets journalists have,” he added.Next the panel discussed the positioning of user-generated content in branded stories, and Quao said, “It’s free and random, but it’s mostly bad.”

Sternberg agreed, saying the cream will always rise to the top, and curation by skilled editors is still needed to find the right content from ambassadors and users.

Quality work comes from professionals, the panelists stressed.

Next the issue of journalists finding work in branded content businesses became a hot topic, with Ladurantaye saying if he were out of a job tomorrow, he would write for a company in a second. He got laughs but was he joking?

Ladurantaye then added, “Working for a brand isn’t being a journalist: it’s just using journalistic skills. It’s PR.”

Quao countered by saying what Ford creates on its site could be considered journalism since it’s offering value to readers. Sternberg expressed some disbelief, saying, “Would you really go to that source when all they write about is Ford cars?”

“Producing branded content isn’t out of the question for journalists. But don’t call it journalism,” Ladurantaye argued. “Brands respect the audience as human beings, said Barbieri. “They see opportunity to use the skills journalists have.”

Quao agreed by saying the flexibility and nimble nature of newsrooms gives brands some inspiration to emulate. Sternberg wasn’t agreeing, saying brands and news outlet are two distinct entities who shouldn’t learn from each other.

Ladurantaye voiced concern that brands would be confusing the issue by giving journalism free reign in their content marketing spaces, instead of calling it like it is: PR with a fancy name. “Journalism is about balance, getting two sides of a story and this branded content stuff is nothing like that.”

Follow the money, Sternberg added to this point. Who is paying for what? Who has control over a writer’s stories?

So what can brands learn from news media? Quao said, “Look at how news breaks, how stories form…things can often be messy but that’s OK.”

But real-time coverage exposes serious risks, Ladurantaye said. In the Red Bull space-diving example, what if Felix’s face had melted during that jump?

Brands are not held to the same standard as correcting mistakes as media outlets have been, Sternberg said. Discussing how businesses can stand out in a busy content marketplace, Barbieri said, “It’s not just about selling something. It’s about engagement, discussion, brand reputation.”

Brand that invest in people, process and quality will succeed. That was the overarching message from this topic, the audience heard.

he panel then agreed brands and publishers were slow to shift resources and effective branded content to mobile, despite social media giants recognizing the value of that space. Sternberg said Facebook makes $4 million a day off mobile advertising.

Quao and Sternberg agreed design isn’t getting enough attention by companies engaged in this field. Sternberg predicted design upgrades will be a key priority for forward-thinking businesses.

The Future of Media event ended with resounding applause, but don’t take our word for it. Check out the tweets below to see what attendees were saying about the discussion:

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