How to Get Started on Branded Content Partnerships

“Show the readers everything, tell them nothing”
― Ernest Hemingway

There is an alarming amount of media inefficiencies in digital advertising. Click-through rate of standard banner ads have been plummeting, and across ad formats, it stands at 0.05% — in other words, the likelihood of a banner ad being clicked is equivalent to the chance of being picked for an astronaut job at NASA. Moreover, with ad-blocking technology adoption growing at 30% year on year and a quarter of all digital media spend is lost to fraud, it has become a real challenge for marketers to target and reach their target audience in a cost-effective manner.

An opportunity available to you, as a marketer, is to engage with your customers using relevant & engaging content. To do that, you would need help from experts who know how to create compelling content.

You have several options.

  • You could create content internally, should you be fortunate enough to have built a team of writers, videographers and designers.
  • Alternatively, you could work with a creative agency. Many ad agencies have started to offer content marketing services such as long form writing, infographic design and animation.
  • Or, you might have a need to create specialised content such as a series of articles with a strong journalistic angle or even a newsworthy documentary film to tell a compelling story, about your brand. In this instance, you might consider working with a Media Publisher to create Branded Content.

Branded Content partnership with Media Publishers

Many publishers have formed content studios that focus on creating branded content in conjunction with advertisers. e.g. New York Times’ T-Brand Studio, Huffington Post’s Partner Studio or The Telegraph’s Spark Branded Content Division. Typically these content studios are made up of journalists, filmmakers, data experts, and strategists that create and amplify native advertising for brands, and who are kept separate from the editorial newsrooms.

However, there is also a growing trend among some publishers who have begun to blend their editorial unit with their commercial teams. While this blurring of the divide between church and state is unusual, it gives you the marketer, an opportunity to work with newsroom journalists and editors on your branded content.

In a WSJ article, the CEO of MIC, a millennial-focused media company, is betting heavily on sponsored articles and videos and believe that “brands are going to have to create ads that people are willing to watch or read and consume.”

Another reason to work with Media Publishers is the existing readership/viewership, i.e. a readily available pool of audience who are actively seeking relevant content from the publisher.

Here are things you need to consider if you are thinking of a Branded Content partnership:

1. Does the Publisher’s target audience match yours?

What is the customer profile you are targeting? Are they similar to that of the publishers? Different publishers have a different target audience. Some are broad-based, e.g. news sites for millennials, while some are very specific for example Travel luxury magazine for the affluent audience. Some are unique to a particular industry, for instance, trade publications that could help a brand to target its content more narrowly.

2. What is Your Content Marketing Goal?

Next, you should figure out what your content objective is. For instance, are you creating content to generate brand preference to a broad audience or are you hoping to drive leads to your site?

More specifically, you need to determine what kind of content you are looking to produce and how you will go about doing so.

3. What is the Media Publisher’s track record with Branded Content?

Some media companies offer excellent Branded Content solutions through content creation teams with the same experience and know-how as the Editorial teams from the newsrooms. They might also combine internal resources with a pool of reliable, high-quality freelancers to produce the branded content.

The important thing is that they remain transparent with you throughout the process and that, they can implement what they promised with regards to the quality of writers, designers, filmmakers whom they provide. Will they deliver the reach of their target audience through their media platforms as well as let you leverage their technology capabilities? For instance, some media companies will give access to the advertisers, the same content management system that the journalists and contributors are using on a day-to-day basis.

4. How do you choose a Media Partner

Supposed you decide to go with Branded Content. You now have to find the appropriate media publisher, whose content and target audience will line up well with your own.

There are a few things to consider:

a. Distribution of the Branded Content

The size of the publisher’s base is the first consideration, e.g. reach, readership, viewership, size and profile. The general idea is the larger the base, the better. While a broad base would distribute your content more efficiently, this is not necessarily the most important criteria.

b. Amplification of the Branded Content

How willing are the publishers to drive traffic to promote the content you produce, such as the use of their diverse social media platforms to drive reach on every campaign?

c. Does the audience profile match that of your customers

The audience profile is a major consideration. You need to get your content in front of a particular audience. A publisher could be small in readership base but might offer instead, a very high-quality audience profile that matches your customer profile closely. If the publisher targets that audience and has built many of the same personas as you, the partnership might be what you are looking for.

d. The editorial quality versus your brand reputation

You need to determine if the branded content is going to give your brand a boost and if the editorial quality is aligned with your company’s reputation. In other words, you will need to think about how the content partnership affects your brand. Last year there was a 155% increase in branded content views vs. the prior year. People accept Branded Content when it is relevant and compelling and when a brand has been transparent in the presentation of the content to the audience.

e. Track the performance of your branded content

What kind of data will you have access to? Will they provide data and research insights to measure brand effectiveness and brand uplift, as a result of the content partnership? Polar’s 2016 Q3 Benchmarks on the state of Branded Content reveals that the overall average CTR is 0.33% (this is 6.6x more than a banner ad) and people stayed much longer on branded content site at 2min20sec. What data and content consumption reports will be available to you? How well will your partnership be tracking the efficiency of the Branded Content?

f. How long is this partnership for?

If the media buy is successful and the implementation process goes smoothly, are you prepared to renew the partnership and maintain a consistent relationship year on year? Will this partnership be a one-off campaign, or will you continue to deliver great quality content which your customers have come to expect from you — especially, given the increased interest in branded content? Are you in it for the long term?


If done right, branded content partnership with a media publisher is an effective strategy that will complement an always-on Content plan (which you create with your agency) and supplement an on-going Advertising campaign.

Importantly, brands and publishers must remain as transparent as possible in the presentation of the content. Let the audience know that your brand is involved, what the content is about and, it will be consumed and accepted more readily. When your customers like and trust what they read or view, they will share with their network, and over time, they will build positive relationships with your brand.

“I realized the importance of having a story today is what really separates companies. People don’t just wear our shoes; they tell our story” — Blake Mycoskie, CEO of Tom’s Shoes

Have you been involved in Branded Content? Share your story.

This article was created by the author in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of her employer.

About the Author:

Norliza Kassim is a data-driven marketer at a global bank. Norliza is a frequent speaker at digital conferences in the region and has been a judge in several reputable Digital, Marketing and Mobile awards. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.