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What Every Editor Should Know About Branded Content

By now, branded content has become ubiquitous. Sponsored articles, videos, and social campaigns are filling up our news feeds and gracing the home pages of our favorite magazines’ websites. These pieces of content have become a crucial way for media companies to generate revenue. This has opened the door to exciting new positions for editorial staff members.

Whether you’re interested in a career in branded content or just wanted to learn more about it, we spoke with Corinne Bagish, branded content editor at New York Magazine, and Brie Schwartz, senior lifestyle editor of branded content at Hearst, to round up some of the things you should know.

1. Successful branded content tells an engaging story. We’ve all seen advertorial content that has made us roll our eyes. These pieces often focus on selling a product rather than telling a story. “It’s easy to plug a product, and have that be the ‘plot,’” Bagish said. “In fact, if that’s all we were aiming to do, our jobs would be a lot simpler. But, it’s not about simplicity. It’s about telling a story that’ll resonate with readers, and it’s about telling that story in the most compelling way possible. In short, in successful branded content, the brand isn’t the plot.”

Instead, the focus should be on creating the best content and integrating the brand in a seamless fashion.  “The same thought process that goes into coming up with any clicky article applies here,” Schwartz says. “I’m always thinking about the types of story trends that are resonating across the Interwebs (hello, personality quizzes!) playing with the best ways to package them and determining how to optimize them for social — while also raising brand awareness.” 

2. That means branded content creators have to be incredibly creative. Sponsored content has to please the brand, the media outlet, and the audience. “It’s one thing to develop ideas that are going to appeal to your audience, but doing so through the lens of a brand’s objectives is a whole new, often complex layer,” Bagish said. “Not to mention the fact that you have to consider what other publishers will likely be offering versus where your own strengths lie.” Schwartz adds, “At the end of the day, we all just want to make good content that you’d be pumped to share with your friend, regardless of whether [or] not it’s sponsored.”

3. Sponsored content is becoming more dynamic. Branded editorial campaigns have become a popular way for media companies to make a profit which has led to plenty of innovation in the field. “Brands and publishers are recognizing the need to experiment with new formats to cut through the noise,” Bagish said. “There’s so much amazing development and design work out there. We’re also seeing a greater volume of content developed specifically for distribution on social platforms, whereas social was once just a component of the equation.”

4. A career in branded content gives you the opportunity to learn new things outside of a traditional editorial role. Many branded content studios are like micro-organizations within an organization,” Bagish said. “You’re working across a lot of different areas: You’re creating financial models, dabbling in client services, advising in social media amplification, production, and more.” To get the job done, you’ll be interacting with several different teams throughout the company including sales, marketing, design, and tech. From fashion houses to movie studios to airlines, the brands you work with will vary as well. That means you’ll be developing concepts on a variety of topics. “There’s no topic fatigue; you’re always learning.”

5. Sometimes the brand and the media outlet disagree. Creating a piece of branded content means forming a happy marriage between the company who’s sponsoring it and the company who’s creating it. Sometimes, there’s a lot of negotiation and explanation before the piece perfectly pleases both parties. “We do our best to advise, explaining our reasoning throughout every step of the process, including in response to brand or agency feedback. In a way, we’re acting as consultants on how best to engage our audience,” Bagish said. “After all, bridging the gap between brands and the audience they’re trying to reach is the ultimate goal.”

6. And, some great ideas don’t sell through. Similar to a story getting killed, not all branded content work will make the cut. “We send tons of great ideas out the door that we’re super excited about and spend a lot of time on, and unfortunately, not all of them sell through. It’s just how it works,” Bagish said. “Similarly, programs can change mid-campaign, which can be frustrating, especially if the original concept was something you were pumped to execute or, worse, have already executed!” This can be discouraging, but it’s also a valuable lesson in flexibility and adaptability.

7. Many of the skills you need to succeed in a career in branded content are the same as the ones you need for any other editorial role. You’ll need to know about develop original pitches as well as write and editorialize engaging content. “Because branded content is all about coming up with stories that the reader will love, it’s highly editorial,” Schwartz says of her work. Bagish adds, “If you’re already in the branded content realm, don’t be afraid to share your ideas, even if you’re unsure about them. You never know what will win the pitch, or what will spur the idea that wins the pitch.”

Ariana Marini is a journalist based in New York. She loves reading up on the latest health news, trying on new beauty trends, and frequenting comedy clubs in the city. You can check out some of her work at her portfolio website or tweet her @rarirana.

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