Tag Archives: branded journalism

NYT’s Ricochet: A New Wrinkle in Branded Journalism

Instead of a brand creating journalistic content, what if a brand could borrow and share some of the best content created by actual journalists?

That’s what Ricochet, an intriguing new tool from The New York Times, is making possible. The newspaper first unveiled the tool last year and used it internally, but this week NYT announced that other media companies — Forbes, Conde Nast, Time Inc. — will also use it. No doubt NYT will sell Ricochet widely, and it could become an important part of the way branded journalism works.

Ricochet allows a brand to buy an ad next to an online story. But the ad only appears when that brand shares the story through a specially-generated link. If others in turn share that link, they’ll see the brand’s ad, too.

If the Times writes a story about cloud computing, SAP — which, incidentally, helped develop Ricochet — can use Ricochet to buy an ad to run with that story when SAP shares it. So if SAP tweets the story or posts it on Facebook or its SAP website, anyone who clicks on it sees an SAP ad along with the story. Significantly, points out NYT’s R&D chief Michael Zimbalist, Ricochet guarantees that readers won’t click the story that SAP shared and see an ad from an SAP competitor.

Using Ricochet does something else: It doubles down on a brand’s support for a story. Yes, it’s sharing it. And now it’s also, in a way, financing it.

The best branded journalism doesn’t “sell” — it develops a market. Bicycle apparel company Rapha hired journalists and started Rouleur, a biking magazine. The magazine doesn’t write about Rapha’s stuff — it writes about hard-core biking. If it can help generate more bikers, there will be more people around to buy Rapha’s stuff.

So it makes sense for an SAP to encourage excitement about cloud computing. Or a Tourneau to celebrate high-end watches. A good way for brands to do these kinds of things is to circulate credible, authentic, journalistic content about the topics their constituents care about.

One way to do that is to create content yourself — a la Rouleur. But that’s not always easy and not in many brands’ DNA.

Ricochet seems to usher in a new era of brands being able to easily buy into legitimate journalism created by media outlets, and redistribute it in a way that lets everyone win. The brand gets to associate itself with market-building journalism; the journalistic organization makes more money so it can continue producing such stories; and the public gets content it likes and values.

It will be interesting to see what happens as Ricochet becomes more widely offered.

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Sandy, Ickiness, and “Deadline Branded Journalism”

Here’s one reason why brands should embrace journalists: Good journalists have learned how to be current in ways that feel relevant and welcome — as opposed to icky.

See, when marketing types try to be relevant, they too often come across as more inappropriate than when your drunk best man structured his toast around the story of that time you made a sex tape with two co-eds and a fruit salad.

My old friend Stuart Elliott wrote a New York Times story about exactly those kinds of screw-ups in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Everybody on the east side of the U.S. was absolutely fixated by the storm early this week, and brands wanted to snag a little piece of that interest. But especially in a time of disaster, there’s no room for any message that sounds the least bit self-serving or insensitive. Stuart details a number of such flubs, like this one: The Adler brand urged shoppers on Twitter and in e-mails to “storm our site” and obtain free shipping by entering “code Sandy at checkout.” Adler ended up having to apologize.

Nonetheless, it’s smart for brands to try to be current. I recently stopped by Forbes to talk to Lewis Dvorkin, who is building a platform on Forbes.com for branded content, called BrandVoice. Brands pay to blog on Forbes.com, and the content gets mixed in with all the other Forbes-created content — though BrandVoice pieces are marked as such. For a BrandVoice story to get attention, it has to be good on its own merits — as good as Forbes’ journalist-written pieces.

So what works in getting attention? “Being current,” Lewis immediately said. Stay close to the news, and the stories will get more readers.

But really — brands are terrible at this! If they try to stay close to the news, they often stumble like Adler. And then on the flip side, brands seem like they are news-blind.

In checking several times this week, I never saw one BrandView story rise to Forbes’ most-read list. Two of the most active brands on Forbes’ BrandView are Oracle and SAP. It’s hard to find a relevant story in their buckets. On Oct. 31, while much of the Northeast cleaned up from Sandy, Oracle ran a post from its president, Mark Hurd, titled, “What CEOs want from CIOs.” At that point, on that day — who cared!?

Journalists who have worked for newspapers or news magazines instinctively hunt for relevant angles on a big story, always keeping their audience in mind. The trick is to always know the bigger picture  and filter current events through that.

A simple example: Let’s say a reporter covers real estate. She always has in her mind the big trends and issues that people care about — like housing prices, foreclosures, interest rates. She’s learned those issues and has some expertise in them. So when Sandy hits, she immediately writes about how the storm will impact those curent issues, addressing the topic in ways that matter to readers.

If a brand acted more like a journalist, it would filter current events through the kinds of things it knows about — and match that up with what people care about.

Cape Bank in Cape May, N.J., might inherently know a lot about the history of how a major storm impacts a seashore economy. If it thought like a journalist, it would quickly put that knowledge into words or videos and get its wisdom out to the public, perhaps as an op-ed piece or blog or  video. To hit the right note, the piece could not at all try to promote the bank. The idea would be to share knowledge and help people. By doing so, the bank could seem smart and caring, not to mention quick on its feet.

Let’s call it “deadline branded journalism.” At the moment, it’s either hard to find or badly done. A smart brand might exploit that opening.

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Tourneau Minutes: Making of a Franchise?

Leading up to this summer, my colleagues at VSA and I did a fun project for Tourneau, the high-end watch retailer. We created a print and web magazine out of thin air, called Tourneau Minutes.

I ended up wishing it could’ve gone a step further, because I worry we missed an opportunity for Tourneau (and us) to create a branded-journalism franchise.

Tourneau’s idea was to put out something better than a catalog — something people would want to read and look at and pass around even if they weren’t in the market right then to buy a watch.   Since it sits in the middle of the industry, selling all the top watches, Tourneau is — in a kind of hilariously ironic way — the Switzerland of watches. So it could credibly sponsor a watch magazine.

In my mind, the right approach would be to create a Cigar Aficionado of watches — Watch Aficionado, if you will. Cigar Aficionado is a lifestyle magazine — it’s not so much about cigars as about the kinds of people who smoke high-end cigars and the lives they lead. It actually makes cigars aspirational (in a marketing, not pulmonary, context).

So the idea was for Tourneau to make a magazine that was similarly about the kinds of people who wear high-end watches and the lives they lead. The more the publication was like that and the less it bore the marks of marketing…the better the chance that the public would embrace the magazine. If Tourneau could help widen the interest in high-end watches beyond the usual suspects, some of them would come to Tourneau to buy. That would make the investment net positive.

If done well, and maintained over enough time to prove itself, such a magazine could become self-sustaining. As Rapha has shown with its magazine, a sponsored publication can actually become impactful enough to lure advertisers who might even be competitors — a sign of a truly successful branded-journalism product in a satisfying in-your-face way.

This first issue, out this summer, is a lovely design, has some beautiful images, and some good writing. (OK, I wrote one piece, too — about time and baseball.) But it didn’t quite reach the level of great branded journalism. First tries rarely do.

Tourneau is taking the next Minutes magazine in-house. I hope they invest in real branded journalism and don’t slide back toward catalog. We’ll watch and see.

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