Branded content is a hot topic, but not one that is very well defined. Agencies, clients, editors and publishers have not yet come up with the ideal formula for the best synergy. There are no rules and everybody defines and uses branded content differently. Moreover, all parties involved act in their own interest and with a lack of defined rules, branded content can feel like the Wild West.
This is where the PR consultant comes in.
Whilst working with different media parties, I have seen the effect that the varying interests of different stakeholders have on branded content. As a client, you always give the producers an extensive briefing, with varying degrees of control, but the way the content is produced differs. Sometimes, regular editors produce the branded content but there are also large, mainly lifestyle media outlets that act as a creative agency. Their teams are fully dedicated to producing branded content and often ask for full creative freedom. Another option is to create your own content. No matter how you look at it, there is always tension with at least one of the parties’ interest not fully being covered. Editorial staff are asking for more editorial freedom or clients feel they should have more control in return for their money.
Rules of the game
Personally, I don’t think that the lack of rules is necessarily a bad thing. However, I have learnt that it’s important to define the rules every time, in order to avoid disappointment and frustration. Here lies an important role for a PR agency and its consultants; we have always been tasked with balancing clients and media, and are therefore capable of balancing commercial and editorial interests.
Truth be told, I make it sound worse than it actually is. Branded content, or sponsored or promoted content, is already integrated in almost all PR campaigns. And despite branded content involving media buying, it fits very well in a PR plan. It offers more control of your story and it guarantees attention in outlets and with audiences that are important for you and the brand. This way, it is very effective in forming a solid foundation for the campaign, which can be completed with free publicity and the right use of owned channels.
I even think there is much more to gain, as long as we don’t see branded content as fully editorial – with corresponding editorial freedom – or as fully commercial. Paying for content must not become a new way of presenting the company’s brochures or a sales pitch. A good story is still the most important part of the process, and instead of persuading an editor to publish your story, you have to persuade the reader directly to consume it. Here, the role of the PR agency is evident. Finding the good stories and expressing them in the right manner is, above all, the core of our existence.
Are you not entertained?!
It seems that the true formula for success has yet to be developed or maybe we must still grow into it. Some peers and marketers, recently Rupert Maconick in Adweek, state that the next step of branded content is to create true entertainment; a form of branded content that is so attractive and entertaining, people consume it on their own initiative. This is already in motion, for example the Lego Movie or the ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ campaign, which made people in Melbourne aware of the importance of safety in public transport by a series of games and videos.
By creating entertainment, you transform a good story and change the way that people consume it. Whether it’s branded or not, it’s all about the value of the story and the relevance for the reader or viewer. This is especially true now that content is increasingly being consumed on ad-free platforms, with ad blockers on the rise. Having a good story has never been so important, and the form you share it in possibly even more so.