Determined to innovate, publishers are striving to drive product diversification and to continue commercialising the experience of their journalists and content producers.
Increasingly, brands and publishers are exploring integrated partnerships, which amplify both parties’ market presence and ultimately their bottom lines. Time Out’s partnership with Three successfully brought print and digital together through a video-in-print cover ad, while Hearst and Not on The High Street curated an original content campaign for selected titles over significant calendar occasions.
Why partner with brands?
Traditionally, when met with the marketing challenge of engaging audiences in-store and online, brand content marketing professionals create a content brief to go to a short list of agencies. These agencies will then pitch for the business or project, which will result in the winning agency creating the desirable content.
The aim of this is to hopefully reach those audiences and resolve the original challenges faced. Problem solved, right?
This landscape is changing, as publishers are starting to realise that with strong in-house talent, they can go up against agencies and win prospected briefs, encouraging publishing houses to develop and commercialise their existing offering.
Once a mere trend, brand partnerships are now becoming an industry standard. This shift is putting more pressure on the marketing teams to select the right partner, agency or publisher in a market of growing saturation and competition.
This change is coupled with an increasing number of content briefs currently circulating the industry. There are more social and digitally-focused briefs available, compared to those seeking traditional print solutions. In late 2017, it was documented that the global content marketing industry is projected to be worth $421bn by 2021 enjoying an annual growth of 16%. Clearly there is enough resource to go around.
The challenge publishers currently face is to establish themselves as a market leader. This comes down to in-house talent and how publishing houses market themselves as a partner not to be ignored. The most prevailing task involves figuring out how to generate relationships with brand decision makers.
At the core of the most successful partnerships is understanding each other’s needs, sharing a common agenda and working towards the same vision.
Who is leading the field?
There are numerous publishers leading the way in this arena, most notably Hearst Magazines UK. The publisher of Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar and Esquire, has been leading the content creation for supermarket retailer Asda since 2015.
Landing the deal after going up against several other media owners and agencies, the long-term strategic partnership will see Hearst draw upon its wealth of consumer insight, digital know-how and strategic expertise to produce bespoke multiplatform content for Asda. This brand partnership also comprises of the retailer being serviced by a dedicated editorial team.
This pioneering partnership example sparked an interest across the sector, ultimately resulting in a number of others following suit.
New entrants and challengers are also a threat to consider in this rapidly expanding market. Last week, Lastminute.com formed a partnership with travel publisher Rough Guides. The collaborative coalition will offer the brand a new way to target travel customers by creating captivating content, promoted through Lastminute.com’s channels.
There’s a steady emergence of duopolies, following a trend which has seen several major European publishers join forces to combat declining digital ad revenues.
The importance of choosing the right partner
At Ingenuity, we have recently been working with a global newspaper organisation, helping the team drive international business-to-business subscriptions in the brand world. It is an interesting area for the business, providing an exciting learning experience.
Ultimately, in this industry, people do business with people they like. Given the competitive nature of the landscape, it is important to really get to know what brand decision makers want and how they think. Utilising an external facilitator’s brand space insight, contacts and expertise, can significantly help a publisher get ahead of the competition when looking to build relationships with brands.
Top tips on how publishers can get brand partnerships right
There are some vital initial steps publishing houses should consider ahead of developing a partnership:
1. Be smart with who you target: what insight can you offer the brands you’re targeting and what challenges do they face?
2. Consider your approach: what is your messaging strategy when targeting advertisers? Put yourself in their shoes and consider why they would choose to partner with you. What are the core benefits and assets you can offer them? Visualise and position yourself as a solution to their marketing challenge.
3. Build the relationship and keep in touch: create riveting, useful and through-provoking thought leadership, that stands out from the crowd.
4. Close it off: this is the hardest stage. Seal the deal and create the interesting content everyone anticipates and longs to see.
There is a breadth of opportunities for publishers to utilise their knowledge and skillsets in the content arena. Given the unavoidable decline in print sales, the wider ad revenue challenges and the new competitive entrants, there is a tangible crossroad for many of them to adapt and innovate.
Ultimately, if publishing houses can drive high partnership awareness of their offering, they can remain as established entities and once again be the market leaders that everyone follows. Engaging an external facilitator with broad industry knowledge and contacts, can help publishers understand their positioning and targets, while also building awareness of their offering and generating the desired relationships.
The brand partnerships space will continue to grow in this rapidly changing landscape. Whilst some publishers are getting ahead of the curve, they must be smart about how they achieve that, while also bringing a breath of fresh air.
Chris Wilson is head of brand partnerships at new business consultancy Ingenuity.