DigitasLBi's Chicago Office Goes to Summer School With BuzzFeed

Program Meant to Enable Faster, Better Content for Agency's Clients

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BuzzFeed's Matt Trotta at DigitasLBi Chicago
BuzzFeed's Matt Trotta at DigitasLBi Chicago Credit: Scott Blessman/Digitas

DigitasLBi's Chicago office is bringing in BuzzFeed writers to help the ad agency generate effective social advertising campaigns.

The so-called "BuzzFeed in Residence" program, which launched yesterday, will bring in business-side ad writers from the social news and entertainment website to Digitas' Loop home for office hours one day every other week.

BuzzFeed employees will join Digitas staffers to "riff on ideas or ask questions and get better immersed in the aspects of our business," says Adam Shlachter, head of media activation for Digitas' North American operations. The BuzzFeed team will help create real-time content and reaction to breaking news on behalf of clients, as well as assist Digitas team members in analyzing social media content.

In addition to its constant churn of pop-culture lists and animal .gifs (not to mention real news), BuzzFeed also works in-house with Fortune 100 brands to create online advertising that people will actually click on, read and share. These ads, referred to as sponsored content or native advertising, look like regular BuzzFeed articles, save for a byline that says "publishing partner" or "brand publisher."

Faster, better content
Formalizing and strengthening the relationship between BuzzFeed's advertising group and a major agency like Digitas will help create faster, better content for clients, according to executives from both sides.

There are many reasons for brands like Digitas Chicago clients Sprint, Whirlpool and MillerCoors to be interested in BuzzFeed.

Between March 2013 and March 2014, the site's unique visitors more than tripled, while the New York Times' uniques grew by only 15 percent, according to data from analytics firm comScore Inc. cited by the American Journalism Review. BuzzFeed received 71.3 million unique visitors in March, compared to the New York Times' 47.7 million and CNN's 66.2 million.

But planning content for digital-native sites is a faster, significantly different process than planning traditional online ads for legacy media.

DigitasLBi Chicago employees learn the secrets of BuzzFeed
DigitasLBi Chicago employees learn the secrets of BuzzFeed Credit: Scott Blessman/Digitas

"A traditional (ad) planning cycle doesn't allow for great innovation," says Matt Trotta, vice president of agency strategy and industry development at BuzzFeed. "So we're changing how we go about planning."

"That's not to say the traditional planning process will die, but we're hoping to modernize it," says Mr. Shlachter. "But rather than waiting for an idea to be half-baked before finding someone who can tactically execute it, we're getting together at the beginning in a collaborative process."

The office hours will be open to any Digitas team, though BuzzFeed staffers may eventually embed with a particular client team, such as Sprint or Taco Bell.

Mr. Trotta declined to provide the precise number of BuzzFeed staffers who will be in Digitas' Chicago office, saying the number would fluctuate based on demand and questions from agency staffers. He said BuzzFeed writers from other offices would occasionally fly in to meet with the Chicago team. Overall, BuzzFeed has about 525 staffers in eight main offices worldwide. Digitas has about 500 Chicago employees and 2,200 in North America.

The partnership, which began in New York in May, will extend through at least the rest of 2014. "We hope to grow from there," says Mr. Shlachter.

--Brigid Sweeney is a reporter for Crain's Chicago Business--