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When blogging platform Medium begins publishing Re:form on Tuesday, its latest "collection," readers may notice something entirely new to the site: advertising.
BMW is sponsoring Re:form, a collection of posts about design edited by Sarah Rich, a former senior editor at Dwell magazine. It's the first time a collection, Medium's term for a digital publication, will have a sponsor. It's also the first attempt by Medium, created in 2012 by Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone, to generate revenue.
"We're in exploratory moment," said Evan Hansen, a senior editor at Medium. "It's not about the money, it's about the experiment."
Medium quickly gained a reputation for attractive design and high-caliber contributors, including best-selling authors like Jon Krakauer and Walter Isaacson and business leaders like Elon Musk. On Monday, Mitt Romney published a short post about a family vacation, complete with a photo collage.
Along the way, Medium has evolved into a publisher, introducing collections around several topics including political cartoons, sports and military tech and national security. Medium staff also commission original articles, some of which appear on Matter, an online-only magazine Medium acquired in 2013. But more than 99% of the roughly 10,000 articles that appear on Medium each week are not commissioned, according to the company.
In addition to Re:form, Medium is planning a collection on music, which will be edited by Source magazine co-founder Jonathan Shecter, as well as one on tech, led by Steven Levy, a prominent Wired magazine contributor. No brands are currently attached to the music or tech publications, according to Edward Lichty, head of corporate development and strategy at Medium.
BMW's sponsorship of Re:form will last six months. During that time, "Presented by BMW" will appear near the top of the page, with BMW videos running at the bottom of every article. Medium staff also plans to work with BMW and its agencies to produce four to five articles about the automaker that will run on the publication. These articles will be marked as sponsored and published through BMW's profile on Medium.
The sponsorship of Re:form is part of BMW's broader campaign to promote its new 4 Series Gran Coupe, according to Tom Penich, media communications manager at BMW of North America. The campaign also includes print, digital video and limited TV commercials in the fall.
BMW's marketing outlays in the U.S. totaled $274.5 million in 2013, a 4.7% decline from 2012, according to the Ad Age DataCenter.
There's no sales staff at Medium. Instead, it has worked with Nativ.ly, a company that seeks to pair brands with startups. Universal McCann, BMW's media buying and planning agency, also helped broker the deal between the automaker and Medium.
"Design is a key positioning point for this vehicle," Mr. Penich said. "It makes sense to align with the design content that Medium curates."
Sponsoring Re:form, he added, is "very much an awareness play, which is how we would gauge the success of the campaign." Medium's reputation as a platform for long-form storytelling also appealed to the automaker, he said.
"BMW has a very strong history in storytelling, all the way back to BMW Films," Mr. Penich said, referring to the eight short films the company produced and released in 2001 and 2002. "It's at the core of what we do at BMW in terms of marketing."
Neither BMW nor Medium would disclose the price of the campaign.
Medium has committed to publish 100 stories about design on Re:form over five to six months, according to Mr. Lichty. For those stories, BMW is guaranteed a minimum number of minutes of total reading time, a metric accumulating the amount of time people spend with an article instead of the number of people who see an article or the page views it gets.
"We felt that impressions were not necessarily the best way to measure real value," Mr. Lichty said.
Estimates of Medium's traffic vary. ComScore, which began tracking the site in November, estimated that Medium had more than 833,000 unique U.S. visitors in June, counting visitors via both desktop and mobile browsers and the mobile app. Medium, citing Google Analytics, said 6 million unique U.S. visitors came to the site on desktop and mobile browsers in June.
Medium said it got 9 million unique global visitors in June; ComScore doesn't track Medium's global visitors on mobile.