Best Practices: How to Maximize Custom Content Sponsorships

Five Things to Keep in Mind When Evaluating Content Partnerships

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Content partnerships, especially in the b-to-b space, are a mainstay in today's marketing mix. In fact, according to a recent study by the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs, 76% of b-to-b marketers in North America said they expect to create more content in 2016 than they did in 2015, and more than half will increase content marketing budgets.

Sponsored content partnerships with publishers are a great way for brands to position themselves as a thought leader in an industry or on a particular topic. Publishers provide a ready distribution platform for getting the content in front of your target audience, and in the case of co-branded initiatives, the halo of a trusted media brand adds a layer of credibility to your marketing message. Brands also benefit from the media publisher's insights into what drives their readers to engage with content, which is invaluable when you are competing for attention.

In order to maintain the division between church and state, most major media publishers now offer a content development team that is separate from their editorial team. They all have slightly different names -- the custom studios team, branded content team, custom content solutions team -- but they all do essentially the same thing: offer a full spectrum of customized content solutions, including videos, infographics, whitepapers, research and more.

The results of these custom content integrations can be phenomenal. Two of "The Best Branded Content Partnerships of 2015" cited in a recent Ad Age column include WSJ and Netflix's Cocainenomics, which features the story of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel through a business and economics lens, and GE and NY Times's How Nature is Inspiring Our Industrial Future, which uncovers how scientists at GE study butterfly wings to develop better sensors, take cues from whale fins for jet engines and explore how fish schools can help us build better wind farms.

Here are five things to keep in mind when evaluating a custom content sponsorship:

1. It's a partnership, not a content factory. Bring the media publisher into the discussion early, ask for their opinion and feedback on ideas and how each idea would best work within the context of their site. The publishers know their audiences best, and the most interesting content partnerships uncover that unique cross-section of delivering the brand's thought leadership content under a lens that will resonate with readers.

2. Bio the author. Ask a lot of questions early on about who the writer will be on your project. Is it someone on staff who has deep expertise in your field or is it a freelance writer fresh out of college with no industry experience? I've been in situations where the writer assigned did not know basic industry terms -- that makes for very awkward discussions and an even worse outcome. Ask to see examples of other work to make sure that it meets or exceeds your standards.

3. Manage your rights. Make sure that the content developed is 100% owned by the paying advertiser. In order to fully leverage the content being developed, the advertiser should have unlimited and unrestricted rights to use the newly created content however they'd like (on their own site, in their own social feeds, in advertising creative across other partner properties/sites, etc.). You don't want to have to go back to the publisher to ask permission every time you want to promote your new content. Keep in mind that the media publisher will require attribution in some way, but you should be able to promote the content as you like.

4. Show me the money (details). Closely review the associated partnership costs to understand how much of the spend will be allocated to production (and specifically how that budget breaks down) and how much will be allocated to content promotion and distribution. To maximize traffic, often times the media publisher will promote the content developed off-site on networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, so you need to understand exactly what you are paying for.

5. Know who's leading the charge. Understand that there is going to be a lot of collaboration and back-and-forth at each stage of the process from content development and approvals through to campaign measurement and reporting. It's extremely important that there is a project manager working on the publisher side who will be dedicated to your project. He or she is going to be integral in developing a detailed project plan, making sure that the right folks are involved at key milestones and in managing deliverables and timelines.

Using these guidelines, we've been able to deliver co-branded content development in conjunction with reputable media partners that significantly outperformed our client's own branded content in terms of engagement and interaction rates -- from 40% to 73% higher. Click through rates were over five times higher than industry benchmarks.

Keep these five things in mind and you will be sure to maximize your budget and impact -- and will walk away with some great new content assets as well.