BuzzFeed is starting an effort to train agencies in BuzzFeed-style storytelling -- all the better to support its bottom line with sponsored posts, also known as "native advertising."
Its Social Storytelling Creator Program, inspired by agency cultivation efforts at Facebook and Google, is meant to seed the market with agencies and people that will do great work in the social storytelling space, according to Jon Steinberg, president and COO at BuzzFeed, who previously helped develop small business partnerships at Google. "We want more people doing it in a high quality way," he said.
Agencies that take part in the program will receive "accreditation" from BuzzFeed, including a badge they can slap on their website and supporting materials. BuzzFeed won't charge agencies to take part, but does plan to require minimum budgets from the agencies' clients.
The first agency taking part in the program is VaynerMedia, which has worked with BuzzFeed on developing content for a number of brands, including G.E. and Hasbro. "They've really leaned in to do social storytelling and native advertising," Mr. Steinberg said of VaynerMedia. "They're very agile, like us." The agency, led by Gary Vaynerchuk, will help BuzzFeed shape the program and develop the criteria for other companies to join, he said.
It's striking that a website can interest agencies in a program to explore, essentially, how best to advertise on that site. One test will be its ability to eventually involve industry heavyweights closer to the size of a BBDO, Ogilvy or a media agency network such as Starcom.
The program is scheduled to begin in the third quarter of this year with a daylong event in New York on best practices in social storytelling, both in editorial and branded content. Speakers will include BuzzFeed top brass such as CEO Jonah Peretti and editor in chief Ben Smith as well as Mr. Vaynerchuk and clients. Marketers attached to the program include G.E., Mondelez International's Trident Gum, Unilever-owned Slimfast, and Del Monte's Milk-Bone.
Participating agencies will receive extensive training from the BuzzFeed creative team that works exclusively on branded content -- not BuzzFeed's editorial staff -- over the course of three to six months. The program will also include staff exchanges and early access to new BuzzFeed features and creative and ad products.
"Accredited" agencies will be able to post stories directly to the BuzzFeed site, although BuzzFeed staffers will review the content before it's made live, and have access to a full suite of analytics via a new tool called BuzzFeed Platform.
"We know dog content resonates strongly online, so we have created a number of stories around the loving and joyful connection between dogs and owners," Melinda Winter, senior brand manager at Milk-Bone, said in a statement. One of these stories, for instance, is a collection of 10 GIFS of dogs warmly greeting humans.
Any publisher could train agencies to create native ads for their websites, but Mr. Steinberg said BuzzFeed is especially qualified for the job. "There aren't many people doing branded content at this scale," he explained. "Others don't have the technology staff or level of experience."
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