Politico has hired a Dell marketing executive to help build and run a department called Politico Focus that will create content for brands -- a first for the political news organization.
Stephanie Losee, who helped build Dell's content-driven marketing and held the title of managing editor, has joined Politico as its executive director of brand content. Her career began as a tech reporter with Fortune magazine.
"This is an opportunity to put my career where my mouth is," said Ms. Losee, who's been an outspoken proponent of content-marketing -- or as she calls it, "brand journalism" -- on the conference circuit. "I want to restore the flow of money between brands and publishers to find a sustainable model for journalism. This is the right place to test my theories."
Politico Focus will not only help advertisers create content but also provide services around data and research, according to Peter Cherukuri, the site's exec VP-business development. He described Politico Focus as "a brand journalism and data studio that's focused on helping agencies and brands understand and engage political influencers."
Politico's advertisers are typically associations and corporations looking to reach a Beltway audience.
Ms. Losee will oversee Politico Focus' creative staff. Nick Yaeger, former CEO of the Nashville-based startup checkd.in, will manage the team's data wonks. The department will employ about six full-time people to start as well as a stable of freelancers. The plan is to grow thte team to 15 people.
It won't ask the newsroom to produce content for advertisers.
$21 billion at play
All of this probably sounds familiar. Publishers have spent the last couple years minting in-house creative studios to not only charge advertisers for real estate in their publications but also extract production and consulting fees for helping produce articles and videos on their behalf.
In many ways, an in-house creative studio is table stakes for winning digital business. Brands are spending big in this area. The most bullish estimate, from Business Insider Intelligence, puts the number at $7.9 bill this year and $21 billion by 2018.
Politico may find itself already late to the game. Although it began selling so-called natives ads -- that is, ads that resemble editorial content -- three years ago, the site was relying on the advertiser to produce the content. Meanwhile, its Capitol Hill competitors like The Washington Post and The Atlantic have carved out departments to make articles and videos for advertisers.
But Mr. Cherukuri said Politico will set itself apart by applying its style of journalism and relentless focus on Beltway influencers and policymakers to branded content. "We didn't want to rush into it," he said. And the hiring of Ms. Losee gives the company a holistic perspective on the industry -- one that includes time inside a big brand, he added.
When it was founded in 2007, Politico helped define the scooplet-driven, high-metabolism journalism of the web. "Its Internet-focused version is some obsessive-compulsive mix of trade journal, Twitter feed, and, quite literally, real-time chat with senior-most newsmakers and leakers," media gadfly Michael Wolff said of the site in a 2009 Vanity Fair feature. (Its print version is published daily when Congress in session and on Tuesdays during recesses.)
Politico grew quickly on the back of the 2008 presidential election -- leaving old-media institutions like The Washington Post and The New York Times whiplashed and eager to catch up. They've not only caught up but the field is now crowded with other digital-media companies like BuzzFeed, Vox and even Snapchat, which is hiring journalists in anticipation of the 2016 presidential election.
In roughly the last two years, Politico has emphasized magazine-style journalism -- it even introduced a six-times a year print magazine. On Wednesday, the site announced a new section called The Agenda, which will write about the ideas "shaping the country," its editor Stephen Heuser said.
The site is also expanding to Europe, as well as several U.S. states including New York, New Jersey and Florida. Part of this expansion is a rebranding of Capital New York, which Politico bought in 2013.
Politico attracted seven million unique visitors on desktop and mobile in April, a 37% increase over last year, according to analytics firm ComScore.