Blogging for Dollars
One year ago Dave Kaye's job got a little more…thoughtful. That's when his employer, The Economist Group, encouraged by the digital inroads made by fellow old-line print pedagogues The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Times, launched Lean Back 2.0, a curated blog that dices up, riffs on, and reports with steady frequency the tremors large and small that occur in the digital publishing habitat.
“For the type of content that we produce, reading is still important,” says Kaye, the Economist Group's senior vice president and chief revenue officer. “And being The Economist, we’re able to reach out to influential people and thought leaders and get them to participate. (Read how The Economist leverages thought leaders for custom content). We thought that was important—get the right people involved at an early stage.”
There’s no shortage of custom content providers who sponsor blogs, of course. The question always comes down to its purpose—thought leadership or lead generation?
"In terms of thought leadership leading to conversion, twice we've gotten calls,” says Gordon Plutsky, chief marketing director at King Fish Media, the Salem, Massachusetts-based integrated marketing agency whose portfolio of thought-leadership products includes e-books, a blog, and a podcast, Kings of Content. “That’s twice out of fifty, but more importantly, for us, it’s about building our brand.”
Plutsky also cites these efforts as examples of a “do as we do” tactic. “We tell our own clients, in order to help them become thought leaders on their topic—food and beverage or financial services, for example—to provide content of value that will make them better at their jobs and help their customers and clients live their lives better. So we as a company should do the same.”
For The Economist’s Lean Back 2.0, on the front lines sits Emma Gardner, the editor tasked with corralling contributors from various industries—academia, tech, advertising, publishing, media, etc—and packaging their thoughts into digestible and provocative feeds.
“I try to stay up-to-date on the latest ideas coming out of digital publishing and advertising by subscribing to several daily newsletters and having dedicated Twitter lists,” says Gardner, who’d previously worked in documentary film and as a communications consultant at the United Nations. “Then if I read about an interesting new product or idea, I’ll reach out to the appropriate person involved and try to get a guest post or schedule a Q&A with them.”
When asked what thought leadership such as this can yield, Kaye is bullish. “It positions us as smart,” he says. “It’s about having intelligent conversations, and that’s how people perceive us. I don't think people necessarily think cutting edge and digital when they think of us, but I think what is happening in this space we absolutely have a place in it.”
Mining through The Economist’s digital successes validates Kaye’s assertion. He cites the 50,000 Economist readers who read them through their app, the overall 100,000 paid digital customers, and the fact that The Economist stands as the only weekly magazine to publish a consolidated media report—Alliance for Audited Media tracks their print and digital circulation, as well as newsletter open rates and social media presence.
“Marketing is changing around the influx of digital,” says Kaye. “To have conversations about advertising in digital and not discuss the movement of content marketing in digital, or the concept of native advertising, wouldn’t be fair. And those are the conversations we can begin with Lean Back 2.0.”
Despite the tweedy reputation and legacy pedigree of its parent publication, Lean Back 2.0’s most shareable and re-tweeted content reflects reader’s digital-age bandwith.
“Posts that feature lists (“13 stats that matter to digital publishing”) are the most popular and shareable,” says Gardner. “And visual posts with charts (“A visual look back at digital publishing in 2012”) also tend to do very well. And many of our posts that have been re-tweeted the most are posts from guest contributors with large Twitter followings or posts about people or companies with large Twitter followings. It’s always helpful to tap into other thought leader’s networks.”
King Fish Media’s marketing chief Plutsky concurs. “[Thought leadership tools] have helped us sell bigger programs and it helps us when we go against ad agencies who want to get into the content game,” he says. “It establishes trust and trust helps us and everybody win new business.”