winter / 2017

The magazine of branded content
Juliet Stott
Hearst’s Jane Francisco on what it is and why you should be doing it
Juliet Stott
Feb 8, 2018

Jane Francisco is Editor-in-Chief of Good Housekeeping and Editorial Director of the Hearst Lifestyle Group, which includes Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Dr. Oz The Good Life—and with Hearst’s recent acquisition of Rodale, Prevention. Under her leadership, Good Housekeeping, with a cross-platform audience of more than 35 million women, was named as the Hottest Women’s Magazine in 2016 and one of Advertising Age’s Hottest Magazines of the Year for 2016. Here, Francisco talks to Content Magazine about native editorial, how it deepens engagement with audiences, and why co-creation is a win-win situation for media and brands.

Content: What is native editorial, and how does it differ from the standard advertorial traditionally offered to brands?
Jane Francisco: Native or partner editorial is the opportunity for brands to co-create content with our Good Housekeeping editors. This process differs from standard advertorials, where 100% of the messaging is controlled by the client, because our editorial team leads the process. The goal is to deliver on our partner’s strategic needs, but also to create high value content that our readers will love. When we hit both, it’s a win-win situation.

Who’s in control of that process—your editorial team or your client’s marketing team, and how do you marry the needs and wants of both of these two camps?
Good Housekeeping leads the process, as our team actually creates the content and we have to stand behind it, but we are always in close contact with the client’s marketing team. We’ve created some very successful partner content through our Institute, which tests and rates products. Last year, for example, we teamed up with Walmart to share products and brands that it sells which also performed well in our expert evaluations. Walmart’s primary objective was to let people know that it sold various brands and top performing products in its stores or online; and we were able to confirm that through our testing. We offered our readers a service they valued and Walmart saw more traffic and interest in these items, so everybody was happy.

Is there a fine line between creating native editorial and pure editorial? Does the reader know the difference, does the reader need to know the difference, does the reader care about the difference?
Transparency of how we present co-created content is very important, and we are always very clear. At the top of every page we say this is presented by whoever, and powered by us, because we are the ones who created the content. Still, confusion may exist. Some of our readers think that even the ads are created by us. I actually get complaints or questions about brand ads from readers. So, there’s a mix of understanding. Yet, if people value the content, if they find it compelling and well-presented, we find our audience totally eats it up. From our perspective, if we can fill pages with really valuable content that is driven by a partnership, then that means our audience gets more to read and engage with, which is a bonus for them.

For brands thinking of investing in native editorial—how does immersive advertising perform against, say, display advertising?
They serve different purposes and are two different approaches. A brand ad is a high awareness piece, it’s not nearly as detailed [as co-created content], but it has impact. Yet, when you co-create content, you’re looking to engage the audience with your content, and get them involved with you. One thing about print specifically is people spend a significant amount of time with the content. Whereas that’s not the case with a brand ad. I think there is a still a place for that kind of advertising, whether it is outdoor or in print, as it’s about recognizability and awareness, yet storytelling gets people involved, is more complex and engaging. Some of our recent branded content pieces were among the top-rated stories in the issue.

Do you think native editorial is relevant for all brands?
Native editorial is not a direct sell, it’s about creating a connection. It doesn’t offer the reader an incentive to go and buy something from the store straight away, as a rip-out coupon might. It goes deeper, helping people feel more aligned with a specific brand—and who doesn’t want that? Native editorial is also more experimental, and allows a brand to align itself with a market trend or issue. Like editorial, native content is more of an art than a science. Ultimately, marketers need to think about how native content fits with their whole brand message and how intimately they want to engage with consumers.

What is the future relationship between magazines and brands? As neither can survive without the other, will there be a greater move for co-creation?
There is huge opportunity in this area that, for various reasons, we haven’t fully explored. In the past, there was a sense that either audiences might not like it and/or we needed to keep the space between the brands/marketers and the content creation team. I think this is changing. Audiences are savvier and content creation is happening at so many different levels and places that people now understand and accept co-creation, and even embrace it. We are seeing more custom editorial teams emerging. Here at Hearst, we have Food Network Magazine which promotes and supports the content on the Food Network cable channel. Food Network Magazine, which has celebrities, personalities, franchises all related to the cable channel in it, is highly valued with its readership, but it is also a marketing vehicle for Food Network. This doesn’t stop the readers going to the newsstand and buying it in droves.

Finally, why should brands consider co-creating content with magazines like yours?
Marketers understand the importance of content–and the power of storytelling. Some brands have invested heavily in creating their own content, yet have found it hard to attract audiences to their websites. Magazines, like ours, have an advantage as we already have large audiences. We know that we have a direct channel to them, plus we have the expertise in creating the kind of content that audiences want. This is where the opportunity for brands to co-create content with us has been opened up. That’s not to say that brands should abandon their websites, but rather see co-creation as a new avenue to reach consumers. We are in the early stages of forming these partnerships, we are testing out to see what fits, what garners the highest engagement, and what actually delivers ROI. Frankly, at the end of the day, advertising, like editorial is not a science.