winter / 2017

The magazine of branded content
The Washington Post's
Juliet Stott
Story first, execution second
Juliet Stott
Feb 22, 2018

The Washington Post’s Vice President of Marketing Paul Tsigrikes oversees WP BrandStudio, the Washington Post’s in-house creative agency, where he and his team develop and execute custom content for brands. Formerly VP of integrated marketing at the Wall Street Journal and Associate Publisher at Hearst Magazines, Tsigrikes has more than 20 years of experience working with brands, such AT&T, Dell, Audi, Bank of America and Bayer. Here he talks to Content Magazine about the importance of knowing your audience, using data and innovative advertising technologies to target them effectively, and why it’s important to nail your story first, before thinking about how to execute it.

Content: What is the aim of WP BrandStudio?
Paul Tsigrikes: Our goal is to partner with brands and marketers to help them tell their stories to specific audiences at the Washington Post and deliver ROI on their marketing efforts. The Washington Post, has received significant investment from Jeff Bezos, our owner for the last four years, which has enabled us to increase not only the size of our editorial newsroom, but our engineering and technology capabilities too, making us the fastest-growing news site in the world. WP BrandStudio has benefited from this enormously, we now have access to the technology and engineering tools the newsroom uses, to accurately target the enormous audience of the Washington Post.

To what extent are brands using this service over say traditional display ads within the paper/your digital edition?
Primarily, we are working with advertisers for digital platforms. If someone’s objective is to reach Washington, DC influencers, which many of our clients do, we have the ability to do a combination of print and digital programs. If a client has a global or national target, we focus on the digital platforms. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a shift from traditional display advertising—brands are embracing programmatic and increasingly seeking branded content services. I think you’ll see that continue over the course of the next few years.

How do you differentiate from other media organizations offering a similar service?
WP BrandStudio combines the Post newsroom’s journalism practices (a story-first approach, deep investigative reporting, rich and sophisticated content) with innovative technology. Using our proprietary ad technology on the Washington Post, we can deliver high pageviews and deep engagement with the content we create. That technology also includes performance analysis, so the Studio can analyze the success of custom pieces compared to the newsroom to help optimize performance. For example, for a technology client, we can compare how the custom content technology we write compares directly to a Washington Post article on technology and innovation. We can also compare it to other B2B technology averages. In addition, we have an insights research team that does custom studies, which measure brand lift, familiarity and sentiment. Those are all tools in our arsenal, which enable us to show the effectiveness and ROI of the content programs we create.

How does the audience react to branded content? Do they know or care if it is branded?
We label branded content clearly. The top of each piece includes, ‘content from,’ and the name of the brand is stated. We’ve found that in all our primary research studies that when branded content is done well, it complements the editorial pieces. We value our readership and aim to produce high-quality content that is akin to our Pulitzer-Prize winning organization.

How does your team marry its needs with the editorial team? Do the stories compete with or complement each other?
The Washington Post newsroom is not involved in the creation of branded content. We do share engineering resources for access to latest cutting-edge technology.

As we are a news organization, a lot of our content is news-based and focuses on events happening right now. So, we have less of an issue about duplication.

To what extent is the WP BrandStudio going after traditional ad agency's clients?
It’s an interesting time for brands, ad agencies, creative shops and publishers in that, brands are deciding to work with whoever can tell their story the best to the audience they want to reach. Brands come directly to WP BrandStudio or through an agency to work with us so they can reach our informed and influential audience. We have teams of researchers and writers who understand the news consumption habits of our readers. We know what resonates best with our readers on our various platforms.

Are there any golden rules to creating, distributing effective content?
Don’t focus on the type of execution you want to do, rather the story you want to tell. Get your objectives in order internally—what are the stories you want to communicate to what audiences, then determine how to tell that story on every platform you have. Sometimes the coolest, sexiest and most expensive new tools out there are not the best at telling stories. Story first, then execution second is really the way we go. Don’t be enamored with the hottest new thing—think about what’s going to resonate best with your audience and drive deep engagement.