Episode 1

FOREWORD with Kevin

On Episode 1 of FOREWORD with Kevin, Chief Engagement Officer, Kevin Wert, sat down with Chloe Dinsdale, Director at Hearst StoryStudio, for an intentional and engaging conversation about the current advertising landscape and a deep dive into sponsored content.
[00:00:14.940] – Speaker 1

Hello. I’m Kevin Wert, Chief Engagement Officer at Wakeen Pages. You know, I think we can all agree that our advertising universe is evolving at an unprecedented rate. Whether we talk about data or media fragmentation or shifting consumer behavior, new technology can make things well, confusing. And for some of us rather exciting, FOREWORD with Kevin is a way for us to have a conversation for us to really look at how all of these converging sort of technologies allow us to reach our audiences in an intentional and authentic way.

We’ll be having conversations with amazing partners across our industry. And our hope is that this podcast will be a way for us to not only share information, but for us to provoke ideas about how we can move forward, forward in an industry that is not stopping anytime soon.

I’m so excited to welcome Chloe Dinsdale to podcast FOREWORD with Kevin, which is me. Thanks, Chloe, for joining us. Chloe is the director at the Hearst StoryStudio. And you’re on the West Coast, right, Chloe?

[00:01:30.560] – Speaker 2

Yup.

[00:01:32.030] – Speaker 1

So just to give everyone a frame of reference, I started working with Chloe, about a couple of months ago, and just to back up, I had worked with publishers or have worked with publishers for nearly two decades on everything from print advertising to the digital evolution of things. And so, this term native sponsored content really came out a few years ago. And what really struck me in working with Chloe and her team is how far the industry has come. Right. It’s amazing. It’s light and day. And I was like, Chloe, would you please come on the podcast and let’s have a conversation about sponsored content.

Right? And what that means for 2021 and beyond. So, thanks for joining us.

[00:02:25.860] – Speaker 2

 Yeah, thanks for having me.

[00:02:27.990] – Speaker 1

So, I think the first thing I wanted to say is if you look at any of the statistics, right. Content is king. We all hear that. But then March of 2020 happened. Right. And if you’re in the industry, all you saw is content consumption, content consumption, everyone. I mean, across the board and especially publishers like Hearst, you guys just saw that number skyrocketing, right?

[00:02:57.600] – Speaker 2

Yeah, definitely. It started off a little slow as everyone was curious what was actually going on. But I think as time went along, we realized it was something that was kind of here to stay. So, we had to really re-maneuver what it is that we could offer and really kind of help hold hands kind of through this process to really educate people on what it is, how we can kind of help in the space. And obviously, everyone was online a lot. So, our eyeballs and readership really went up, and that was really helpful, I think, to a lot of advertisers.

[00:03:25.880] – Speaker 1

Yeah. So, what is it, Chloe? What is sponsored content? I like to take people into the elevator and say, Okay, you have six floors to explain what that is. But I’m not going to do that to you, but I think without sounding sales right. In a couple of sentences, what is sponsored content?

[00:03:45.340] – Speaker 2

Yeah. Well, gosh, if you ask me, in an elevator, probably take 12 floors, because that’s how much it’s changed. But put simply, it started as an idea where you could take editorial and sponsor the promotion where you could engineer what you want to say. So as an advertiser, you pay for that kind of editorial or advertorials what it’s also called so that you can promote what you want to say, and it gives you a space to do so and much more of kind of length and just differentiation in terms of what you can put online outside of a standard editorial.

And as you know, that’s grown a lot just with the examples I’ve shared. But content has gotten a lot more dynamic, so sponsored content has really evolved itself. But put simply it is like paid sponsorship of an editorial piece.

[00:04:32.980] – Speaker 1

Yeah, that was more than two sentences. But to give you the 12 floors back in the day, it was like advertorial. Right. So, if you did something in print, you would have to slug it. Paid advertorial. And you still mean publishers are still doing that. But I think the important thing to talk about is your clients. Our clients just simply can’t make up something like, we hear a lot about fake news or unverified. I think the reason why I was attracted to journalism. I minored in journalism was an advertising PR major when I was in college so many years ago.

But it was this idea of trustworthy, vetted, viable factual reporting. And when I talked to our clients about sponsored content, I always put this word in front of it, premium, because there’s a difference between what you guys are doing and simply just creating something to create it without any kind of check and balance on what is true and what isn’t true. So, talk a little bit about what you think are the key elements to premium sponsor content by doing that through someone like Hearst.

[00:05:46.080] – Speaker 2

Yeah, definitely. I think the best part about at least a couple of the Hearst properties that we work with, mostly the newspaper and broadcast, is that each of those markets really knows their readership well, so they know how to speak to them. They know kind of what news they like to take in. They know kind of where their eyeballs are and how we can speak to them. Maybe it’s fuzzy if it’s something on SFGATE, but something on SF Chronicle could be very, very different because it is much more hard-hitting news journalism.

So really, depending on that client, we want to curate the experience for them. And along with that, we’re  some of those content creators that actually like to get on the phone with the clients themselves and really talk about what that messaging is going to look like, answer those questions, define those markets, those targets, and we reverse engineer the process a little bit where the space can be a little bit, like you said, can be cluttered with things that may or may not be false news. They can look a little cluttered and feel as well.

So, what we do is really provide a blank canvas for advertisers and talk to them throughout the whole process and create with them. So, it really helps solidify their vision. They’re proud of what they’re producing at the end of the day. It’s something that they really understand and be able to showcase at the end of the day. And along with that, you mentioned metrics, it’s definitely something that we really pride ourselves in too. We have our own customary dashboards that we put out for each of our clients.

So, they have those and they can see the day to day reporting. And we pull insights and make sure that they’re very in the know on what you can expect from sponsored content and how we’ve grown that from just brand awareness to even providing ROI on some of those messaging elements that they need to kind of produce for those readers.

[00:07:25.750] – Speaker 1

Absolutely. I love that. I think I was really impressed with how it has evolved. And I’ve worked with publishers, as I said, for two decades, and I think one of the things that and not to get on a soapbox. But there were a couple of things that I didn’t feel like publishers were doing well in adapting to the current landscape. When I started working with you guys, and through the collaboration on this most recent project, I was impressed with the ability to take not only, I think you’re great, I think the way that you approach the client and there’s a number of options, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit.

But the idea that the piece lives. It doesn’t have to be this stodgy, just editorial piece. There’s interactive components, there’s video, there’s surveys, they’re all these things. And then you’re driving traffic to the legitimacy of, like, an SF gate or another first property. And so, you’re combining the best of both worlds where you’re driving engagement. It’s compelling, it’s interactive. And then you can show the delivery and the guaranteed views is something that I think is huge for someone that might not be familiar or think that they’re taking a risk.

[00:08:50.120] – Speaker 2

Yeah. Absolutely. It’s definitely one of those factors that makes you feel a little bit more comfortable knowing that 6,000 people will be on this page for 30 seconds or longer. So it’s our job to really feed that to the right audience and optimize accordingly to make sure that we at least hit the minimum. So when they see over delivery, it’s like gravy on top. It’s like you can actually visualize that success. The other metrics that will back that up, of course, is time spent. They’ll be able to see impressions.

Clicks, CTR. A lot of the things that they’re used to seeing, but those page view and time spent metrics are really, I think, important in sponsored content really helps tell a great story about your metrics.

[00:09:28.490] – Speaker 1

So I know that one of the options was a client could submit what they wanted, or there’s this joint sort of project basis. How important do you think it is for you as a director or project manager or even content curator? We can call you a number of things. How important do you think it is for you to be involved in that process from a voice perspective? Meaning some brands will submit something, and it’s obviously a sales driver. Whereas if they work with you, what’s the difference there? Can you talk a little bit about how important it is for you to be involved in that process and why?

[00:10:13] – Speaker 2

I think it’s really important because a lot of times creative teams, being so involved with their brand can feel, “I don’t know how to make this different” or how to overarch a lot of the different themes we’ve already touched on. What can we bring to that’s unique and custom, and different from what we’ve already done? What’s great is that I have a lot of experience at least to the examples that we’ve done in this space. We work across nineteen different verticals so pretty much everything. What we do is work across the nation too. So, something we’ve seen work in Connecticut may work for someone in Texas. We’re going to translate a lot of that knowledge that we saw in success. Even with the subject matter itself you know so if we’re already seeing success, it’s easy for us to kind of translate good ideas or maybe what’s working, what’s not and just be able to point the conversation.

Then I think as far as creativity goes too, I think our creative team does a good job of coming up with good ideas and taking what they’ve provided in terms of messaging and pairing it with different assets that they have to make something that’s really engaging, interactive, and something that they’re really going to want to showcase and you know, the merriment of all of those together is kind of what the space is for.

[00:11:22] – Speaker 1

Yeah, I think there’s a couple of challenges that I’ve seen over the last few years. So typically when an agency partner comes to us, they’re looking for something different, right? They’re looking for “how do we connect with the community through publishers”. And there’s been a number of times where Hearst – or one of the other great publishers that are serving the community across this country – will come and create this amazing program. But the challenge is that you are creating a turnkey solution, a turnkey process. But there’s still a decent amount of lifting that goes on. I think that one of the biggest differences with how you deliver and how you attribute is you’re continuing to push that envelope on collaboration, but you’ll let us help you create something that’s authentic and engaging and not just the same old, same old.

[00:12:25] – Speaker 2

Definitely. I think along those same lines when you work with a publisher you really want them to be as involved as you are when you’re creating content. So, the nice thing is that we want to be there and give the attention and the direction and really focus in on that creativity and make sure that their voices are heard. And also provide the recommendations where they’re needed. So, the cool thing is that we’ll take that client from A-Z, from the very first kickoff call and the creative stages all the way through the final report. So, it does very much feel like an immersive impact one-stop-shop.

[00:12:58] – Speaker 1

Yeah absolutely. So, what advice would you give to an agency that is looking at this or listening to this and they know – they understand – what’s sponsored content is? What advice would you give them if they were in your elevator and they’re the ones asking the question? What’s the easiest way to present this to a client where not only do they understand but they feel comfortable in taking that next step?

[00:13:27] – Speaker 2

Yeah definitely, well it’s good to always assess the marketing mix, and how well it’s working and if sponsored content isn’t part of that marketing mix addressing why and why you haven’t maybe dipped your toe in the water and what that might look like. And a lot of that hesitation might come from choosing the right partner, maybe the process hasn’t gone smoothly with someone else. So really just analyzing as an agency where you want to go and who you want to work with – what kind of messaging that they tell and how they present themselves. I think that there’s a key of sophistication as we get into this space. And sponsored content – as it’s getting bigger, it’s getting a lot more cluttered. So, being a bit more on the sophisticated side and being able to support is I think really key. And just understanding how to get into the space. And then once you get in there, I think that there’s so much more that you can get out of sponsored content.

So, just coming back to the very first thing that we talked about, how it’s constructed – it really is a blank canvas and you have so much room for that longform messaging that you can’t get with a lot of the traditional media mix. It’s kind of one of those things that I think is always worth trying and I think as sponsored content continues to grow and its dynamic capability and its interactive function, we start to see a lot more of that engagement that tells a really good story of what people like to learn on the internet. I always go back to the millennial generation too. As they spend a lot of time online. They want to be entertained and they will not stay on a story that is boring, that has no graphics, that doesn’t tell a really great compelling story. We’re assessing all of those types of people and we want to make sure that the messaging works, the graphics are interesting enough. If we’re talking to different aged demographics, we do take into account what their experience might be like online. So, it’s a really, really custom-curated experience. And it is unique to each advertiser. We really get creative and push those envelopes.

[00:15:24] – Speaker 1

Thank you for sharing that. I hope because I’ve seen – I understand what happens if publishers do not continue to represent communities. We won’t go into that sort of soapbox again but, it’s imperative that we continue to look at, as you said, the millennial, the next generation of – and that’s not to sacrifice quality. I want to be clear about that. Never do we want to sacrifice quality, but we do want to see the engagement. And we can tell a lot by the research that we’re doing. Whether it be heat mapping or how people are engaging with that particular story – not just clicks or a poll or video – we all know that they’re important components. So, is there any secret Hearst StoryStudio meetings that are happening that is the next best thing in terms of what you guys are going to bring to the market? I’m like springing this on you, I know.

[00:16:26] – Speaker 2

It’s okay! We just continually every day try to push those envelopes and make those offerings better. Whether it be by reporting, you know, is our reporting clear enough, is it updating day to day? We want to make sure that the client has a clear lens into everything that we are doing and into optimization skills and into the content itself. We even allow them to do edits into post-launch. So that’s how much we really care about how they feel that they’re performing and how they feel about the content itself and even into the future. So, what we try to do is to stay true to ourselves and our messaging and product and offerings and if we find things – and we work with a lot of different freelance companies and designers and writers – we’re constantly bringing them onboard and learning something new from other people in the industry.

So, we can continue to understand the diverse landscape as best as we can. And we learn a lot from advertisers too. Just during this whole year or longer, we have learned so much from all of our advertisers and what they really need and how we can translate that into our offerings. It’s really just keeping an ear to the ground. I love having these personal conversations with the clients and with agencies to really talk out and tee out all of what they need to know, and we should know. And then putting all of those elements together. Sourcing new things if we need to which is constant – there’s so much great stuff online that we can utilize. It is just a constant learning landscape. We always go back to our roots of just being a full-service solution and being that white glove service for all of our clients to really just feel that they’re encompassed in the process with us.

[00:18:04] – Speaker 1

I think one of the things that I’m impressed about with you is that you’re not offering something that isn’t of value. There’s less of pushing the agenda of what you think they should do and really listening and developing content that’s important and compliments the full strategy. So, you said in your last sentence – and we’re coming to the close of our time together and I want to thank you again for sharing your insight and all of the great tidbits about sponsored content and where we’ve come. But you mentioned that there’s a lot of great content out there. So, is there anyone – so you’re a professional, Chloe, you see so much content, and you see so much branding and marketing – is there someone a brand or campaign out there that you worked on or you just see it and say “wow that’s so well done”?

[00:19:00] – Speaker 2

I think from our own portfolio of clients, I can at least allude to an industry that is doing well, and really addressing sponsored content in a way that I’ve never really seen it done before. But it’s healthcare, and that’s spanning everything from hospitals to specialty centers even into cannabis. There’s a lot – and I think a lot of that is playing off the season of life that we’re in right now – post pandemic – people are very in tune and very worried about their health. These health systems have really taken advantage of that in a good way because they really care about their communities. Putting the word out about things that they can offer, the safety measures that they’re undergoing, even their support for things that are going on in society like the AAPI movement, Black Lives Matter. They’re really getting into these social matters and really understand their community which is what sponsored content is for. What makes us get goosebumps? It’s really cool to see the industry take hold of this unique segment. And I think travel has always been a good one so love working with those clients especially as things return to normal. They’re brilliant! They really do teach us a lot.

[00:20:11] – Speaker 1

Great well thanks for sharing that! I agree and I think that healthcare industry has had to pivot very quickly and there’s such a need for information and for understanding what changes are happening and how that applies to our lives. So I do applaud for diving a little bit deeper, not just going with the cookie-cutter vanilla type of outreach, but really trying to dive deep and engage with readers and consumers. Thank you so much! I hope that our paths cross again on another project and I just think that you’re doing great stuff there and continued success for everyone there at StoryStudio.

[00:20:55] – Speaker 2

Absolutely! Well, thanks for having me, and thanks for the kind words. We’ll look forward to working with you again.

[00:21:03] – Speaker 1

Absolutely – hey take care! Thanks for tuning in to another episode of FOREWORD with me, Kevin.

Let’s explore some questions.