How Gawker Produces Great Branded Content

By Felicia • NewsCred Blog • Nov 19, 2012

A fun fact about Gawker’s beginnings – our speaker a recent Content and Cocktails event, Erin Pettigrew, originally found her job there by answering a Craigslist ad. She joined as the first on their revenue side, and was one of Gawker’s first ten staff members. It’s hard to believe that what is today a huge media company—with eight original brands and 17.9 million monthly readers—was once just a tiny blog.

Now Gawker’s Director of Business Development, Pettigrew has been navigating so-called native advertising, or as she put it, figuring out “how to make money from a digital property in a way that’s familiar to the reader already reading it.”

The concept of branded content is nothing new, Pettigrew said, and pointed to fashion spreads in magazines and radio-sponsored spots. Gawker got into the native game pretty early compared to other online properties, and had brands approaching them to collaborate as early as between 2004 to 2007, she said. In 2007-8, sponsored content became an important part of the Gawker brand.

Currently, Gawker leads with their native offering when pitching to brands. “We believe native is the real value,” she said.

Gawker has already worked with a range of brands, from consumer electronics to entertainment, travel, and financial services. Pettigrew said Gawker runs “a couple hundred” of brand-sponsored posts every quarter and has an 8-person team in their brand content studio to produce these posts. This team is completely separate from the editorial team, she said.

Clearly producing great content takes a lot of man power, but seems to be worth the investment—Pettigrew said she expects this team will continue to grow next year.

A recent campaign with Intel, for example, had photographers travel the world for a photo contest. They used the Intel-inspired Ultrabook to process the photos they took and Gawker users voted on which photos were the best. At times the posts about the photo contest used strategic product placement, she said.

Gawker is still hammering out how they will make native advertisements scale. Ideally, a media planner will one day be able to buy branded content that can live on multiple platforms. Gawker currently blends native and legacy advertising but is continuing to figure out how to bundle it best. It seems that this bundling will become more commonplace in the future as brands and publishers transition away from banner ads.

Success metrics are also still in the works, but early studies have shown that referrals from native advertising to brand sites lead to longer interactions on brand sites than those directed to brand sites from traditional display ads.

While uncertainty remains, one thing is clear: “The publishers that are going to be most successful, are the ones that know how to tell stories,” Pettigrew said. “Ultimately that’s what people want, they want to be entertained.”

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