Broadsheet: Make content marketing about audiences first

Advertising leader of boutique publishing group shares how he's working with brands to produce successful native content advertising strategies

With content marketing and native advertising hailed as the latest saviour for publishers, Rene L’Estrange-Nickson is puzzled by the number of publishers, brands and agencies that seem to be getting it wrong.

As advertising director for online publisher, Broadsheet, L’Estrange-Nickson has helped build a business based heavily on close partnerships between its advertisers and editorial team.

“If you are just inserting a press release or advertorial and expecting the audience to engage with it, you are not going to have a great result,” he says. “We see branded content going wrong when they treat branded content the same as display advertising or print advertising or a commercial, and they just insert it.

“Because the way audiences engage with content online is very different to how they have done with television or print. You can’t just insert a message and expect that to get traction.”

Broadsheet launched in Melbourne in 2009 as a response to the changing nature of how Melburnians were engaging with their city, particularly as interest moved from the latest nightclub opening to the latest new café or restaurant.

L’Estrange-Nickson joined 18 months later, by which time Broadsheet was reporting unique browsers upwards of 60,000. Now it is reporting in excess of 1.2 million UBs across sites covering Melbourne and Sydney, and is launching into Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

Key to that growth has been clever partnerships between brands, agencies and the Broadsheet editorial team, he says. Coming from small beginnings, Broadsheet was never able to compete with the reach offered by larger publishers, so it had to be clever about the value it offered to advertisers.

“We had to compete on engagement,” L’Estrange-Nickson says. “And we had to develop campaign ideas that achieved the brand’s objectives through engaging the audience.

“Because we were small and growing so rapidly, every bit of content had to engage our audience and count towards our growth. If no one engaged with it, then the content on our site won’t get traction and we’d go backwards.”

That ethos has led to successful campaigns with a range of advertisers, including a two-year campaign with Bank of Melbourne focused on business mentoring, and the Craft Beer Quarterly produced in partnership with James Squire.

L’Estrange-Nickson says one of the most common problems with content marketing is that it is often developed internally by the advertiser or their agency and then delivered to the publisher as finished work.

“A lot of the time they just ignore the audience,” L’Estrange-Nickson says. “The audience is the target market for the brand, because they are the customer. So you have a process there that is a bit broken.

“No matter what publication it is, bring the publisher in early. Quite often, the publisher is the last person to hear about some content that is intended to engage their audience.”

While Broadsheet’s editors keep a close watch on what content does and doesn’t work, it also conducts a 50-question survey of 5000 readers each year to uncover insights beyond what simple reader behaviour can show.

As a result, L’Estrange-Nickson says Broadsheet will work closely with advertisers to refine ideas to suit its audience, with ideas going back and forth until both parties agree.

He says one of the other common problems is for advertisers to consider the creation of content to be an objective in its own right.

“You have got to be really clear on the objective you want to achieve, and then use content to achieve that,” L’Estrange-Nickson says. “But content is not the answer in itself. A content-led campaign is worthless, but an audience-led campaign with content as the platform is fantastic, because you are engaging the audience through content.”

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