Brand Strategy

Why brand publishing seems to be having a moment

Financial companies, insurance companies, streaming companies…you name it. Everyone seems to want their own media company.
article cover

The Devil Wears Prada/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment via Giphy

· 5 min read

Journalism and advertising can often seem like oil and vinegar—but that isn’t necessarily stopping them from trying to make a dressing.

Shareen Pathak, who co-founded and covers brand publishing for the outlet Toolkits, told us it’s become popular for companies to invest in publications that are “on the face of it, editorially independent" over the past three to four years.

Recently, financial service company Robinhood announced it was starting Sherwood Media to house and build on its flagship newsletter, Snacks, which it acquired in 2019—making it one of the latest in a line of companies investing in media ventures.

But brand publishing isn’t always successful. MEL Magazine, originally started by Dollar Shave Club, is no more, and Netflix’s publication Tudum, while still around, went through a significant round of layoffs last year. And as several news publications go through layoffs, why are companies turning to publishing?

Publication nation

First and foremost, Pathak said, brand publishing is often about PR. “When you market a publication that’s editorially independent, it’s not product shilling,” she told us. “It's going to draw attention.”

In the case of Netflix’s Tudum, the publication can—and often does—publish exclusive content from stars and directors that then gets picked up by other publications, Pathak noted.

Some companies have opted to acquire publications instead of building them from scratch. Take JPMorgan Chase, which purchased restaurant guide site The Infatuation in fall 2021. According to Chris Stang, CEO and co-founder of The Infatuation, there hasn't been a push to “influence or change or adjust content or anything like that” since the acquisition, though subtle branding, like the Chase Sapphire logo, can now be found on the site.

“We’ve never felt like it's detrimental to us or to Chase to make sure the consumer knows that these companies are connected, and ultimately, that they’re connected for your benefit,” Stang said, adding that the integration made sense, noting the “strong connection between restaurants, dining, and financial institutions.”

The integration is designed to highlight the perks of the Chase Sapphire credit card to readers. According to Stang, Chase cardholders and customers get access to exclusive reservations with the site’s restaurant partners and lounge access at its Eeeeeatscon food festivals, with more incentives on the horizon.

In addition to measuring how many Sapphire cardholders have taken advantage of offered benefits, Stang said the primary metric that his team is focused on is audience growth. Since the acquisition, he said The Infatuation’s audience has doubled in size.

Don’t buy; revive

Instead of written content, some brands turn to TV and video in an effort to stand out. This year, the insurance and financial services provider Mutual of Omaha released the 10-episode docuseries Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on pay TV and online, hoping to reach people who grew up with the original series, which began airing on television in 1963.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.

The show’s release marks the 60th anniversary of the original. Jennifer Wulf, VP of brand strategy and engagement at Mutual of Omaha, told us that the series has been “a huge differentiator” for the brand over the last 60+ years, and is a big driver of brand awareness.

Wild Kingdom is probably a third of our total [marketing] spend right now and maybe half of our reach, which is awesome,” Wulf said. This time around, she said, the company looked to produce the series in a “pretty scrappy and cost-effective way.” According to Wulf, the company isn’t “spending a ton right now” to promote the series, focusing instead on organic reach.

Mutual of Omaha has made some changes from the original series. While older episodes of the show featured more obvious marketing lines from the show’s host, Wulf said the brand and show content are more separate this time around. “We are not being that overt because we want to make sure we keep them separate so we build that legitimacy in the conservation work we want to do,” she said.

The company is tracking the show’s effects on website traffic and conversions to insurance quotes, Wulf said. The traffic results since the show’s January premiere are so far promising: in January, Mutual of Omaha saw 100% YoY growth in website traffic, she said.

Meanwhile, some brands have taken a broader approach to their editorial initiatives. Take Oatly, which has an editorial team that’s worked on podcasts, short films, and written pieces.

Even as it seems to pick up steam, there’s still a chance of a “shakeout” in brand publishing given the current economic conditions and costs of operating a publication, Pathak warned—particularly for companies that might not be efficient in their spending.

“I spoke to a couple of [journalists] who got laid off and said, ‘Oh, I thought moving to a brand would be more stable than quote-unquote traditional media,” Pathak said. “But not necessarily. Media’s hard no matter where you do it.”

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.