July 16, 2021
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More Media Companies Should Be Thinking About Content Studios

In the constant battle between advertising and subscriptions, content studios haven’t been discussed much. Specifically, I’m talking about media properties owning the creation and distribution of content for clients.

Even with all of today’s creator projects, I believe there is an opportunity for more media companies to lean into content studios as a way to offer a differentiated and more custom feel to advertising.

I was listening to my interview with Industry Dive’s Sean Griffey this week and I spent time rewinding and relistening to the part about the company’s acquisition of NewsCred. One part jumped out to me:

Our view of a content studio that is the world-class of tomorrow is combining world-class marketing strategy, world-class content creation, data insights based on 1st party data, and then distribution to highly targeted valuable audiences. 

No entity but a media company can take these ingredients and create an exceptional content studio. And it’s a really interesting business that can build deeper relationships with partners and provide something useful to your audience.

Let’s dig into those ingredients in more detail…

Marketing strategy & content creation

When most people think about content studios, this is where their minds go. And why wouldn’t they? At the end of the day, we are creating content for clients and marketing it.

Fundamentally, this process is understanding exactly what the client’s goals are—from brand exposure to demand generation—and then working with them to build a content marketing plan. It’s consultative and very much a hands-on, direct relationship with the partner.

This requires people on the team that actually understand marketing and how content can fit into an overall growth plan. Questions that should be asked include:

  • What’s the story you’re trying to tell?
  • Who are you looking to target?
  • What have you tried in the past?

Once all of that is figured out, editors and writers on the team can go about creating the actual content. This includes white papers, research, webinars, articles, podcasts, and the list goes on. Ironically, the hardest part of this is not creating the content—which, as media companies, we excel at—but in building packages that make the most sense for that specific client. What one client wants and needs is likely different than another.

Any business on the planet can do this. Ad agencies, content marketing studios, and media companies can all staff marketers, editors, and writers to create great content. So, competing on this is a non-starter. We have no competitive edge and that’s hard to work with.

1st-party insights

But then we bring in my favorite (my girlfriend/editor’s least favorite) topic: 1st-party data.

When a media company creates a piece of content of some sort, we have data about how our audience is responding to it. We know whether they are interested, how long they are engaging with it, and know what they click on after finishing. We also know who those people are that are reading the information.

Said another way, media companies are able to tell marketers what their targeted audience is interested in and what they care about—and what they are no longer paying attention to.

Returning to the podcast, Griffey offered this:

An example I always give of that is that we could tell people when COVID wasn’t the most important topic that CFOs were reading about, we can point to the week that they stopped reading about covid first and read about something else. If you say to marketers, hey, now’s the time to change your campaigns from COVID and working from home to budgeting, that’s really powerful. A media organization that focuses on data can do that.

In my mind, this is the Holy Grail in content marketing. Being in a position to tell your clients, in real-time, that readers are losing interest in certain topics is something no one else can do. Some ad agencies might say they can, but it’s using aggregate data from 3rd-parties. Media companies, on the other hand, have all of that 1st-party data at their fingertips.

In practice, this means that ad agencies likely continued creating content about COVID and work from home when CFOs had already pivoted, making the content less effective for clients.


While I believe 1st-party insights are the Holy Grail for this, what allows us to amplify our revenue and really help our partners is the owned distribution that we have with our media properties.

One of the publications I manage targets retail professionals. I know that I’ve got a ton of people reading that are looking for information on retail. Therefore, if a partner wants to distribute a piece of content targeting that audience, they can come to us and pay for distribution.

Ad agencies cannot do that. They have to find partners to distribute the content (and then add their margin on top of that), which means it will oftentimes be cheaper distributing directly with the publisher.

A nice cake

When you mix these ingredients together and pop it in the oven at 350 degrees, what you’ll have is the perfect content studio. And it’s really a smart business for most media companies to move into.

But it requires a couple of things upfront…

First, you need the data. Most media companies can offer distribution and obviously, they can create content, but without that 1st-party data, you’re unable to offer the more advanced, consultative insights marketers love. Additionally, even if you can provide distribution, without 1st-party data, you can’t target the content to the right people.

Second, you need marketers that can think about how content works up and down the funnel. Some types of content are simply for brand awareness whereas others are for demand generation. Having the ability to speak to the entire funnel is really impactful.

The outcome is something very special. You’ll be able to work with clients to understand what their marketing needs are. From there, creative studios can develop a plan that includes what type of content is going to be created with an actual distribution strategy. The conversation shifts from “we’re going to create articles and white papers” to “we’re going to put your story in front of the right people who are interested in reading white papers and articles about this topic.”

Only media companies can build the plan, create the content, pivot the conversation with 1st-party insights, and distribute to the target audience. With all of the ingredients, this is a business that I believe every media company should be in if they’re not already. And if already existing content studios don’t have their Holy Grail already, it’s time to seriously invest in a 1st-party data strategy.

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