Tribune Publishing, newly-created this summer after the Tribune media conglomerate split its print and broadcast operations, has partnered with Contend, a viral video marketing company.
The deal brings digital video savvy to Tribune Publishing’s four-year-old marketing operations, which has already been courting advertisers with a one-stop-shop approach.
While many newspapers and other legacy print publications have been beefing up their digital marketing offerings—mostly through native ads, such as sponsored web articles—this appears to be the first time a newspaper chain has made a direct investment in a viral video company, one that is not only creating ad content for Tribune’s websites, but for other websites and social media portals as well.
“Our digital marketing services are our fastest growing area. It has the most upside. It opens up a whole new client list,” says Bill Adee, executive vice president of digital for Tribune Publishing. “What we’re really doing is we’re focusing on a problem that a lot of businesses have, which is creating content. And at the beginning, it was focused on maybe more text-based needs.”
The investment in Contend, the financial terms of which were not disclosed, allows Tribune Publishing to broaden its portfolio to video content, such as an online video series for the supermarket chain Jewel-Osco, which was the first time Contend and Tribune Publishing partnered on a campaign.
The Jewel-Osco series did not run on Tribune’s website—signaling a shift in strategy in which the ads the newspaper giant creates internally do not necessarily have to be ads that run on its own properties.
“We’re well-known story tellers, right…So why wouldn't we be very good on behalf of a brand telling a story? Completely separate departments. Completely. But at its core, that’s what we do,” Adee says.
While marketing and news may be separate departments, newspapers are banking on audiences realizing that distinction. Adee says he doesn’t see a danger of an audience backlash, at least with the video content, because it is not disguised as news content.
“It’s not 'Jewel presented by the Chicago Tribune.' It’s Jewel. There’s no mistaking where this video came from,” Adee says.
Newspapers may be willing to take risks with sponsored online content, because digital advertising represents one of the few areas of revenue growth for the industry, says Ken Doctor, a media analyst who used to be an executive at the former Knight Ridder Newspaper Chain.
“It’s a big industry trend. It’s one of the biggest that we’ve seen in several years. And we see it everywhere from at the top end—the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Hearst magazines—to… smaller papers across the country,” Doctor says.
As newspapers are losing the big advertisers they used to rely upon, they’re turning to the tens of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses in their markets.
“So publishers are saying: 'We know media, we know how to tell stories with writing and now with video, and we can also help them with social media.' So they are completely reorienting their sales approach away from just selling space to helping these merchants bring in new customers and retain the current customers they have. So, it’s really been a revolution in marketing, and we’re in about the third year of it at this point,” Doctor says.
For Tribune Publishing, that revolution is necessary. Its digital ad sales accounted for 18 percent of all its ad revenue. And digital ads are one of the few areas of growth for newspapers, Doctor says.
Contend CEO Steven Amato says while his company is part of the new media world, there are advantages to partnering with a newspaper chain that has established highly-recognizable brands in many cities.
“Tribune is sitting on an amazing bunch of assets… and they have such deep relationships in local markets. That’s an unbelievable asset. They are part of [their communities]… that is not something you get everyday,” Amato says. “It’s a 167-year-old startup right now, Tribune Publishing. It’s very exciting.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of Tribune Publishing in the headline and when the partnership was announced. The text has been corrected.