Last week, I wrote about how a changing media landscape can be an opportunity for brand publishers. I wrote that brand publishing is becoming more common as a response to overall changes in sources of information. In response, I got some thoughts from a marketing head at a mid-sized brand, who wrote in to say:
This is interesting, but I’m curious on where the supposed “creator economy” fits in to the changing media landscape. Our thesis has been that individuals are gaining more importance, and thus are also competition when it comes to eyeballs and attention. So should we be partnering with them? Hiring them? Ignoring them?
For brand publishers, hiring individuals who have chosen to strike out on their own and build an audience can be a shortcut of sorts to building audiences and gaining distribution quickly. Not many people are doing this yet, but a small number of brands are beginning to try to figure out how to leverage the creator economy to their benefit.
As I see it, there are broadly three different ways of building brand publications: Build something from scratch, using existing company distribution channels and hiring (usually) former journalists as editors and writers to staff the operation, or acquire a publication, getting an off-the-rack media operation and its distribution. One variation is to build an in-house publication by partnering heavily with external talent, such as DraftKings, which works with celebrity athletes and analysts who host programming for the company.
But the third potential way could be to acquire (hire) creators. For brand publishers, individual creators can be a potentially powerful way to supercharge audience growth and distribution. As ex-Coinbase ex-a16z’s Balaji Srinivasan writes: one way for companies to build “media arms” is to “acquire” (hire) an influencer in their industry who already has a sizeable audience or following, and then put them in charge of running editorial operations. The result (ideally) is that they transfer their existing distribution over to the brand publisher, and then the two can grow together.
We’re seeing a few people beginning to dabble in this. At Lemon.io, which is now building a brand publication, the company is activity looking for creators (who also understand content and media) with social followings who it will use to staff its media arm. It’s a path with some precedent: Corey Quinn is a “cloud computing influencer” with 21,000-plus newsletter subscribers who parlays that influence into business for AWS consultancy Duckbill.
Creators can be particularly useful in the context of hyperspecialization, something I’ve argued before should be the No. 1 priority for brand publishers. The evolving landscape has made answering specific needs of audiences essential to operating any kind of media operation. Just as brand marketers pay mid-sized influencers for social media campaigns, mid-sized creators can also form the backbone of a brand publishing operation and help companies tap into niche audiences.
And in the context of the lack of trust in institutions, something we’ve written about frequently, people are likelier to follow and believe in individuals, particularly those that consistently create quality content.
There are many ways to think about content, but when it comes to publishing specifically, competition for audience attention is rife. Building an audience, particularly in specific niches and sectors, is difficult, both because people are discerning and because social media platforms make it near impossible.
For brand publications, however, working with individual creators is turning out to be an attractive possibility, giving them a middle ground between acquiring entire publications and starting entirely from scratch. This can enable brand publishers to hire creators from that all-important middle class – those with large enough audiences to help, but small enough that they are able to port those over to brand publishing.