Lexi Jarman is an experienced commercial director with a demonstrated history of working in the newspaper and television industry.
Today, Lexi is the Global Director of Content Solutions at the Financial Times, where she leads the content marketing proposition, bridging three of FT’s most valuable assets – their editorial content, brand and audience, to deliver commercial results for partners.
In this interview, we cover:
- The challenges that comes with growing a global content business.
- Why branded content and why FT?
- The recipe to a successful partnership with FT.
- Getting the best work out of clients.
- Common mistakes marketers make when looking at content.
- What enables FT to consistently create high quality content.
- Rejecting content that isn’t up to par.
- Lexi’s favorite content campaign.
- Building an emotional connection between audience and brand.
- Measuring the impact of content campaigns.
- Data’s role in the content creation process.
- Branded content predictions.
Q: Most publishers are challenged in growing their branded content business in ONE country, you’ve been involved globally. What have been some of the challenges given your mandate?
Every market is at a different stage in terms of maturity – not only of understanding, but also the way that they use and transact on content. This is both an internal and external consideration, with some markets being incredibly mature, to the point where content is no longer the ‘in thing’ versus other markets, where a more advertorial style, sold on CPM is still the norm.
Trying to educate within your own business, so that they become advocates is crucial – and almost the easy bit. Educating the market is, in some instances, still a work in progress. However, no challenge is insurmountable!
Q: Why branded content and why the Financial Times? How do you differentiate?
Branded content is additive to any comprehensive marketing strategy – additive to any brands objectives, helping to drive deeper engagement and grow a relationship between the consumer and the brand.
I think what sets the FT apart is our focus on not just doing it, but doing it right. That means providing high quality content experiences that feel natural in our environment, address the needs and interests of our audience and remain authentic to the voice of the partner we are working with.
It’s no easy task, but we succeed through a combination of artistic ‘gut feel’ based on experience and factual evidence, based on the unique first party declared data that we have in our arsenal. Our sales teams are also amongst the best in the business at building trusting relationships, which are an important foundation when it comes to working on content campaigns.
Q: What are the key ingredients to a successful brand partnership with the FT?
Always putting the FT audience at the centre of any choice you make, and at every stage of the campaign – from inception to completion. It’s why a partner wants to work with us, so not understanding the needs of the person you’re trying to communicate with is a fast way to fail.
We also truly value open and honest communications – on both sides. If we don’t think that something will provide the best outcome, we will never back away from saying so, and we expect that same from our partners. In our experience, it’s always been easier to have the difficult conversation up front, and create that spirit of open forum necessary to have a successful relationship.
Value great storytelling above what it looks like on a spreadsheet!
Q: How do you get the best work out of clients?
1. Spend a lot of time immersing yourself into what makes them tick. It’s often the best way to uncovering the stories that they don’t consider to be special, but are fascinating to people who don’t operate on the ‘inside’ of their business.
2. Again, that honesty is crucial. A study that the FT recently conducted showed that dishonesty is one of the single largest reasons that a partner won’t work with you. It has to be established at the outset, and a commission which is based on dishonesty is more than likely to fail.
3. Be collaborative.
4. Understand how involved they want to be and their ‘hard no’s’. Partners need to know that you are acting in their best interests and even those who start off wanting to be involved at every stage, can often evolve into a more hands off approach if you show them that you understand what they want and need. They relax into the process and offer more valuable and relevant insight if they aren’t worrying and questioning everything you’re doing.
5. Be responsive and keep in touch, even if there isn’t much to communicate!
Q: What are any common mistakes or assumptions marketers (and publishers) make when looking at content?
That brand mentions equal sales, any content can work across any site and or platform, and that any format can tell the same story with equal impact. Also, that all promotion is created equally.
Q: How can you as a premium publisher, consistently create content of the highest possible quality?
By standing by our principles. The FT hasn’t been around for 130 years by creating middle of the road journalism, and that holds across all of our business. We also look at what quality really means for our audience – is it basic expectations like being well written or balanced, being surprised by a story or format – or a combination of all of these things and more.
Some of these things are constant, and some change over time, so it’s important to keep an eye on them. In fact, we’re launching a new piece of research later this year, which specifically looks at how international consumers perceive quality in branded content.
Q: Have you ever rejected content that wasn’t up to par?
Absolutely. That awkward conversation can often lead to bigger things, since partners know that you really care about your audience, and ultimately, their campaign.
I think it’s easy to forget that native should really be native to the environment that it’s published in, and our guidelines are designed to ensure that content meets that criteria, whilst retaining authenticity to the brands own voice.
Q: What content campaigns have been your favorite and why?
Whilst not the newest, when it comes to the FT’s native branded content (Paid Posts), one of my favourite campaigns from both a process and a final content output perspective still remains ‘Rethink Everything’ with Lombard Odier.
The quality of the production, coupled with the trust that the client put in us to tell a story that subtly reinforced the ethos of their company, rather than the benefits of working with them, their products and services, made this a real pleasure.
The approach was based on real insight into what piques our audiences interest, and was extended to the platforms and formats we used to promote it. It was one of the first big projects after launching Paid Posts back in 2015, so to see everything come together in that way was a great sign of things to come!
Q: How do you build an emotional connection between the audience and the brand.
Understanding what drives the audience is the key to creating content which resonates. This is something that the FT does tremendously well – in large part due to the incredibly valuable first-party declared data we have, where we can clearly see trends in consumption. It’s also crucial for there to be a balance between something which is authentic to the FT environment that they have chosen to interact with, and the brands own voice.
It’s not all about telling a story that pulls on the heartstrings, but one that is relatable and makes someone think.
I’ve heard people say that it’s hard to do this authentically for B2B, but that’s simply not true. An emotional connection is something that can be as simple as just understanding what someone needs.
Q: How do you measure the impact of your content campaigns?
We have a huge amount of data to draw on from our campaigns, but we predominantly look at engagement metrics to demonstrate impact. This can be anything from social shares, to active time on page, video completion rates and scroll depth. These are monitored throughout to make sure we’re optimising for quality engagement rather than simply volume of visitors.
We also conduct custom uplift studies to see where we’re moving the needle against our partners objectives. The value in these kinds of campaigns goes far beyond the standard metrics and we’ll never sacrifice quality of audience for quantity.
Q: What role does data play in the creation process?
It plays a huge role in the process from start to finish.
Understanding how our audience interacts and engages with our newsroom editorial is always the foundation. If we understand to what extent and how our audience is consuming content on any given story or subject, we can make better judgement on how to deliver that insight to the benefit of our partners.
We also look at our benchmarks, and optimise our user journeys, page designs and formats to continually improve engagement. So anything from what story to tell, the format we tell it in and how we amplify it to the audience to using that insight for next time helps us build success using data at every stage.
Q: What do you predict will have changed when it comes to branded content, a year from now?
It’s an ever-evolving ecosystem, so plenty, I’m sure! Everyone will have become more sophisticated in the way that they amplify content – brands and publishers alike. In the advent of GDPR and changes to social media algorithms, it may not even take a year for the landscape to become unrecognisable from the start of this year.