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Earned Syndication has entered the chat... Content distribution, and keeping up with brand publishing's renaissance

March 25, 2024 | By

Hot take: it’s an exciting time for digital media. Rocky, definitely. But there is a lot happening under the surface.

While both longstanding legacy publishers and the media darlings of the 2010s alike are shedding staff, a variety of new models for funding great reporting are simultaneously emerging. Yes, the past 10 years have shifted the playing field - but entirely new types of players are emerging as organizations try and find sustainable ways to tell stories that engage readers. 

From upstarts like Puck to the migration of journalism talent building out media arms for brands, there are several greenshoots with job openings for great journalists, despite what most headlines would have you believe. The latter is particularly interesting, and far less covered. Brand content budgets - what historically resulted in a smattering of self-promotional fluff pieces, are now turning into a formidable source of proprietary data journalism and original reporting (cc: policygenius, ziprecruiter, payscale, some of my recent favorites). Over the years, the investment in brand content has not just increased; it’s evolved to be better resourced, more sophisticated, with an evolving set of standards and a higher bar for quality. But as every flailing media company can tell you - great content alone is far from enough, and regardless of business model, stellar editorial is just the first step to a successful media operation. Then comes distribution.

If content is king, then distribution is most certainly queen. You can’t do much without your queen, and for many brand publishers who’ve built strong editorial teams - distribution is truly the missing piece to driving ROI from content efforts.

 A Broken Distribution Model

Still, despite the growth and investment in brand publishing, the options for distribution haven’t kept up.

Truly “owning” your audience and distribution is a worthy goal, but a long shot for most organizations. Consumers are already showing signs of newsletter burnout, and most brand publishing teams produce between 5-20 stories/month. While a few exceptions might break through (Robinhood is certainly trying, and I wouldn’t bet against them) - it’s a pipedream to think that 95% of brands can reach the audience they seek through people subscribing to their blog or newsletter alone.

Simultaneously, traditional distribution methods for brand content simply don’t do justice to the quality of the content being produced, nor do they drive the organic eyeballs the investment is hoping for. If you are hiring journalists, you’re gunning for earned media - and press releases and distribution platforms like Outbrain and Taboola offer limited success in expanding earned media coverage, often failing to meaningfully engage readers. Hiring a team of data journalists to tell stories from your proprietary data, then distributing it through Taboola next to belly fat ads misses the point. It completely dilutes the potential impact of thoughtfully crafted pieces.

So as organizations invest in producing incredible content — how are they going to reach readers?

Toward a New Distribution Paradigm

This gap is what gets me out of bed in the morning. There is a massive opportunity for innovation in distributing brand publishing, and providing legacy news outlets with a valuable resource as they navigate the new terrain. Brands produce quality content, but need help with distribution beyond their own channels to find new audiences. Publishers possess a captivated audience, but as budgets for traditional wire services like AP dwindle, they have a refreshed need for informative, engaging content to augment their own coverage.

To make this a true reality, publishers and brands will need: 

  • Common quality standards and an easy way for publishers to know what meets that bar
  • A scalable system and distribution infrastructure to make vetted brand content available to publishers

Stacker or not, there is a huge impact opportunity in connecting these two parties, fostering innovation and maximizing the reach and impact of quality brand content, and that is exactly the white space we hope to fill.

Stacker is building the world's first earned syndication platform to help truly optimize the impact of brand publishing - for both brands and news outlets alike - and we hope to make a dent in helping provide valuable distribution to this new cadre of publishers. Reach out if you’re interested in finding new distribution for your content, or leveraging our newswire across your site.