How Goldman Sachs and The New York Times Made a Content Marketing Hit

When you think of The New York Times peppering Goldman Sachs with questions, you probably don’t think of comfy chairs, a brightly lit stage, and a content conference. But that was the scene yesterday as Sebastian Tomich, vice president of advertising at The New York Times, and Amanda Rubin, global head of brand and content strategy at Goldman Sachs, sat down to talk native advertising at OPA Content All-Stars.

Tomich, the young head of the Times’ nine-month-old T Brand Studio, identifies as a sales guy, but exhibited the charm of a network journalist as he interviewed Rubin about the project they’d done together— “An Interactive Guide to Capital Markets,” which is exactly what it sounds like. The project provides a visually engaging lesson in what capital markets are and how they work. It’s been one of the standout examples of native advertising pinned to the bulletin board at the front of the content marketing classroom.

Tomich began with an issue that’s largely dominated the native ad debate in the mainstream media: labeling. “Media companies and brands are aligned. Labeling is good. No one wants to dupe readers,” Rubin responded. “You tell us how The New York Times is going to label content and we’ll go by that.”

Rubin’s comments mirrored Soledad O’Brien’s call at the conference for publishers to show brands the way, and it worked well. After all, running a guide to capital markets made total sense for Goldman Sachs; it’s an area of expertise for the investment bank, which gives readers a reason to trust the content; and more importantly, many people pay for that investment knowledge.

“We have, as a firm, a vested interest in helping people understand capital markets,” Rubin added.

The high-earning Times audience wasn’t the only reason Goldman decided to go with the Gray Lady. “One thing when we talked to The New York Times that we were impressed with was your data-business [reporting] capabilities,” Rubin told Tomich, though the duo didn’t have a specific idea in place when the project began. “We didn’t know what we were going to do,” she said. “Our relationship is based on a brainstorming situation.”

Ultimately, the project was considered a success, but how do they know that’s the case? How do they measure it?

“For us, success is engagement. People spending time with our content. There was a point in time when there was a narrative about the firm that was crafted by everyone but us, and we had to add our voice to our conversation,” Rubin said. “What we found is when people engage with us through content we created, content we sponsored, they tend to come away with a more positive impression of us.”

She added that CTRs, time spent, pageviews, social behavior, and other factors are all considered in one “holistic score.”

“I have one metric, and that’s a renewal,” Tomich said when Rubin posed him the same question. “Time spent, I think, is the most important… I don’t think a bot can game time spent yet, so I feel really comfortable there.”

Still, both acknowledged the direct line to dollars-and-cents business results remains elusive, though they don’t believe that’s any reason to be discouraged. Tomich compared it to print advertising: “With print you buy it on gut. With branded content it’s the same thing. We know it works, but we don’t quite have it yet.”

Of course, content marketing is often a harder sell inside large corporations than it is inside publishing companies hungry for a fresh revenue source. When you’re trying to create content at Goldman Sachs, the storytelling starts before a single piece of content is even created.

“What’s it like to sell a project like that at Goldman Sachs? It’s about being a great translator,” Rubin explained. “It’s a longer narrative that you have to tell, but we’ve been able to demonstrate a track record of what works, we’ve been able to watch the dialogue across the social space.”

Goldman Sachs also sells the story of what their publishing partner brings to the table. “What’s the unique selling point of that media entity?” Rubin asked. “What’s the marriage?”

So far, it’s a marriage that’s yielded a bedrock piece of content now living on Goldman’s own site, with future projects to come. “As long as we’re creating a valuable experience,” Rubin said, “it’s mutually advantageous for both brands.”

Image by Shannon Sturgis

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