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Contently Case Story: How Gawker Creates Fun Sponsored Content That Teaches Cats to Skype

Welcome to Contently case stories, an occasional series highlighting some of Contently’s most successful clients, and telling the stories of how we worked together to produce great content and great business results.

Vacations are fun, but as any animal lover will know, it’s hard to leave your pets for an extended period of time. Thankfully, Skype wanted to do something about the dilemma. Instead of providing some amusing advice in a FAQ hidden on its site, the video chat platform teamed up with Gawker’s native ad shop, Studio@Gawker, to compose a goofy guide for teaching your cat to Skype.

In the fast-growing sponsored content space, a company in Skype’s position would’ve had a number of partners to choose from—nearly every publisher nowadays has a sponsored content offering. But Gawker’s Studio team stands out from the crowd for two main reasons:

1. They were one of the first online publications to jump into native advertising.

2. Their use of internal technology is truly unique.

Back in 2009, Gawker’s advertising arm didn’t have designated teams for production, project management, or strategy. But Gawker’s editors knew they wanted to produce bold, out-of-the-box ideas for their partners. And to accomplish this, they used a nebulous creative team of freelancers to produce sponsored content on behalf of big-name advertisers like HBO.

It wasn’t until 2010 that Gawker hired its first full-time copywriter, Megan Gilbert, who is now the content director of Studio@Gawker. “For a couple of years there, we were in the copywriter zone where we were writing every post in-house, and it was un-bylined material that would go across all of the sites,” Gilbert told me. “The ideas were always ours, for the most part, but we didn’t have the byline connection of a human person.”

That all changed in 2012, when Studio@Gawker was given its official name. As Gilbert noted, the switch to bylining every post allowed the content to fit in more naturally with the rest of the work on the site.

“Around that time, I think freelance writers in general started shifting their feelings about what sponsored content was and whether they would ever write it,” Gilbert added. Gawker staff writers weren’t going to write for the Studio, and some journalists were against the idea of working for advertisers, but other freelancers were happy to take on the challenge. “We wanted to match up experts who have inherent passions for the topics about which they were writing… with content that we thought would be appropriate,” Gilbert said.

For example, if Gawker was going to write something for a brand about a video game on Kotaku, the goal would be to hire someone with editorial experience who had written passionately about video games. The Studio team just had to find a place to source high-quality talent. “Contently was a no-brainer for that purpose,” Gilbert said.

With an editorial director on board to oversee the operation, Gawker was able to fill this gap and expand the number of freelancers who were filing posts by managing each story within Contently’s calendar and editing platform. “If some of our internal writers are unavailable due to workload issues, or there is a topic that’s outside of their wheelhouse, we will then look to our freelance team,” Gilbert said. For example, Gawker used Contently to tap Casey Bond, a personal finance writer, to draft a piece about the cost of raising a child, sponsored by Capital One.

Through the platform, Gawker was able to boost its five-person, in-house content team with several expert contributors. Gawker also began using Contently to manage the workload, deadlines, and edits of its sponsored content. Studio@Gawker now publishes an average of 12-15 sponsored posts per week, such as this Syfy sponsored article, “A Brief History of Some Of the Century’s Most Notorious Cults,” used to promote the network’s show, Helix.

Each piece of content goes live on Studio@Gawker via Gawker’s publishing platform, Kinja, and then is distributed across any combination of Gawker’s eight main sites including Jezebel, Deadspin, and Gizmodo.

“Typically, [sponsored posts] go up around noon and run for a 24-hour promotion period,” Gilbert said. Each new user who visits within this time period will see the sponsored post at the top of the page. With each subsequent visit, the content will drop down into the regular editorial feed.

Gawker often invites brand representatives, industry experts, and even the writers of the sponsored posts to engage in the comments section, ensuring that the communication between brand and consumer doesn’t end when someone finished reading an article. As a part of their Better State of Living Conversation Series, State Farm sponsored Gizmodo’s “Summer Science Symposium,” which featured a Q&A with Bill Nye The Science Guy. This process is particularly noteworthy since it might make Gawker the first big publication to use native advertising in its comments section.

Behind the impressive scale and technical prowess of Gawker’s native ad machine is a commitment to a mission we can all get behind: the importance of telling stories.

“We just want to make great stuff,” Gilbert said. “And we want to provide value for people who come across our content. We’re making sure all of our posts hit all the targets: entertain, have people come away with a good sense of the brand, and feel like they really spent their time wisely by clicking on our headline.”

Image by Milles Studio
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