The Content Strategist

Contently Case Story: Inside BlackRock’s Ambitious, Global Storytelling Effort

Contently Case Stories is a series highlighting some of Contently’s most successful clients.

You probably don’t know Jim and Lyn. Or Alberto and Nory. Or Jörg and Brigit. But odds are, you can relate to their stories on some level. They might remind you of your family and friends. And most importantly, their personal narratives could help you be more proactive about your future.

At least, that’s the hope for BlackRock. In partnership with Contently, the investment management corporation recently published “How the World Retires,” an interactive report that profiles six couples around the globe.

The longform report features interactive maps, graphs, photography, a retirement calculator, and 3,000 words of text, but what makes the article stand out is how it balances quantitative and qualitative content. BlackRock took a topic that could’ve easily been dragged down by number crunching and instead provided a nuanced, intimate look at how people are retiring around the world.

What’s just as interesting as the piece, however, is how it came to be made.

Humans over spreadsheets

The finance industry is often maligned for its cutthroat insider culture that may intimidate potential customers. But BlackRock knew that in order to reach the right audience, the company needed to break down that perception and produce content that’s both readable and relatable.

After analyzing content from the BlackRock blog, Ann Hynek, BlackRock’s VP of content marketing and innovation, came to an important conclusion: Personal stories outperform numerical data.

“That’s why we leveraged Contently,” Hynek explained. “The content manager basically said, ‘Give me the list of the countries that you want to explore, and I’ll see if we have freelancers.’ And sure enough, she found freelancers in those six countries.”

“How the World Retires” required collaboration in Mexico, Germany, Chile, Australia, the UK, and America—a logistical labyrinth. Not only would the project need on-the-ground interviews with the couples, but it also called for data and research specific to the retirement policies of each country. Fortunately, Hynek was able to work with her account manager to streamline the planning and editing.

BlackRock also teamed with local photographers to capture the couples in each country. Once Hynek learned that tweets with visual elements boost Twitter performance, she knew strong photography was critical.

“Especially when you think about these couples that have been together for so many years and they’re about to embark upon their next journey—there’s a lot of emotion there,” Hynek said. “Being able to actually see who these people are when you read their stories makes for a much more impactful experience.”

The foundation

“How the World Retires” may have marked the first time BlackRock used Contently’s network of 60,000 freelancers, but the company has been using the Contently platform to manage its blog for over a year.

“Everything we were doing before was basically on a spreadsheet and I just thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore,'” Hynek said.

While Hynek handles most of the editing and writes some articles herself, BlackRock’s content has become more robust and sophisticated due to the support Hynek receives from internal teams. “It was people from retirement, investment strategy, and smart data who were saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got this great content. How can we work with a contributor for you to get this live on the blog and into our social channels?'”

Every Thursday, Hynek holds a meeting with these teams to discuss industry developments and trending news. They then look at the blog posts that have performed well, sift out the most successful tactics, and brainstorm new stories. Blackrock publishes at least one story a day, six days a week.

BlackRock’s output combines smart financial analysis like “How to Ballast a Portfolio With Bonds” with more approachable stories about culture like “The Truth About Productivity.” The result is a content hub that provides in-depth content for all consumers, whether they want to learn about investing, the global economy, or individual retirement solutions.

People leading people

In just a few months, “How the World Retires” has proven to be a huge step forward for BlackRock’s content efforts. Since the finance industry is full of valuable, engaging data, it only makes sense that top financial services companies would take advantage of the opportunity to present that information to audiences in creative ways.

“I think the average five-hundred-word post is essential. We know that it works,” Hynek said. “But I also think creating a place where there’s a variety of content—a richer user experience—is something that’s huge for us.”

Since going live, “How the World Retires” has generated six times the engagement of the average BlackRock post. And the company also built an exclusive slideshow distributed on Business Insider, which had four times as many pageviews as the average piece of syndicated content.

Looking ahead, Hynek plans to continue to create influential, compelling content that drives engagement. Drawing on the success of the retirement report, BlackRock is looking to pursue personalized stories from around the world and incorporate more interactive elements and data visualization.

“For the most part, it’s [about] brand awareness,” Hynek said. “We want to be a thought leader in the space.”