The Next Wave of Native: Content, Audience Data & Lead Gen Rolled Into One
Branded content studios are en vogue in the publishing industry, with major publishers like Time Inc., Wired, and The Atlantic launching agency-like divisions that put their skills in original content creation and subject matter expertise to work for advertisers. Active Interest Media is one of the latest publishers to create its own studio, Catapult Creative Labs, which launched on February 4th.
Heading this group is Jonathan Dorn, senior vice president of digital and creative services at AIM. Although Catapult is a new division of AIM, Dorn says that the services it offers draw on solutions the enthusiast publisher has provided to its clients for years, including lead generation, custom events, data collection, custom content, and video. The new unit packages these offerings together, creating long-term, unified marketing initiatives for clients.
Although Dorn will not reveal AIM’s financial projections for the group, he does intimate that Catapult is expected to drive significant revenue. He adds that lead generation and custom events in particular show great promise within this group. “In every content group clients are expressing interest in lead generation. That service is really growing rapidly.”
Here Dorn explains why AIM founded Catapult and describes the infrastructure and talent that support it.
[Editor's Note: Publishing Executive will further explore how publishers are capitalizing on native advertising at the Native Advertising Summit in NYC on March 16th. Email publisher Matt Steinmetz at email@example.com for more details on attending or sponsoring this event.]
Why did Active Interest Media decide to launch Catapult Creative Labs?
The launch was mostly driven by market demand. We’ve had an increasing number of clients ask us for the variety of services that fall under the heading of marketing services. From a strategic perspective, we’re interested in continuing to diversify revenue and use some of our newer initiatives, like lead generation along with our data capabilities and digital capabilities, to innovate new businesses. And finally, the things that we’ve been doing over the last couple years naturally rolled up into Catapult. We’ve been doing lead generation and we’ve been doing custom content and content marketing, and we’ve provided social media services and strategies to clients. A lot of the pieces are already there to be aggregated.
What does a typical package look like for clients working with Catapult Creative Labs?
So far what we're talking about with clients runs the gamut from the very simple, a one-project type of job, to the very complex where we’re providing every service in our wheelhouse. On the simplest end of the spectrum, for example, we’re working with a client that sells horse saddles and tack to build their website and create their initial content strategy. At the opposite end, we’re working with Bertram Yachts, which is a classic American boat brand. They have the full services suite including custom content, event activation, speech writing for their CEO, ad creative, social content strategy, and digital apps.
Most of these partnerships seem to be falling in the range of taking three or four services from our wheelhouse, like ad creative, video, custom content, and lead generation. They tend to be 6- to 36-month-long engagements. That’s because most of the folks talking to us see the need and potential for the interconnectedness of those services. We can give them custom content, video, and ad creative with a unified voice, unified distribution, and unified audience. That’s compelling to have that kind of consistency across those three modalities, which isn’t really that common.
You mentioned that Catapult has been built on other services AIM already offers, and in particular lead generation, which you helped launch within AIM’s Home Group. What lessons did you learn from that lead generation initiative that are being applied to Catapult?
There are a couple. One is that business development takes a really long time. One thing we’re experiencing now is these partnerships we’re creating, particularly ones that have significant data components and lead generation, are pretty complex. They take a while to get right and communicate effectively to a potential client. We’ve got to be aware internally of how we’re spending our time and how much time it’s going to take to create a deal and to execute it.
We’ve also learned that it’s incredibly important to budget for a lot of customer service time. The account management and customer service side of things is really important and may not be a natural skill set for a media company. And that’s one of the reasons that all three of our first hires [to Catapult Creative Labs] are people who come with pretty extensive account management backgrounds. George Sass who is our managing director ran a creative agency for several years. Jennifer Jones who is VP of account services has experience in event management at AIM and the NFL, and Maddie Herbert who is our youngest staff person comes from a public relations background. We purposely hired people who got that idea to take care of the client first.
What sort of interest have you gotten from advertisers regarding the launch of the Lab?
We have a half dozen clients who are signed or we’re dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s on their contracts right now. In addition, we have a dozen to 15 very serious conversations going on with other prospects. We’re very happy with the start that we’re off to. It appears to be hitting on receptive ears.