Lunch & Learn Recap: Putting Your Own Spin on Branded Content

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Last year, shifting attitudes among publishers had Mike Winkleman asking, “Has branded content come of age?”


Now, the president of Leverage Media and a former AM&P board member is pretty sure he has an answer. “This year, I believe it’s moved far enough along that it’s fair to say the association world is actually embracing branded content,” he says.


Winkleman presented three AM&P Lunch & Learn sessions on the topic in March, in Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. Leverage Media, a Hastings-on-Hudson, NY-based content marketing firm sponsored these Lunch & Learns.

For the discussions, Winkleman was joined by:

  • Robb Lee, chief marketing and communications officer of ASAE, in Washington
  • Karen Craven, vice president, communications, Association for Corporate Growth, in Chicago
  • Michelle Russell, editor in chief, Convene, PCMA, in NYC
  • Paul Tarricone, editor and publisher, LD+A magazine, Illuminated Engineering Society, in NYC


“When I wrote about this topic for Signature a year or so ago, I found that the objections were slowly starting to fade, the appetite for branded content was increasing, and it appeared that a number of associations were visibly making the leap,” Winkleman says.


AM&P’s 2017 Publishing Benchmark Study showed that nearly half of respondents were already selling native advertising or sponsored content for their flagship publication in print or online — and that a third of those who had not yet sold sponsored content anticipated selling it in the year ahead.


Some important distinctions:


What is content marketing? “A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience and ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

— Content Marketing Institute


What is branded content? “Developed by the brand for distribution. Sometimes created by an influencer, who shares it with their networks or on the brand’s owned networks.”

— Advertiser Perceptions


What is native advertising? “Paid advertisements that are very cohesive with page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior so as to appear seamless to the viewer-user.”

— Advertiser Perceptions


“My evidence is strictly anecdotal — and there’s plenty to suggest it’s not as advanced as I believe it to be. For example, when Signature surveyed AM&P members and industry service providers to find out what these two groups thought would be ‘the top five association publishing buzzwords in 2019,’ not one of the many synonyms for sponsored content could be found on either list,” Winkleman says.


But on the other hand …


By the Numbers

90 percent of organizations market with content.

91 percent of B2B marketers use content marketing.

86 percent of B2C marketers use content marketing.

66 percent of those who use content marketing use it regularly.

78 percent of CMOs call custom content the future of marketing.

25 percent of overall ad spending is now for content marketing, up from less than 20 percent five years ago.


What do Consumers Think?

90 percent find branded content useful.

80 percent appreciate learning about a company through content.

70 percent prefer to learn about a company through content, not ads.

60 percent seek out a product after reading content about it.

67 percent are inclined to click on sponsored content, not ads.

85 percent of internet users don’t feel native ads hinder their browsing.


How to Get Started

  • Educate your board and members.

  • Listen closely to your advertisers.

  • Get your sales team on board.

  • Get your editorial team on board.

  • Be strategic, not tactical.

  • Invent on the fly.

  • Create a wide array of sales offerings, tied to content channels.

  • Customize content for these offerings.

  • Clarify the labeling (and church/state) issues.

  • Determine how (and with whom) you’ll execute the program.


Questions for Mike? You can reach him at