GE becomes legitimate online news publisher

After a very entertaining stunt with Jimmy Fallon, GE, an early adopter of content marketing, has been putting a focus on hard news of late.

GE has used sites like The Economist and Quartz for native advertising to promote itself as a supporter of innovation. But its biggest and most visible effort to date came in March with the introduction of Pressing, a policy news hub that pulls in content from millennial-aimed Vox, where Pressing made a splash as a launch sponsor.

Other content partners are CNN, Politico, NBC News, Slate and Fox News. Pressing is supplemented by articles that are created expressly for GE by Atlantic Media Strategies, Atlantic Media’s custom content arm. The site is labeled “presented by GE,” but the branding is otherwise subtle.

Alexa Christon, manager of global media development for GE, said the goal of Pressing was to promote policy discourse by presenting high-quality editorial content representing a range of views (although except for Fox, the partners skew left). “It’s really about raising that national conversation, right, left, center,” she said.

High-minded talk aside, it’s all part of the evolution by brands to change consumer perception without turning them off with traditional ads. Ultimately, Pressing hopes that by giving people an editorial experience they like, they’ll develop a stronger affinity for the company. Such hubs also allow for constant communication with consumers, rather than one-off campaigns, which is why they’ve been tried by other marketers like Dell, with Tech Page One; Xerox (Real Business) and American Express (Open Forum).

Partnering with existing publishers “keeps the creative bar relatively low,” when the number one issue for companies in doing branded content is actually coming up with content, said Rebecca Lieb, analyst at Altimeter Group.

It’s easy distribution for the publishers, too. They get additional visibility for their content through Pressing ads that are running across the group of sites, as well as the Pressing hub itself. The publishers, in turn, are pushing their Pressing-featured content on Twitter with the #pressing hashtag. Publishers are getting “multiple millions of impressions” through the exchange, according to Christon.

“It’s almost like a traffic exchange, but by GE through ad servers,” said Paul Berry, CEO of Rebel Mouse, which created and manages the Pressing hub.

Joe Purzycki, vp of advertising for Vox Media, said Vox benefits from getting features like its explainers “seeded more widely.” David Plotz, editor of Slate, said the Pressing sponsorship allowed Slate to expand David Weigel’s podcast while retaining editorial control over them, and he’s glad to have it appear on Pressing and promote it using the shared GE hashtag. “We would love for anyone to embed a link to David Weigel’s Pressing podcast,” he said. “It just creates a bigger audience for it.”

Pressing isn’t GE’s first standalone news site. Earlier in the year, its financing unit GE Capital launched Mid-Market Pulse, a news site focused on mid-sized companies, GE Capital’s target market. Slate’s branded content unit, Slate Custom, conceived of and manages the site’s content. Sixty-five percent of the content is original, freelancer-commissioned; the rest is syndicated content from Slate, Business Insider and, eventually, USA Today, said Lindsay Nelson, who runs Slate Custom. GE Capital, naturally, gets total share of voice as the sole advertiser. The site also is promoted via ad units on Slate.

“The point of view is pretty broad,” Nelson said. “It’s to cover news and policy decisions through the view of the middle market. It’s a very independent journalistic venture that just happens to focus on the sector of the economy GE happens to be connected with.”

The question is, how far does GE go as a player in news, and as traditional publishers struggle to find a workable business model, to what extent marketers will step in and siphon off readers. Pressing and Mid-Market Pulse today are too small to even register on comScore, so there may not be any imminent threat to publishers, and, said Berry, the GE ads help the strong ones prove their value.

As for Mid-Market, though, Nelson said it’s been growing steadily and that the ambition is to continue it indefinitely. “The goal is, this is someone’s Monday morning destination. We’re filling a void.”