Inside Atlantic Media’s twist on an agency business

At a time when most media companies are trying to figure out where their next meal is coming from, Atlantic Media has found a way to get its lunch paid for multiple times over.

At The Atlantic’s Aspen Ideas Festival this month, reporters from Atlantic Media Strategies, Atlantic Media’s consulting business, wrote articles and blog posts about the event for US Trust and Shell, two of Atlantic Media Strategies’s clients. The content was then given a sponsored landing page on The Atlantic’s website.

It’s a particularly ingenious business model: Atlantic Media gets paid when people attend the event, when companies sponsor it, and also when brands pay its separate content agency to cover it from their perspective.

“Events present a wealth of insight and big ideas, and are a great place to capture content and ensure it lives on beyond a moment in time,” said Ory Rinat, director of strategy and partnerships at Atlantic Media Strategies. “These articles and series are one example of our approach to that.”

The move is part of the greater pitch by Atlantic Media Strategies, which says that Atlantic Media’s  expertise running successful Web properties has made it well-equipped to teach other companies how to do the same. The operation, launched in 2012, is one of the many efforts by media companies trying to offset declines in the publishing industry by expanding to separate-but-related businesses. At the Wall Street Journal and Vice, this means creating content for brands; at Forbes, it means licensing out its content management system.

The event coverage comes as the operation continues to grow. The Atlantic Media Strategies staff, which includes reporters, designers and developers, has expanded to 21 people, up from 10 last year.

Atlantic Media Strategies president Jean Ellen Cowgill wouldn’t share the operation’s revenue numbers, but Atlantic Media Strategies reps said the operation has worked with 19 clients this year, more than double last year’s numbers. Some of these clients are signing up for ongoing deals, which Cowgill said is a promising sign.

While Atlantic Media Strategies has worked with both large organizations like C-SPAN and young companies like Opower, Cowgill said that the operation excels at working with legacy organizations struggling to modernize for today’s readers. With the May launch of The Daily Signal, for example, the company’s task was to update the Heritage Foundation’s conservative take on current events for the reading and sharing habits of today’s readers. Atlantic Media Strategies has also created sites for the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health, United Technologies and General Electric.

“We’re helping clients hone in on the beating heart of their mission that’s going to get people excited about what they have to share,” said Cowgill. “That’s at the core of everything that we do.”

While there’s no shortage of companies in the media consultancy market, Cowgill said that Atlantic Media Strategies differentiates itself by leaning on its relationship with Atlantic Media, which gives it both data and firsthand understanding of what makes media companies tick online. “That really helps clients understand why we might take them in a certain direction,” she said.

It’s an approach that makes sense. “I like the model,”  said Peter Kreisky, chairman of Kreisky Media Consultancy. “In this environment, market-tested expertise backed by the credibility of a known and successful brand is extremely valuable. It can provide massive leverage to those who don’t have it in-house and or don’t have the time to recruit it.”

But the model, as successful as Atlantic Media Strategies has been so far, is not without possible conflicts: Atlantic Media, for example, runs the risk of competing too closely with the very agencies that bring them business on the ad side.

“Then again, that’s the way it is in media-tech today,” said Dorian Benkoil, svp at Teeming Media. “Everyone increasingly competes with everyone else and becomes ‘frenemies.'”

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