Building a separate brand studio was not originally part of the plan for Axios, which launched in 2017 with most people expecting a newsletter-focused news brand that would eventually pivot to pricey subscriptions. But growing market demand is leading the publisher to invest more in its brand studio team, including by expanding into creating more custom events and experiences.
Axios plans to increase its brand studio team from 10 staffers to 16 in 2019, including hiring a head of branded studio — a new role at the company — who will oversee the team. Axios president and co-founder Roy Schwartz said the investment is coming as the publisher sees more interest from advertisers.
“I resisted the concept of a studio business at first,” Schwartz said. “Everyone has a studio, and there’s not much differentiation between them. But as smart brevity has taken off, I started to realize there is a very distinct value proposition.”
Over the past year, the publisher’s brand studio team has expanded its branded content operations, including recently producing its first branded experiential event: a pop-up exhibit it created for Boeing that takes visitors through a series of installations about the future of space travel. The installation, which is invite-only, will be up for two weeks starting Jan. 31 and can only be attended by 20 people at a time. Boeing chooses attendees, with suggestions made by Axios’s brand studio and advertising team.
Brand studio work represented the fastest-growing revenue segment last year, though the publisher declined to say how much revenue the studio brings in. A majority of the revenues still come from sponsorships of Axios newsletters, the site and events. This past year, the venture-funded news publisher sailed past its target of $20 million in advertising revenue for 2018, racking up $25 million and nearly achieving profitability, Schwartz said.
Extending their branded studio into events makes sense for Axios, which has produced 75 events across the country over the past two years. Recently, it has gotten more creative about how it monetizes them. While it still sells sponsorships to its events — the price starts at $75,000, and can climb into the six figures, according to an Axios spokesperson — it has begun dispatching its video team to the events to create standalone content for advertisers. Moving into branded experiences felt like a logical next step, said Ali Rubin, Axios’s svp of external affairs.
Axios’s brand studio business has also benefited from advertisers trying to distinguish themselves through corporate social responsibility efforts. After years of being the province of HR departments, more executives have begun pushing stories about their brands’ principled practices, both to attract top talent and to make the case that they are attractive business partners, said Michele Egan, vp at For Momentum, an ad agency that specializes in corporate social responsibility campaigns. Just a couple years ago, few top branding executives worried about corporate social responsibility.
That has opened up a lane for Axios. “They want to see this kind of story,” Egan said. “And if your boss is interested, you’d better be interested.”