Day in the life of Thrillist’s branded content creator

hayden lynchIn the hunt for native ad dollars, many publishers are looking for journalists who can adapt their skills to the brand side. But as Hayden Lynch describes it, producing editorial that delivers a brand’s message — and getting people to read — isn’t as easy as it looks.

Lynch knows firsthand, having been a longtime editorial employee at lifestyle publisher Thrillist Media Group before moving over last year to the company’s in-house content studio, CoLab. In his role as creative director of CoLab, he spends a lot of time figuring out how to use data to measure success of a campaign and then make sure the final product delivers on the brand’s goal.

“It definitely stresses your creativity,” he said. “You’re not just creating something to be beautiful to you.”

CoLab had a big launch earlier this year with Supercall, a new spirits vertical with editorial is produced by the marketing side but is fully sponsored by liquor company Diageo. Editorial purists might wring their hands, but Lynch is convinced more editorial content will be created this way.

“One of biggest refrains we’re hearing from brands is, ‘we want to become a publisher.’ A lot of CMOs of major brands are under that impression that the only way they can have that authentic relationship is to have authentic content,” he said.

Here’s what a day in his life looks like, lightly edited:

6:30 a.m.: Wake up and wonder where I am. After living in the same apartment in Manhattan for a decade, I finally made the move to Brooklyn. On the plus side, Park Slope is like a land of milk and honey when it comes to street parking and in-unit bathrooms.

7:15 a.m.: I usually spend an hour going through emails while having my morning coffee, but I don’t have Internet hooked up yet, so I go for a run. I almost never listen to music when I run, because it’s the only time during the day that I can think without distraction. I might walk through an upcoming presentation, or stress test the logic of a particularly vexing issue.

8:45 a.m.: After a quick shower, it’s time to take the subway into the office in Soho. I stop at a fantastic little coffee shop for an Americano along the way, where the mercurial barista eyes me suspiciously. I immediately regret my decision to wear red pants in public.

9:30 a.m.: I hit my desk and dive into emails, at least 20 of which have arrived since I left my apartment. I send 50-100 emails on an average day and receive between 250-500, every last one of which I have to either respond to or catalog if I’m going to be able to sleep that night.

10 a.m.: My first meeting of the day is about reporting metrics. Publishers have an overwhelming amount of data at our fingertips, and isolating the right metrics from which to extrapolate meaningful insights is a huge challenge. One of the core missions of Supercall is to build out the definitive digital guide to all things spirit-related — cocktail recipes, home bartending techniques, a comprehensive product database — but each of those types of content serves a different purpose and is consumed in a different way, so the metrics we use to gauge performance shouldn’t necessarily be the same.

11 a.m.: Interview a candidate for a content production role. I’m increasingly drawn to people who can not only execute top-flight work within their discipline, but also think in terms of other mediums. It’s not realistic to expect a writer to pick up a camera and go full-on Fellini for six seconds on Snapchat, but building cohesive campaigns that live across an ever-increasing number of platforms requires a team that understands the myriad ways a story or message can come to life.

Noon: Pick back up on email and start to prioritize. I’m seeing some conversations around content promotion and licensing rights, an increasingly convoluted area given the number of ways in which content can be repackaged and distributed these days.

1 p.m.: Lunch. Normally I bring in a salad, but my kitchen is still in boxes, which I’m treating as a license to crush chicken parm subs every day. If I had the time I’d walk down to Lam Zhou in Chinatown and get the best dumplings in Manhattan, but instead I run around the corner to grab some tacos.

1:30 p.m.: Try to find a quiet corner where I can review the P&L for Supercall. With the increasing number of ways to spend a dollar in media, balancing content production costs — freelance journalism and photography, video, stock imagery licensing, digital asset management software, etc. — has to be done within the larger framework of audience extension, data and analytics, research and more. Each of these areas is crucial for building a healthy platform, but finding the balance and isolating interrelated efficiencies is the only way to run lean. This is undoubtedly the sexiest thing I will do all day.

2:30 p.m.: Emails! Emails! Emails!

3:25 p.m.: Our head of research pulls me into a room to administer a surprise video retention test. Building beautiful content is great, but at the end of the day most clients want to know that you actually moved the needle for them, so we have our creative team sit side by side with our research team. Before we create a single piece of content for a campaign, we define success based on KPIs, which allows us to build content that intelligently targets those areas.

4 p.m.: Back to Supercall, I grab some more time with our audience dev team to talk through video production. With Facebook pushing video, the ability to build reach hinges on creating compelling 30- to 60-second clips, but we’re also considering other avenues: How do you make cocktail videos interesting for 60 minutes on Facebook Live? When do we lean into Snapchat? What’s the future of video in SEO? This is the reality that the entire digital media industry is facing right now.

5 p.m.: Dive into brainstorming topics for an upcoming West Coast sales road show. This particular trip is being built around a series of “huddles” at Mindshare in L.A. The idea is to bring in folks from a variety of media fields to lead big-picture conversations that just don’t happen during the normal RFP cycle. I love this kind of thing, because it’s a great chance to hear from people with different perspectives and areas of expertise from my own. I’m leaning towards focusing on what the content campaign of the near future looks like — Instant articles living on Facebook, bots crawling our taxonomy to provide real-time interactive recommendations, virtual reality … it’s all closer than we think.

7 p.m.: Head out to meet some bandmates (I play drums in a particularly smooth sailing yacht rock cover band called Pleasurecraft) at Schiller’s Liquor Bar for dinner before checking out our bassist’s show at Mercury Lounge. He used to be in Third Eye Blind, but tonight he’s performing with Feast of Friends, a Doors tribute band that includes the guitarist from Blondie and, you know, the actual drummer from The Doors. I’m a bit uncomfortable about the prospect of watching him perform with actually talented musicians.

9:15 p.m.: Pay the cover at Mercury Lounge and settle in for some heady jams.

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