Inside City AM’s branded content revenue ambitions

London daily newspaper City AM is carving a new revenue stream by letting advertisers publish directly to its site, and has signed its first client, Invest Edinburgh, in a six-month £60,000 ($80,000) deal.

Invest Edinburgh published its first batch of articles on the site last week, some of which have equalled the publisher’s own traffic for editorial content. One piece: “Budget rail service will link Edinburgh and London” received over 2,000 views and was the fourth most-read article on the site last Sunday.

The advertiser has been capitalizing on publishing directly to the CMS, by writing articles tied to the news cycle. This week it published Why Edinburgh’s festivals rival the Olympic Games,” tied to the games, as well as Edinburgh should stay the top UK location for commercial property investment outside London post-Brexit. A week in, and the content published has had about 5,000 views for the eight stories published so far, according to the Invest Edinburgh Talk hub.  “That’s organic — the paid and social amplification that comes with the deal, hasn’t started yet,” said City AM chief operating officer Charles Yardley.

Six months is the minimum buy-in for the product, called City Talk, and at £10,000 ($13,000) a month brands can publish an unlimited number of text-based articles; videos; podcasts. They also have one piece a month feature in the print newspaper, and social and paid promotion from the publisher.

All content is clearly labelled: “Invest Edinburgh Talk.” Aside from that, they look exactly the same as editorial content.


The approach goes against the grain of how most publishers have built branded content revenue, by creating studios. In the U.K. Forbes is the only other publisher that opens its CMS to advertisers. Yardley introduced the model when he joined from Forbes in January. Clients are given audience tips ahead of posting, and given feedback on how they can boost performance further. Aside from that, City AM is fairly hands-off.

For City AM, it’s opened new revenue, without the burden of studio costs. And the pipeline is strong, with five more six-month deals poised, and one 12-month deal at £120,000 ($160,000), according to Yardley. He wouldn’t reveal names but the interested brands fall into the payments, financial services, consultancy-type verticals.

“This is going to make a big difference for us. The kinds of people we’re speaking to are not necessarily advertising everywhere, so if we can win them, there is the potential to then unlock advertising deals from it too,” he added.

“We have one partner paying £120,000 a year. If you have 10 of those, that’s over a million pounds [$1.3 million] in business that’s come out of nowhere. In 18 months time, it could make a significant difference,” he said.

Media agency Maxus is currently trying to sell in City Talk to a financial tech client. Katy Halewood, head of Maxus for Business, said the service is particularly good for B2B clients which may have done content marketing for years, but still struggle to make it stand out, and not appear dry.

Getting something like 2,000 shares on a piece of branded content is fairly standard, but usually for work that’s been created or influenced by publishers’ editorial teams and skills, she said. So getting solid performance like that when the onus is on the brand to create the content, is compelling. “That’s good performance, and if it’s the kind of performance we can expect from these deals, we’ll definitely be recommending it more to clients,” she added.

Giving brands control over what they post on a real-time basis differentiates City AM’s offering from other publishers, whose content will more typically be vertical-specific, according to MediaCom head of digital for EMEA Dan Chapman. “City AM is news based, and brands may want to be reactive to news related to or relevant to them. This gives them that control,” he said. “If there’s negative press on a brand, they can create content that challenges any perceived misconceptions on them.”

Where it could really get interesting is in its ability to boost a brand’s SEO, he added. “The value of being able to post directly via a quality news site is big,” he said. “There’s also the value of the link-backs you’ll get to those articles. That creates massive benefits for SEO. You may find brands don’t consider it for tactical campaigns but as a strategic partnership for SEO.”

Cost-wise, £10,000 a month may seem a relatively good deal for branded content partnership with a publisher — provided it performs. Packages with content created by publisher studios tend to be in the six-figure-plus realm. But naturally, it’s nothing if the campaign doesn’t connect. “That will need to be clear: who’s accountable for the performance — the agency or the publisher,” said Chapman.

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