Content marketing is a staple of many brands’ communications playbooks. Sponsored content, as part of an integrated communications strategy, can provide long- and short-term benefits.

Chief marketing officers, communications and marketing directors recognize that they need a diversified approach, rather than just another one-dimensional digital ad, to connect their prospects with their best stories. Sponsored content gives brands a new platform to build scale and relevance while boosting impact. Buyers want a story, not another advertisement.

Sponsored content’s place in a communications strategy

It’s important to understand, first, where sponsored content fits in a communications strategy.

Typically, communications strategies include earned media (like traditional PR-gained media coverage) and owned media (content on your website or blog that you control). Paid media provides another element to generate results. This is where sponsored content lives.

At a high level, paid media is editorial-style content that you pay to place or promote. But, unlike a display ad or a search ad, sponsored content delivers a business impact by creating new opportunities for engagement. When incorporated into a multi-asset, integrated communications campaign, sponsored content can help increase web traffic, generate leads, reach new audiences, or even rebuild a brand from negative sentiment. One of the great values of sponsored content is the near-absolute control a company has over it. As opposed to relying on a third-party interpretation of the story, a company can tell its story as it believes it should—or needs—to be told in a way that reaches its target audience.

How to launch a sponsored content campaign

Not all sponsored content is created equal. Follow these best practices to help you drive more results from your sponsored content:

Define your business objective.

You may have product news, new hire announcements or other specific messages to share, especially those that are likely “too promotional” for an earned media channel to consider. ProTip: if you want your sponsored content to be read and shared, it must add value for your readers.

Another scenario is to use sponsored content when you need to expand and amplify an existing earned media campaign. For example, to continue a proactive PR campaign or raise further visibility for a prominent earned placement or research report.

Understand who you need to influence.

One of the biggest advantages of sponsored content is that brands can hyper-target audiences they may not be able to reach otherwise. Often, it’s attractive because it guarantees visibility with a key audience: people who have the budget, purchasing authority or influence, and the need for your solution. When you’re paying for media, work with publishers who already discuss topics that align with your brand or have a similar target audience you want to reach. This will also ensure your story fits naturally and doesn’t feel out of place.

Identify your most compelling story.

For sponsored content campaigns to be most effective, brands must focus on designing engaging content for their key audience. Humanizing with customer stories, providing original data or connecting to an industry trend can provide compelling narratives or insights. While you can be more promotional here than through earned media, consider opportunities to engage authentically with your audience. The most effective stories are helpful without being salesy, pushy or overtly promotional.

Define your targets.

For your distribution plan, consider whether you are focusing on thought leadership trends or contributing to a news cycle. Your campaign might also target specific demographics or interests, or conversely, exclude audiences like employees so you only pay for the clicks you want. Publications and distribution channels will have versatile options to target your ideal audience.

Select the best fit.

There is a sea of media you can work with, so look for publications that align with your content, audience and primary business objective, as well as the time, money and effort you want to spend. For example, you can maximize your visibility and draft off a marquee top-tier or trade outlet—think The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, WIRED, TIME or Dark Reading. On the other side, it may be a better fit for your content and budget to work with several smaller and more niche outlets.

Measure and iterate.

You’ll also want to confirm how the publication or distribution channel measures campaign performance. Understand what the publication measures and how it aligns with your own key performance indicators. For example, determine if they provide guaranteed views or leads and what promotion they’ll use to drive traffic to the content. Before going all-in on a paid campaign, also consider testing headlines, messaging and audience terms. Any successes or failures will better inform your strategy going forward.

Make the story work for you

For B2B brands that want to build awareness, brand authority and influence, showing up in the right place is a crucial factor. Sponsored content leverages the strength of storytelling to reach and engage potential buyers. However, no single communications tactic is a magic bullet. The most effective sponsored content is part of a well-rounded communications campaign. Rather than overly rely on any single approach, coordinate your story across earned, owned and paid media.

RH Strategic helps brands broaden their reach, expand their audiences and launch new products with integrated communications strategies. If you’re interested in learning how sponsored content fits within your company’s communication plan, RH Strategic can help. Get in touch today.


RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based PR agency with a nationwide presence and additional global reach via membership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group. We provide strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, government and healthcare markets.