The Secret Sauce
The Secret Sauce

Back in the hazy past, not quite when dinosaurs roamed the earth but sometime not long after—we’re talking about the 1990s—words were the main tool for reporting the news. Photos and graphics were important too, but the text was the centerpiece of the storytelling.

Now? It’s amazing how things have changed, said Meredith Kopit Levien, Executive Vice President of Advertising of the New York Times, in her presentation at Social Media Week, “The Art & Science of Storytelling.” Levien’s main argument, not surprisingly, was that content providers must be more creative with multimedia in an age of social and mobile.

The reason is that people are now accustomed to a livelier experience. Think of it in terms of birthday parties, she said; 30 years ago, kids were happy with a sheet cake and a simple gathering. Now they are often destination events replete with bells and whistles. And so it goes with both news and brand content. “Expectations and engagement don’t stand still,” she said.

Ironically, the most accessed and engaged content recently on nytimes.com wasn’t a feature or news story, Levien said. Rather, it was an interactive element that identified the reader’s regional dialect though a clever quiz…that was written by an intern. This is proof that compelling content can come from anywhere, and that mainstream publishers like the Times must be aware that mobile and social have empowered people to become their own content provider.

The winning formula? Entertain, engage, inform, Levien said. For marketers, it’s about telling stories and adding value—and anything that doesn’t do these things will struggle to break through the noise.

Many large brands are now hiring former journalists with newsroom experience because they understand how to tell stories and find unique and interesting angles to draw in the reader, Levien said. So marketers get their message across in a way that will appeal to the Times readership. Working with publishers such as the Times directly, brands can get help reach these audiences.

Platforms are another consideration. It’s no secret millions of people are now tapping into content on mobile devices, so all engagements must translate to that medium.

That’s the art. As for the science of engagement, Levien said that can be tricky; the newspaper is flexible about defining the success of a piece of content and brands are best served doing the same. All the new types of content and channels require different interpretations of engagement, and different metrics for evaluating success.

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