Publishers providing advertisers with marketing solutions... there’s not much new in that. Most have long offered all kinds of creative add-ons to the standard advertising proposition, usually built around the publisher’s own brands. And as the clamour for content-led marketing has increased, so many have sharpened and focused their offering.
But few have the clout, the heritage and the spread of brands – and expertise in well-defined areas – of IPC.
"What's happened over the past 12 months is that the number and scale of the conversations we are having with advertisers has increased dramatically," says Matt Downs, creative media director and the man behind IPC’s new focus on providing advertisers with content.
"But the difference is that they are now increasingly content-only conversations, and not just media-led ones. This is because advertisers increasingly want to stand out with original, quality content – which we are naturally set up to provide."
As a result, IPC has formalised its offer – part of which led naturally to joining the Content Marketing Association in June – and is now taking it out to market.
For Downs, the key to IPC’s proposition is the breadth of its offering. "We start with the brands – we have 65 of them, and they all have expert content creators in their areas.
"Then there are the many content pillars – we’re in fashion, food, home design, music, beauty, health, entertainment, sport and so on – around which we can have varied conversations with many different advertisers.
"But we take the idea of breadth further. We can provide content that is branded, or not – we can take a bespoke or archive approach. For example, we have provided Tesco Real Food with bespoke recipes, unbranded. Or eBay with fashion content, bespoke but branded by Look magazine.
"We can offer distribution too via our own media network," he continues, "but nor should we forget the massive archive we have – digitised – of content assets that a client can tap into as well."
To date, most of the IPC’s content work has been in the branded space, but Downs sees big opportunities to provide advertisers with content they can brand as their own.
"Google's algorithm seems to be set up to reward original quality content," he says, "so advertisers who want to drive themselves up the Google search rankings need their own content, and then the quality to truly engage their customers."
One consequence of this, notes Downs, is that IPC’s relevance has become even broader within media agencies. "The SEO teams are coming to us and saying, 'we must have good, original content. Can you help provide it?'".
In this regard, Downs sees media agencies as natural allies. "They are moving into the content space themselves, but there are limits to what they can do. We can partner with them, providing them with content, white-labelled if required."
Sometimes, the relationship can go further. "We pitched together with one big media agency," says Downs. "That was because they can deliver the planning and social listening skills, and we are uniquely qualified to provide high-value, expert, content in the subject matter the brief required."
One of the keys for Downs is the engagement of IPC's editorial teams. "We are always careful about how we use our own brands and their spokespeople. The editors are naturally very focused on this and so they should be.
"We know their credibility is the thing that makes them so valuable to clients, so we are very selective about how they are used."
Ali Hall, editor of Look magazine, for example, fronts up a weekly fashion feature for eBay UK. "That is a clear case of using content produced by Look to solve a business and marketing issue," says Downs. "There are a growing number of niche players in online fashion, and so eBay continues to build its own credibility and authority by partnering with us."
Look also adds its credibility and reach to River Island, with its fashion team selecting outfits – and editorialising around them for the retailer, while Ideal Home editorial director Isobel McKenzie-Price has summarised seasonal trends within her introduction to B&Q’s autumn/winter catalogue.
One area that Downs believes IPC can add value to clients is via what he calls "borrowed interest". He says, "There are categories of advertiser whose products are of 'low interest' to consumers most of the time – finance, for example. But they often need to be 'always-on' to ensure they are front of mind for the moment the consumer does need them."
This prompted what might, at first sight, look like an unusual collaboration between American Express and NME, in which a series of video interviews with bands by the NME appeared exclusively on the Amex site.
Although Downs doesn't rule out print-based content, the focus is on digital, including video. "We’re producing 300% to 400% more video content now than we were a year ago," he says, off the back of recruiting a content director with a video background from Yahoo and Orange. "We have two studios here in our offices, and I can only see this volume growing."
When it comes to dealing direct with advertisers and brands, Downs is also building IPC’s strategic capabilities by taking on ex-agency planners.
"It’s imperative that we understand the clients' business and communications issues so that we can provide them with the insight to produce the right content, across the right platforms and at the right times."
This is an area IPC’s parent Time Inc, has developed in the US, marrying editorial skills in understanding audiences with social intelligence tools, and which Downs sees as his benchmark.
"It used to be that we could only talk to advertisers who wanted to use magazine media," says Downs. "Now our content offering, and the depth and breadth of our expertise in content pillars, means we can open up conversations about real marketing challenges with anyone.
"It feels like a good place to be," he says.
Dominic Mills, is consultant editor, Content Marketing Association