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BBC Worldwide launches in-house creative agency StoryWorks to bring newsroom values to content marketing partnerships

BBC Worldwide – the commercial arm of the BBC – has overhauled its advertising offering to create an overarching division dedicated to content marketing partnerships for brands.

The new arm, called BBC StoryWorks, which will be pitched to agencies during Cannes International Festival of Creativity this week, has been structured to function like an in-house creative agency, pulling in resource from existing areas of the Advertising division, as well as recruiting externally for roles including account and project management. 

The organisation, whose flagship brands it monetises outside the UK include Top Gear, BBC Good Food and BBC World Service, has been offering content marketing services for years as part of advertising packages, yet the launch of StoryWorks signals its intention to assert itself as a go-to destination for content marketing partnerships.

Former BBC journalist Richard Pattinson has taken the helm of the new arm as senior vice president of content. His appointment is indicative of BBCW’s plan to bring newsroom values to commercial partnerships with brands.

Speaking to The Drum, Carolyn Gibson, executive vice president of BBC Advertising, said marketers are increasingly demanding new ways of working with BBCW to “tell their stories” other than traditional advertising alone, with content marketing deals already accounting for over a third of its overall revenue.

“We felt it was time to put a stamp on this area and give it a distinct brand positioning. But more than that we are bringing together existing resource, investing in new skills for that team as well as launching new products. We are bringing it all into one place which means effectively we are creating our own creative agency but with newsroom values embedded into it,” she said.

Over the last few years brands have raced to develop content marketing strategies as all have struggled to stand out in what has become an online content-cluttered landscape in which marketers must work far harder to engage consumers across multiple devices.

This has led to many to view themselves as publishers in their own right, with brands such as Barclays adopting their own newsroom approaches. BBCW’s StoryWorks arm will be open to working in tandem with brands which have their own newsroom approaches, according to Gibson.

"Brands need support on what makes a good story."

“Everyone knows their own brand best, and the teams we work with on the clients' side are often an equivalent unit. They are creating content that they are publishing to their own platforms, because they know their customers and the messages they want to get out.

“But then of course once they are in BBCW environments our insight of those audiences can comes together with theirs. So the best result is the two newsroom approaches working in tandem. It’s putting those things together and making it even better to create something that resonates with the audiences on those platforms.”

StoryWorks is divided into three main pillars:

  • Branded content which comprises commercial content owned by the brand;
  • Partnered content which has been produced in collaboration with advertisers;
  • Sponsored content, which will be produced by BBCW with advertiser sponsorship

BBCW is not the first premium media owner to launch its own internal content marketing agency, with the Guardian among one of the first to adopt such an approach. The technique has brought into question at times whether the lines between editorial and commercial – or church and state – are becoming too blurred. However, Gibson stressed that the new division, although devised to operate like a newsroom and with a former BBC journalist at the helm, will not blur the lines with editorial output remaining entirely separate.

“However, the fact it is being led by Richard does help bring those teams together, and is about applying those journalism skills to partnered content. It’s about drawing out what makes a good story – brands need a lot of support with that.

"A lot of them are building their own teams and of course bring in journalists themselves to work on their content, but we still get a lot of partners coming to us with a lot of thought-leadership stuff but not necessarily knowing what to do with it, and we can help them navigate that and tell them what will resonate with our audiences and what will catch on social, “ she explained. 

As well as creating new, bespoke formats BBCW can help brands plug into its flagship brands such as Top Gear, which commands four million monthly unique users to its website globally. It already creates a large amount of short-form content for its Top Gear, Head Squeeze and BBC Earth YouTube channels, and will tap into that resource for StoryWorks too. 

The BBCW team will set about pitching the new arm at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this week.

Examples of BBC Advertising's most recent content marketing partnerships have been for brands including Brand USA, promoting tourism to the US, of which a video is shown above. The campaign featured famous film directors such as Spike Lee to talk about why they love each of the cities, an idea conceived form the fact that the US is largely represented internationally via films. 

Featured by The Drum