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How The Telegraph’s branded content arm Sparks is experimenting on Snapchat and Instagram

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By Imogen Watson | Senior reporter

September 2, 2018 | 4 min read

The Telegraph's branded content division, Spark, has become the UK's biggest commercial content company. But as the publisher hunts the next phase of growth, it's turning towards plafroms like Instagram and Snapchat.

Spark, now in its third year, continues to put print and online at the heart of the offering: The Telegraph has two newspapers, two magazines and one website, which is visited by 62,000,000 users every month.

However, the Group is battling declining profits, with pre-tax profit standing at just £13.7m in 2017, significantly down from £27.1m it brought home the year prior. But according to branded content platform Polar's research, publisher branded content revenue is growing by 40% year-on-year.

It turned to director of commercial content Jane Johnson, who joined the team last December, to find the next phase of growth within the Spark division and in her short time with the company she has been the force behind a major push onto third-party platforms.

For example, Spark was the first newsbrand to feature on the Snapchat platform when it opened itself up to branded content in March this year.

“We basically had to teach ourselves how to do it. We talked a bit with Snapchat, [but] the developer work came from our side, and we had a designer who wanted to learn more so she learnt the basics over the weekend,” Johnson recently revealed.

The team’s first campaign was for Alzheimer's Research UK which used motion graphics of an orange disintegrating and enlisted the help of actor Bryan Cranston to demonstrate how Alzheimer's causes the brain to shrink.

Bryan Cranston appears in #sharetheorange for Alzheimer's Research UK

Out of the 2.3 million Snapchat users who now watch Telegraph content every month, 75% of those viewers are under the age of 24.

“We have a really active Snapchat audience - when Harry married Meghan, there were 12 million pageviews - that’s absolutely huge and shows you the power The Telegraph has,” she said.

Johnson claimed Spark was also one of the first branded content publishers to experiment on Instagram. For example, one element of a Samsung campaign that centered on the topic of cybersecurity ran in Instagram.

"We interviewed a hacker and got them to show how easily something can be hacked - that was really successful," Johnson said.

She predicted that Instagram, along with its Stories feature, will become an integral part of Spark's campaigns for clients.

Despite these experiment on relatively new platfroms, Johnson said the approach to storytelling hasn't changed.

"New ways of telling a story take their inspiration from the old ways of telling a story," she said.

Dove Men+Care - The spirit of rugby

The latest tool in its arsenal is AMP Stories, something Johnson is “very hopeful about.”

“It's really good for publishers. It's relatively new, mobile stories for the open web, another way of virtual storytelling... we're still in the experimental stages, we haven't figured out a way to measure them yet. It's something that we're trying to learn about,” she said.

Measurement

With the experiments on emerging platforms, robust measurement has become a core part of the Telegraph’s offering to advertisers.

One of Sparks’ solutions is called ‘Clarity’ which allows it, and their clients, to track how content is performing in real time and adjust if necessary.

Another offering is something called ‘Results that Matter’ which basically involves a survey with its readers who have engaged with the campaign, and looks at whether it means they're more likely to purchase something or have more awareness of the brand. This is a premium addition and only available on partnerships worth over £150k.

“We'll ask the client exactly which metrics they want to test and what’s important to them, and then we'll do a survey and show them that we've actually made a difference,” Johnson said.

Jane Johnson was speaking at the IAB's Content Creation and Native Distribution Seminar last week (23 August).

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