The Big Issue has assembled a branded content arm in a bid to diversify its revenue streams and meet demand from the “swell” around brand purpose.
The pandemic has reshaped The Big Issue’s commercial strategy in two ways. With fewer customers on the street, the publisher had to look at fresh ways to generate income, and the consumer shift toward social impact led to high demand from companies seeking out partnerships.
“For us to be able to do more and benefit more individuals we have to generate a greater level of financial capability by leveraging our USPs,” says Russell Blackman, managing director for commercial.
Blackman, who heads up the division, says The Big Issue has responded to the “movement and swell in the brand purpose space” by offering brands “a meaningful, authentic and credible outlet to tell their stories to attract new customers.”
“Having a genuine purpose that goes beyond making a profit is a real opportunity for brands to drive meaningful engagement and connections with their consumers,” he says.
Among its first suite of partnerships was a deal with O2 gifting free data plans to The Big Issue vendors. The O2 announcement had a reach of 150 million, which Blackman credits to having a tangible impact on vendors.
Blackman says brands do purpose well when a campaign has impact and clear action with a human story. “If a brand can be seen to deliver engaging branded content that has an element of action it gives the additional element of authenticity as they are doing what they are saying,” he says.
Blackman also advises brands to “focus on a specific aim making it easier for a consumer to buy into as they can see that it is a genuine aim and that a brand is doing something credible to address that.”
The Big Issue has previously done ad hoc sponsorships with the likes of PayPal and Zettle and special art addition covers, but the division launch puts strategy behind it, with Blackman proactively seeking out deals.
“It’s a way for us to go out and tap into other high-profile names and figures that allows us to extend the reach and influence of The Big Issue and generates incremental income,” he says.
Blackman has plans to connect the branded content division with The Big Issue’s emerging Kickstarter trainee scheme with young journalists from underrepresented backgrounds tasked to work with brands to create content.
The Big Issue has also invested in and expanded its digital proposition, hiring a team of digital-only journalists. “We can now offer a far greater reach on our social and online channels, pushing into video and film,” Blackman says.
Readership currently stands at 300,000 a week and unique users are around 500,000 a month, but there are plans to reach 1 million a month by the end of Q1.