How Variety is Winning with Custom Content



Like many publishers looking for ways to grow revenue and combat profit erosion from programmatic pricing, Variety is now producing premium branded content. An iconic brand founded in 1905, Variety is the authoritative source for entertainment business news. Since its acquisition by Jay Penske’s PMC Media in 2012, Variety’s digital and event businesses have grown dramatically. And unlike many struggling publications, the print business has also seen steady and double-digit growth.


Variety launched our custom content initiative at the start of 2017. Variety Content Studio (VCS) was created as the brand marketing division responsible for creating storytelling and bespoke initiatives for clients and since the inception of VCS, we’ve attracted advertisers such as Intel, Amazon Studios, Adobe, Entertainment Studios, Focus Features, DIRECTV, Audi, Vizio/DTS, Tribeca Shortlist and more.


Anyone who has ventured into the world of building a custom content studio is aware of the pitfalls. It can be an expensive endeavor to put the right infrastructure in place and maintain a profitable margin. Changing the mindset of a media seller from offering a more simple transactional sale to one that is complex and creative can be challenging. Additionally once the content has been sold and produced, getting eyeballs on it may be both problematic and costly.


When deciding to move forward with a content studio at Variety we analyzed some of these inherent challenges and crafted a strategy for success.


I’d like to share with you a few takeaways from our experience entering into the endeavor of launching a studio:


Start Small then Scale


Rather than creating a large in-house division straight out of the gate, we chose to start small, building and hiring as we scale. Our unique position and relationships within the entertainment community allow us to tap into writing, producing and cinematography talent efficiently. (Hey, we’re in Hollywood and the city is filled with talented storytellers and artists looking for a break.)


Additionally for more than 20 years Variety has had a thriving editorial features division that has proven exemplary in its ability to monetize editorial content in the entertainment news, features and information space. We have been able to expand the print features division to include digital features and branded content. We began by assigning existing talent from the features editorial team to the branded team and eased in their workload as the deals closed.


Our first critical hire was an executive producer. Once we started creating more product we then brought on a second producer. If we needed any additional resources we leveraged our freelancer network. By using this strategy we avoided large overhead while waiting for deals to close.


Be Creative


The very nature of custom content is that it is creative. When responding to RFPs we pull in the team of writers and producers to ideate unique ideas that are never repurposed. Because we have hired writers and producers with backgrounds in entertainment they know how to thoroughly craft and pitch a story that is fresh, compelling and engaging to audiences of both insiders and the aspirational marketplace.


We are fortunate that Variety Live Media, our events and summits division, produces approximately 70 events throughout the year which also require creative selling and customization. The sales team is already accustomed to coming up with creative ideas. Tying them to a team of experienced producers and writers allows them to put the best proposal forward. Everyone works collectively as a group to really understand the needs of the brand and how we can bring our audience and our perspective to the project. And of course the concepts are tied to a compelling, comprehensive media plan.


Be Nimble