Don’t be fooled by my name being on this piece, it’s by our good friend, and my podcast co-host Drew Fairservice! Enjoy it, it’s good stuff! — Stoeten
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Remember when the Blue Jays relieved their entire media relations and PR staff of their duties? It was mere weeks ago. It would appear the new day already dawned on Blue Jays Way, as a very peculiar Toronto Sun story popped into my inbox the other day.
“OK Blue Jays! Sun readers declare Toronto a baseball town” is an odd enough headline for a Sun story, but digging in reveals a tone wholly unexpected from that shop.
Lo and behold, notice the disclaimer at the top of the story. “This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of a client.”
This is sponsored content. The Blue Jays paid Postmedia to create the story and for its inclusion on the Sun’s sports page. Odd. Very odd.
I’m sure the blow-hardier of the hardest blowing stable of sports scribes consider it a point of pride, but this just might be how “fan engagement” looks in 2018 and beyond.
Some background and disclosure: for a little more than a year, ending in early 2016, I was a member of a previous iteration of the Postmedia content shop that created this sponsored story.
Sponsored content (“spon con”, as it is known within the Post’s newsroom), for the uninitiated, can be anything from stories to videos and infographics. It is created by journalists to the specifications of the client, with a label that details the level of input non-journalistic sources contributed.
If you’re hoping I’ll snark on the concept of sponsored content, you’re out of luck. The team that created this piece for the Blue Jays and dozens like it are all hard working people, often with a lifetime of experience in newsrooms across the country. Many of them went to “the dark side” because it is regarded a valuable revenue stream for a business in dire need of shots of life. They’re doing what they can to help save their industry and should be saluted for it.
But why would the Blue Jays, who do not lack for coverage in this country, go this route? You don’t have to look any further than the click-friendly headline to the countless unchallenged assertions made by vice president of fan engagement Sebastian Gatica to see the benefit from a messaging perspective.
“But can’t the Jays just run this story on their state-owned media outlets?” you might ask. They could, but the optics would be even worse. Here they find an existing publisher with a large audience and a somewhat adversarial relationship with the brand (now-retired Sun legend Bob Elliott notwithstanding.) An audience that is slightly older and less likely to heed the message sent on social media.
The team has an opportunity, through Postmedia’s native ad network and promoted ads on Twitter and Facebook, to reach an audience they need. They leverage the Sun’s brand to promote a message in slightly more credible way than just pumping it out through their own channels.
Big brands do this all the time. Content marketing is a massive and growing piece of the advertising industry. Also, smaller brands that are fighting for share of voice can use this to tell stories that would otherwise get ignored. In my time on this content team, we worked briefly with the Argos on a few stories.
In terms of share of voice, social footprint, you name it – the Blue Jays’ reach dwarfs that of the lowly Argos. This is not a bold statement, as the Argos are a sporting pariah. Perhaps it’s a bit of small time move by the Blue Jays, but consider this a ground offensive in the war against negative public sentiment, much of which is fostered by screeching Sun columnists and their ilk.
Setting aside the efficacy of this campaign, expect to see the Blue Jays engage in more and more of this type of outreach. So long as they’re able, they’ll work to control the message and script their own narrative and squelch dissent.
It won’t work, but it’s worth a shot, right?