The Washington Post’s Brand Studio: Story First, Last and Always

By Native Advertising Institute on November 8, 2017
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This article is part of a series of interviews that NAI has conducted with directors of publisher’s Native Ad Studios around the world.

Please reach out if you want to add your Native Ad Studio to the series.


At Washington DC’s oldest and biggest newspaper, The Washington Post, branded content and native advertising is created in-house by the creative agency WP BrandStudio.

In this interview, Annie Granatstein, Head of WP BrandStudio, explains how the studio always puts the story first, bets on multimedia storytelling, and applies the newsroom’s best practices and storytelling innovations.

The heart of what we do is multimedia storytelling as our audience likes to delve into deep narratives told in highly visual, innovative ways.

RELATED: What is native advertising? 

When, why and how did WP BrandStudio come to life?

The studio was first founded in 2014 and when I joined to head the studio in 2015 we vastly expanded it. Our mission is to create important stories on behalf of brands leveraging innovative technology and the best practices and learnings from the award-winning Washington Post newsroom.

What sets WP BrandStudio apart from other Native Ad Studios?

We combine best-in-class journalism with in-house technology. This unique combination allows us to reach the vast majority of our growing audience organically on the Post site, with less spent on paid outside distribution than other studios.

RELATED: Get behind-the-scenes on New York Times award-winning native advertising

How important are multimedia stories for WP Brand Studios? Why?

The heart of what we do is multimedia storytelling as our audience likes to delve into deep narratives told in highly visual, innovative ways. The more interactive the features, the more engaged a user will be and we find they are increasingly spending more time consuming our content.

How do you convince brands to invest time, creativity and budgets in native advertising at WP Brand Studio?

The Washington Post reaches nearly 100 million readers nationally and another 30 million around the world. There is no better way to raise brand awareness and favorability among our vast influential audience than to engage them with high quality, innovative content they expect from The Post.

In production, we never lose sight of the story, no matter how complex and innovative our storytelling methods are.

What is your creative process when creating native advertising?

We focus first on finding the best narrative that achieves the brand’s goals and overlaps with our audience’s interests and then devises the best tactics to tell that particular story. In production, we never lose sight of the story, no matter how complex and innovative our storytelling methods are. We call this approach “Story first, last and always.”

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How much and in what ways are the brands involved in the creation of content?

The most impactful storytelling is the result of collaboration and we allow the brand to determine their level of participation in the content creation. We have a service-focused culture, so we can be flexible in our approach whether that is determining the creative strategy and producing the program with little input other than approvals or being provided with the content and editing it for Washington Post style and tone.

How do you decide on the best format for the native ads?

When deciding the best format for telling a particular story, we take several factors into account. Our clients have the ability to create a customized user experience using in-house technology that delivers the story in the format a reader enjoys engaging with most—that can be in the form of video, infographics, photo gallery or text.

How do you measure the success and effectiveness of your content?

The success of a campaign varies depending on what the brand finds most valuable and we measure effectiveness against that. If a brand is prioritizing engagement, we will focus on metrics like time spent and scroll depth. If the brand is prioritizing scale, we can analyze page views.

RELATED: Guide to creating content that converts

Is the editorial staff involved in the development of the native advertising you make?

The Post’s editorial staff is not involved in native advertising in order to maintain the journalistic integrity of the newsroom. We learn from and apply the newsroom’s best practices and storytelling innovations and utilize the same technology from the engineering team. In addition, our custom content staff has deep reporting experience.

Have you dealt with any possible internal scepticism?

No. The Washington Post has been very supportive of the studio and given us increasing resources as we have grown rapidly, garnering industry recognition and awards.

How do you label your native advertising?

All branded content is clearly labelled as such and includes the name of the advertiser.

Can you benefit from being part of the oldest and biggest paper in Washington?

The Washington Post has a growing national and international readership and its areas of coverage have vastly expanded beyond its DC/political roots. The company’s award-winning heritage and unparalleled news coverage garner an audience of influencers and thought leaders across the nation and the world. We greatly benefit from being able to access and engage this audience for advertisers.

Which (if any) mistakes have you learned from regarding creating native advertising?

The options for advertisers have greatly evolved from direct promotion. I now believe that it’s our responsibility to educate brands about prioritizing storytelling to engage a wider audience more deeply.

RELATED: How to do native advertising on social media

Could you mention an example of a piece of native, created by WP BrandStudio, that you’ve been particularly proud of?

Our award-winning feature for Canon is an immersive blend of video, photography, article, audio, and illustration that transports the audience inside a photography prodigy’s creative process. It is a truly magical piece of multimedia in The Washington Post’s DNA (was inspired by a newsroom feature) that organically and seamlessly integrates the Canon camera.

What important learnings would you pass on to other media companies who are considering setting up a branded content studio?

  • Look for ways to connect your studio with newsroom insights, innovations and technology
  • Hire staff who understands your publication’s DNA
  • Hire staff who understands how to effectively blend journalism and advertising
  • Always prioritize the story which should be a marriage of a brand’s goals and your audience’s interests
  • Create content tailored for each platform your audience is on

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