Digital Publishing Strategy At Quartz

We sat down with Iain McDonald, director of branded content in EMEA for Quartz, to discuss all things digital strategy


Iain McDonald is Quartz’s director of branded content in EMEA. In his role, Iain works across a range of high profile clients. Prior to joining Quartz, he spent a number of years working on the ad agency side, creating content for a spectrum of national and international brands such as Samsung, StubHub, and McCormick. 

Iain will be participating in a panel at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit this June 26 - 27 in London, which will focus on finding the balance between editorial and advertorial content, a key challenge for content marketers and digital strategists alike. Ahead of the summit, we sat down with Iain to discuss his views on content strategy in what is a rapidly evolving landscape.

We have seen an explosion in content marketing in recent years, what effect has this had on your content strategy?

As a publisher, it’s meant we’ve had a lot more interest in our content offering. This has meant that we’ve had to ensure we’re constantly providing something new, and of value, to the reader. Ensuring you’re not telling the same story twice is sometimes a challenge, but this is often where some of the best solutions come from.

With all the recent changes across social media platforms how are you ensuring you create a robust digital distribution strategy that isn’t reliant on these third-party publishing channels?

First and foremost is a user-friendly site design that encourages discovery of content. Allowing the user to organically discover articles has proved successful for us. Secondly, there are our off-site owned properties, such as our Daily Brief newsletter and app. Both are optimised for the user in terms of device, and in terms of state of mind when they are reading it. By creating experiences like this that respect the user, we’re able to create a compelling distribution strategy.

How are you maintaining content integrity in an environment filled with fake news and clickbait?

We’re lucky that we have a strong editorial mission statement and that guides everything we do, both editorial and branded content. We won’t publish anything on the branded content side that doesn't live up to the same standards we set for editorial. This approach has worked so far, and it’s why clients come to us. They like our style and are largely happy for us to do what we do best.

GDPR comes into full effect in a matter of weeks - what effect can you see it having on digital publishing as an industry?

GDPR is definitely going to shake things up, but at the same time I can see an opportunity for advertisers and publishers to innovate and create new ways to reach audiences.

Do you handle content strategy in isolation or as part of the wider customer experience?

I think any successful strategy should be thought of as part of a wider customer experience. Particularly when your content strategy can form part of a wider brand marketing strategy, as it does with Quartz. As a publisher, we need to balance what is of interest to our readers, as well as the brand’s overall objectives. Where those two don’t necessarily align is always a fun challenge.

What success have you seen from branching out into multimedia content production?

We’ve seen particular success in adding audio to articles, and initial results seems to suggest people are more willing to listen to audio than they are to watching a video. Whilst video will always be a part of our content strategies, we are always looking for the best way to tell a story, and if that’s in audio form, we’ll embrace it.

Technology continues to innovate and develop at an incredible rate, what steps are you taking to ensure success across different devices?

Quartz was building mobile first before the majority of publishers, and we strive to ensure we are building experiences that are device appropriate. A great example of this is our app. When you look at how people interact with their phones, it’s mostly messaging. So we built our app as a messenger experience. As tech develops, we’ll continue to embrace it, but only if it makes sense for the user. Augmented reality is another example of how we do this. While VR requires clunky headsets, VR allows for a much more user-friendly experience, which we incorporate directly in the app.

What can the audience expect to take away from your session at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit?

Hopefully that everything should be done with the user in mind. If it’s a janky experience, or doesn’t provide any value, don’t do it.

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