As Content Director of Studio@Gawker, Megan Gilbert’s mandate is clear: all storytelling must be laced with whip-smart tone, Gawker Media Network's signature positioning—a.k.a. “snark”—that has attracted eyeballs (83 million page views per month across its network of 10 sites), and, as a result, interest from brands like Pringles, Jaguar, State Farm Insurance and Knob Hill.
“The idea is to match up the content with the most authentic voice.”
The engaging Gilbert is seated in a wingback chair on the third floor of Gawker’s industrial Nolita office in Manhattan. As team members buzz in and out the room barking ad schedules and sell-throughs—in just a couple of years Gilbert's team has grown from a handful to 60 strategists, copywriters and designers—she talks to us about capturing for sponsors that sought-after Gawker tone, which is often accomplished by hiring outside of the box.
“The idea is to match up the content with the most authentic voice,” she says. “If we’re selling a series of think pieces about car ownership and car envy, we want someone who is connected, passionately, to the subject of cars and owning cars. The people who work here, internally, might not be the perfect match. We’re able to reach out to people who have that passion, who are already thinking about this stuff and who have the right voice.”
“All of our ideas are focused on what the readerships will respond to.”
A key component of Studio@Gawker is Kinja, a news aggregator developed by Gawker founder Nick Denton and Meg Hourihan of Pyra Labs. Launched in February 2013, Kinja manages content for Studio.
“It’s a platform. It’s also been called a ‘platisher’ which is a hybrid, a portmanteau of platform and publisher,” says Gilbert. “Every blogger here, including the Studio, is using Kinja to create their content. We do partner Kinja pages with some brands, for example. Netflix is one of them. We help them create the content, but they are welcome to publish on their own as well.”
“We really want our ideas to create engagement and have people respond to the value of the post.”
The most successful of Gawker’s content partnerships, says James Del, Gilbert’s boss and Studio@Gawker’s executive director, have been the most adventurous, flexible and forward thinking. "There can be countless obstacles when trying to get so many moving pieces to line up,” says Del, “but in my experience, the biggest constraints come from agencies that want to do great work but aren't properly set up to buy or execute it.”
Traditionally, Del tells us, “PR, media, creative and strategy sat in completely different offices and seldom interacted with one another, but this kind of work requires a level of cross-organizational communication that lots of larger brands don't know how to reconcile yet. I think that's why you're seeing nimble, fresh organizations like Netflix capable of doing this work more readily than the advertising dinosaurs who think in terms of spots and dots."
“We don’t want people saying ‘What is this? Why are they talking about bourbon?’”
The prickly, funny Gawker voice draws clients, but how far can Studio @Gawker go to deliver it? And how does Studio@Gawker present branded content and fold it seamlessly into editorial, without alienating core readers?
That’s the tightrope Gilbert treads on for a living.
“The idea is not only to make the connection of authenticity between the writer and the content, but also the content and the site,” she says. “We don’t want people saying ‘What is this? Why are they talking about bourbon?’ All of our ideas are focused on what the readerships will respond to. We really want the ideas to create engagement and have people respond to the value of the post, whatever it may be.”
Aside from video and infographics, Gilbert estimates that nearly 80% of the content they produce exists as articles. “But a lot of them have open threads, or there’ll be live conversations, which we count as the same.”
“We’re not just trying to mimic editorial.”
Gilbert’s love of the Gawker voice first drew her to the company in 2009—with an MFA from Sarah Lawrence, she had been copywriting, book editing and (for necessary grit) bartending. “I was a fan of Gawker because of that tone, but we’re not just trying to mimic editorial. We’re trying to get the brand message across in an authentic way,” she says, adding with a laugh, “that doesn’t interrupt or enrage anyone who happens to be reading the sites.”
After all, snark is the stock in trade at Gawker, and neither the brand nor the reader is there by accident.