A Veteran Reporter’s Guide to Custom Content

By Jessi Pierce

11/23/16

Years ago, I was approached by a well-regarded editor about writing for a new magazine she was overseeing. “Sure,” I said. “Sounds great.” Then she told me about the publication. It was a monthly magazine called NYSE. Now, I’d been a business writer long enough to know that was shorthand for the New York Stock Exchange, but I was still confused. A major trading platform was publishing a magazine? Why on earth would they want to do that?

Thus began my time as a custom content reporter. What the New York Stock Exchange was discovering all those many years ago was that in addition to facilitating the buying and selling of stocks and bonds, they were also in possession of an incredibly powerful brand.

For a company to go public and list its shares on the NYSE was to broadcast to the world that it was solid, important, and that it had arrived. The magazine was a way to reach CEOs, CFOs, and the rest of the C-suite to promote the NYSE brand and the valuable companies it was able to attract.

Over the years, I wrote more than three dozen articles for the magazine, including many cover stories, and discovered a few things along the way. For starters, I quickly realized that at the heart of every piece of custom content is a powerful story.

Just like the straight journalism articles I had written throughout my career, custom content needs a hook, a reason to draw readers (customers) in and keep them interested in the story you have to tell.

The NYSE-traded companies I wrote about were either at a crossroads in their business, or on the cusp of a big breakthrough, and the CEO and his or her lieutenants were helping to tell the story. The collective power of all those stories within the pages of the magazine reinforced the NYSE brand and made the business community view its sway as something desirable and strong. Without that tension, custom content falls flat and fails at its most important mission: retaining your audience and keeping them interested in what you have to offer.

The monthly cadence also kept the NYSE brand front and center with business leaders. Over the years, the magazine was able to swiftly address issues of economic importance—an election, a recession, a booming new industry—in a timely way. Now, there’s no one right rhythm for every brand when it comes to custom content. Monthly might be too much—or not enough. The point is to understand your brand well enough to know the right pacing so that your audience is always looking forward to the next insightful thing you have to say.