Leo Burnett and The Huffington Post forge new content partnership

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Mark Renshaw, chief innovation officer at Leo Burnett
Mark Renshaw, chief innovation officer at Leo Burnett

Creative agency and publisher aim to drive cultural conversations together through native advertising

Content marketing has generated huge buzz over the past few years, as many brands seek to refashion themselves as publishers or jump on the native-advertising bandwagon.

Marketers are expected to spend nearly $2 billion on sponsored content this year, according to an eMarketer report. While publishers, creative agencies, media agencies and PR agencies have rushed to own this space, creating sponsored content that consumers will love is not always straightforward.

For this reason, Leo Burnett has struck up a partnership with The Huffington Post, in which the agency and publisher will work together to create native advertising for the agency's clients. Leo Burnett said it believes the AOL-owned news and entertainment publisher will provide it with the editorial expertise to produce content that is a hit with the audiences its brands are trying to reach.

As part of the deal, staff from The Huffington Post's content-marketing team are embedded in Leo Burnett's Chicago office, working with the agency and its clients to create content for AOL properties. Currently, there is a cross-functional team of about 30 staff across four Leo Burnett offices that touch the project.

"The Huffington Post has a common purpose and ambitions to us and this partnership is about how we create the future of marketing, publishing and advertising together," Mark Renshaw, chief innovation officer at Leo Burnett, told Campaign US.

The partnership is not just about either side working the way they have always done, but rather problem solving from brief to execution in new way. "The future of industry and creativity will about the ability to innovate and collaborate," Renshaw said.

There is no set formula for what this partnership will involve, varying from client to client. The work could include research, producing sponsored content or developing new ways to scale existing content. Leo Burnett will also get exclusive access to The Huffington Post's proprietary data.

There are three Leo Burnett clients are already involved with the scheme, though Renshaw would not disclose their names. He said one brand is planning to relaunch, using HuffPost as the platform.

Many agencies have expanded their editorial offering in-house in recent years to meet the demand for content marketing. But there are a handful of other publishers deepening their relationships with agencies to help them produce better sponsored content for their sites.

Buzzfeed, whose revenue model is built on sponsored content, works with agencies to help them produce highly shareable content, rolling out a training school last year. Earlier this year, the news and culture site partnered with Mindshare to provide the WPP-owned media agency with data insights for its clients. Mashable also has a similar deal with 360i.

One of the major criticisms about native advertising is that it blurs the line between the church and the state – editorial and advertising – meaning consumers cannot tell the difference between the two. For this reason, the industry has been pushing for set guidelines on what constitutes editorial and native advertising.

Renshaw insists that while the agency will lean on the HuffPost's editorial expertise, all content produced for brands will be clearly marked.

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