The New York Times has launched a challenge to the regional content marketing scene by opening a branch of its branded content agency, T Brand Studio, in Hong Kong with the aim to "tell stories for brands".
The three new staff members forming the fledgling Asia Pacific office—content strategist Reno Ong, producer Clara Lim and editor Jason Li—all hail from journalistic backgrounds with experience between them at Monocle, Singapore Press Holdings, #legend magazine and Time.
This particular combination of skills and experience, combined with those of a designer (yet to be hired), is one that T Brand Studio says is at the core of every team it builds—the factor that differentiates the NYT’s offering from that of its competitors.
"All of our stories are led by our editors, and our editors come from backgrounds of journalism," says Raquel Bubar, T Brand’s London-based director, who will also oversee the new team. "We take a New York Times journalistic approach to the quality content that we make, so we’re always looking first at what is the story that we want to tell before we think about the method. We think about what is the message that we want to say before we think whether there is going to be a video or an infographic. That’s so true to how the newsroom does it and we can only hope to do the same kind of quality content."
T Brand Studio is now three years old, having launched in 2014 in New York followed by London in 2015. Today, the agency employs 100 people worldwide, 20 of whom work outside the US. Bubar says the brand sees "real opportunity" in Asia, and indeed the studio has already worked with Asian clients such as the Embassy of Japan, for whom they created a highly visual longform article celebrating the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC, and the Vietnamese ceramics maker Minh Long I Co. Ltd.
Work for other APAC clients including tech and travel companies is already in the pipeline, Bubar says. "What they see about T Brand that maybe they are not seeing from other publishers is the kind of high quality content that we produce. So we’re not mass-creating short bursts to live on our publishing platform, it’s really a labor of love and we spend lots of quality time creating it and thinking up ideas and developing the best campaign possible."
The advantage of being an offshoot of a major media publication in the marketing space—the same proposition other regional media such as the SCMP, which runs a branch called South China Morning Post Marketing Solutions, is counting on—is that clients want to be associated not only with the work you produce but with your name, too, particularly when it carries the 165-year-old history of the New York Times. "We find that T Brand Studio now has a loyal following so it’s sometimes a mark of quality work to see the T Brand Studio logo attached to the content that we create," says Bubar.
The flip side of this, of course, is that if T Brand wants to pursue expansion across Asia it may find its parent company's name is accompanied by less positive associations in certain quarters: Apple removed the NYT app from its China store following a request by the government in December last year.
Bubar’s response to this: "T Brand Studio content, the branded content that we make, is not blocked by ad blockers so anyone should be able to see it if they can access the site. It’s really advertising content versus newsroom content so I think if China is censoring the NYT it is not necessarily the ads that we’re developing."