Commentary

Xerox Sponsors Content On 'Atlantic' To Promote New Branding

Reading Xerox’s brief about what it wants to accomplish with its new brand platform “was sort of an instant aha moment for us,” says Hayley Romer, vice president and publisher of The Atlantic. The new strategy, unveiled in August, puts a focus on Xerox’s belief that by optimizing how people, processes and technology work together, “Work Can Work Better.”

The media company and the advertiser have had a longstanding relationship, but this updated positioning felt like an opportunity to do a lot more than just run an ad or write a formulaic content piece about what Xerox was doing. “Anybody could tell that story,” Romer points out.

The Atlantic’s audience was already thinking about the way work has been changing as a result of technology, according to the publication’s Re:think creative marketing team. So Re-think came up with a way to help Xerox actually apply this philosophy.  

First, the team would survey The Atlantic’s business readers about the real-life challenges they were facing. Then it would enlist a panel of experts to help solve these problems. Finally, it would arrange the answers into an accessible, interactive mosaic of solutions that would become sponsored content on The Atlantic’s website, as well as be available for download or as a printed book.

Barbara Basney, Xerox vice president, global advertising & media, recalls that “something happened which is virtually unheard of” when Re:think brought the idea to her team after running it by the company’s global agency of record, MEC: “They got a ‘yes’ that very day.”

For its first foray into a paid content media partnership for this campaign, Xerox needed much more than a “logo slap” to help it communicate the message that it doesn’t just sell printing and document management hardware, as too many in its target audience still believe, Basney says. In fact, 60% of its $19 billion in annual revenue comes from the business process services it offers to companies, organizations and governments around the world.

The outcome of the collaboration with Re:think, Working Better, incorporates the advice of 10 outside experts such as business writer and consultant Tony Schwartz, MIT economist Otto Scharmer and the London Business School’s Lynda Gratton, each of whom offer bite-size solutions to a series of questions in one of three areas: alignment, productivity and agility.

Three attributes helped the proposal sail through the usual shoals of approval, according to Basney:

  1. “It was rooted in research. There are many content ideas that are packaging things, or are the brands talking about themselves. I loved the fact that this was aligning with our point of view on the world: how work can work better.”
  2. After validating the research, “they went out and got thought-leader perspective. It was not The Atlantic,nor Xerox, just giving their point of view. It was coming from really authentic sources,” Basney says.
  3. The Atlantic and its business-news sister site, Quartz, which promotes the Working Better site, “have a huge fist to drive traffic and engagement” in both the U.S. and the U.K, where the ad campaign was also launching.

“The whipped cream and the cherry on top of all this is the amount of traffic being driven back to the xerox.com site,” says Basney, a week after the project went live. The company is also promoting the site on social media as well as internally to its 140,000 employees.

Some of those employees — thought leaders in their own right such as Jenny Englert, senior cognitive engineer at Xerox’ PARC — are themselves featured in the downloadable PDF and book “in a very authentic and organic way,” says Basney.

It also helped that The Atlantic promised to be quick in its execution, as opposed to the “usual bake time of six months for research projects,” says Basney. And it delivered on time, despite a lot of back and forth between the two teams — “probably much to their dismay,” Basney quips, describing the experience as “an absolute joint partnership and working process.”

“They get kudos for being nimble, quick and seemingly without any issue with energy level. They must be taking their vitamins over there.”

Or perhaps they heeded Schwartz’ solution to getting things done amid all the distractions we face. His 113-word answer boils down to gathering your team in a room, shutting off everything with a button or switch, and focusing on one issue and each other.

A truly radical idea, no?

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