Ken Kaplan lives and breathes cool content as managing editor of iQ by Intel. The tech-culture hub covers the likes of sports, health, music and art from Intel’s own employees and the company’s partners. We chatted with Kaplan to get his takes on branded storytelling, content promotion and why a combination of journalism and marketing can create the perfect balance. Read on for more insight from Kaplan.
Can you talk about the start of Intel Free Press and what it was designed to do?
Intel Free Press came out of the PR team with the aim of telling stories from an “Intel” perspective. The stories were not bylines, [but] intended for journalists to easily grab and use part or all of the story to write or publish on their own site.
How did you promote Intel Free Press to journalists?
Free Press is not on intel.com. It is not branded [as part of] Intel. We connect the stories to daily news [and] tweet out one or two links showing we might have some useful insight. Intel is pretty trusted by consumers, businesses and governments, so they value our perspective on things.
Is the separate domain used to maintain separation of church and state?
We didn’t want to make it Intel-branded because we put a concerted effort into making these stories balanced and journalistic. Three years ago, when we first started, we thought about how people are finding the news [and realized that] they’re finding it through search. We were hoping we could write stories that would not be seen as a press release, marketing material or white paper, but as a news article that had real news value.
A year ago, Intel launched iQ by Intel. What were the objectives of launching iQ and how does it differ from the Intel Free Press?
iQ started as an opportunity to aggregate great social activity that was going on inside the company. We have a lot of pioneers in social media; people like Josh Bancroft. If you’re a developer, you know Josh Bancroft because he’s a great teacher. So we made a magazine that shared our collective intelligence and harnessed the interesting things the people inside Intel were sharing.
Then, we pulled in writers who have a great game culture following [to potentially] write about Candy Crush and other immersive games for PCs and mobile devices. The idea was that experts writing interesting stories and iQ content from employees would combine to form a magazine. More recently, we’ve found that it’s a great platform for us to talk about tech culture in a broad sense [while still covering] topics like sports, health, music and art. Now it’s becoming a lifestyle magazine.
Would you say iQ is more consumer-focused than Free Press?
iQ stories can be enjoyed by consumers or business people, [but] on iQ, we are trying to talk to people who are hip to tech already and curious about the next cool thing. It’s more along the lines of “tech lifestyle” whereas Free Press is more story-based.
Is there a particular type of story that resonates with iQ readers?
[Some of] our most popular stories are around tilt-screen gaming. The other popular topic is wearable tech. We’ll try to leverage those stories over four or five weeks and look at them from different angles. It gets people talking.
How are people outside of Intel discovering iQ content?
We started experimenting with paid distribution for some of the most meaningful stories [and] found some success that we continue to build on. But it’s a very new area that keeps changing. Recently, I wrote an article during the Consumer Electronics Show talking about iQ’s coverage that was our first native ad in The New York Times. I have been trying to bring a journalistic approach to writing where the articles are well-written [and] the stories are well-told. They should be able to appear in other magazines.
We’re also promoting stories through our Twitter and Facebook channels and experimenting with how to make our website a bit more journalistic. [We’re asking ourselves], “how can we take some of these articles that are striking a chord in people’s lives and integrate them onto intel.com?”
Do you think branded content is limited to big brands?
I love the whole movement to tell stories from inside a company. The challenge is making the content authentic. Are the stories genuine and useful or are they just chest-beating? I hope it’s not exclusive [to big brands]. I hope that it’s just a matter of fact that journalistic writing is useful and there’s a need for it in any business. It’s a great way to communicate and connect with people when they are looking for something to feed their curiosity.
What other brands do you admire for their ability tell those types of stories?
I am really interested in GE Reports. Often, I see a headline to one of their stories and think it’s going to be self-serving, but then I read it and am always amazed. They do such a good job of telling a story clearly and making it relevant. It’s geeky and historic and genuine.
Where do you think we are in the evolution of branded storytelling? What do you expect it to look like a couple years from now?
In many ways, I feel like it hasn’t changed. If a good story exists and it’s told to the right person, it gets out there. In the past, you had to tell the right reporter about a story and give an exclusive. Today, it’s about having people make connections with stories.
Hopefully all businesses are going to be doing this [and] that they value journalism and team up with marketing [to] keep each other honest. Marketers seem to reach for the clouds and journalists try to keep it real and useful in people’s lives. The challenge is that you don’t talk about your own company and goals too much. You can’t fix all the problems in the world, but people have great ideas, and if those ideas can be put into action by having more awareness around them, that’s how things change.