‘The content is the hero, not the product’ – how Reuters created authentic stories for Canon

If you don’t have authenticity, your content is just content. Here are the five pillars publishers and brands need to consider to create relevant content consumers will value, according to Reuters' Jeff Perkins 

Reuters is a name most associated with hard news. The 166-year-old agency is one of the most trusted news sources there is, with its breaking newswire relied on by thousands of organisations to inform millions of people in more than 100 countries.

But that reputation provided a challenge for Jeff Perkins, the business’ EMEA commercial director, when they moved into creating branded content for clients.

“We had to be incredibly careful,” he admits. “A huge part of our organisation is supplying independent journalism. But today you are more likely to survive a plane crash than click on an advertising banner. Now, $313bn is predicted to be spent on content marketing by 2019, and it’s going to be $412bn by 2021.”

The solution, he reasoned, was to ensure the branded stories he oversaw were every bit as credible as those created by the editorial team. And not just to avoid a conflict of interest, but because content that wasn’t didn’t connect with audiences.

“The brand has to have an authentic reason to be in that conversation,” he adds. “They have to be known to have an opinion or position and have some credibility in that space.

“The media partner you choose to make or distribute the content with also has to have some resonance. If you can get those two things right and find that authentic moment, then you can create content that will resonate.”

Yet branded stories, he thinks, shouldn’t be seen as some dirty secret for publishers. Their research shows audiences are a lot smarter than many give them credit for.

“They understand the difference between branded content and editorial content,” he continues. “Audiences are now media savvy enough to understand that we all have business models that need branded content and editorial content. They’re OK with that.

“What they want is relevant content. Something that interests them. And if you can deliver that, you will find readers prefer sponsored content.”

Perkins believes there are five pillars publishers and brands need to consider to create relevant content consumers will value:


Relevant content

Right tone


Engaging format

To illustrate his case, Perkins points to the collaboration between Reuters and Canon to launch its 5D Mark IV camera. Because it costs $3,500, the customer base is either professional or seriously keen amateur photographers.

The seeds of the collaboration came from the image that would go on to win the World Press Photograph of the Year – the iconic picture taken by Jonathan Bachman in Baton Rouge, Louisianna, of protester Iesha Evans being arrested by a squad of riot police during a peaceful protest for the Black Lives Matter movement.

That photo happened to be taken on a Canon camera, and the brand wanted to capitalise on that cultural resonance and create more of those kind of moments.

But as Perkins points out, those are news events.

“I’m good, but I can’t predict where world news is going to happen, so I can’t create those moments for you,” he quips.

So Canon challenged the team to think about how they can inspire people around photography. How could they trigger a debate and change perspectives?

The response was straightforward – commission six Reuters photographers to go into different countries and find a story they would be interested in pursuing.

“Let’s be clear about this,” Perkins emphasises, “Reuters photographers are every bit as much journalists as our text reporters.

“As commercial director of the business, I have no influence on what these guys choose to do. Their day job is to go and find and bring you the world’s news.

“We had to be very careful about what we were asking them to do and the client’s understanding of what they were to do.”

Crucially, at no point were the photographers told what those stories had to be. Perkins then explains what one of these photographers, Joe Penney, delivered for the brand.

The story was from France, where he had uncovered a creative community in the underprivileged Paris suburb of Saint-Denis comprised of immigrants and the children of immigrants. They were rappers, poets, artists and fashion designers amongst many other things.

“He found people who had great hope and people who had inspiring stories to tell,” explains Perkins.

The problem was that while the journalism was hard-hitting, it wasn’t tackling topics that were PR-friendly. In one photo from Penny’s collection, for instance, a local rapper pointed his fingers to his head as if he was holding a gun. Canon’s immediate response was to tell them to pull it. But Reuters held firm.

“We told them, ‘You asked us to tell stories and it’s a great image.’ If you want us to do what you asked us, the image stays.”

Canon relented, and the photo went on to become one of the most iconic shots from the collection.

It wasn’t just the quality of the content that made the campaign a success. Reuters was able to use its distribution network to get those photos in front of thousands of readers. Initially, the images were posted on its Wider Image website, which showcases photos along with background, over a staggered period of six months ,before being released to Canon.

Then, Reuters put them on its main newswire, meaning they could be republished by news organisations around the world. The pictures went as far afield as the UK, US, Egypt, Turkey and China.

So successful was the strategy that Reuters went one step further: putting on exhibitions in the cities where the photos were taken. “I can’t tell you how touching it is to see people in a gallery looking at photography and how excited and emotional they get,” says Perkins.

“On one occasion, I took our guys down the road to the pub and people followed us because they wanted to talk to our photographers. They were buying us drinks.”

There were also walking tours of the places featured in the collections, complete with friezes in appropriate places of the images themselves.

In total, Reuters estimate the ad value of the whole campaign was more than a million dollars, while it was also shortlisted for awards worldwide. So impressed were Canon, they are now talking about a follow-up.

What, then, was the biggest lesson they learnt from the partnership?

“If you don’t have authenticity you’re not going to drive an emotion, provoke a reaction or start a conversation.

“If you don’t have authenticity, your content is just content.”

Jeff Perkins was talking at a session at Mumbrella360 Asia titled The Pursuit of the Shot: Lessons in Content Marketing


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