The Onion President Talks Content Strategy

Mike-McAvoy-articleThe Onion: you know it and you probably like it. You may also know that the publication’s Onion Labs group creates sponsored content for a variety of clients. (You probably don’t know that the Labs’ home page includes a quote from the blog you’re reading, but we’ll remind you now because we love shameless self-promotion.)

So what sort of strategy underlies the creation of all that content? And why do so many companies want in on it?

Mediabistro’s wickedly talented Valerie Berrios recently talked to Mike McAvoy, president of the organization, to learn more.

On company culture:

“…what’s great about The Onion is everyone here cares about the content; they care about the products, so you have this united front in that everyone wants to see The Onion flourish…Everyone’s really smart, and they have to be in order to get the joke.

There [are] no bylines for the content that we create…it’s very team-oriented.”

On adapting to digital:

“In 2009, we developed a franchise licensing program, where we converted our print market to really just syndication deals, or licensing deals, as a way for us to get out of the print business…we always knew that the way to grow the business was through digital…”

On sponsored content:

“We’ve always gotten requests from Fortune 500 brands to create content for them as part of media buys.

So it became our pitch really as a business [to] evolve with the whole native-advertising movement, as well as advertisers’ decision to change how they tried to reach millennials.”

On content strategy and editorial:

“Sometimes the creative direction from the advertisers [or] the goals are much more to create something entertaining than it is to create something satirical.

…we use the same writing talent that we have for our company, for all our brands running in the A.V. Club, to produce The Onion Labs content.”

On distribution:

“…we have a deal with [YouTube]  where we are paid money to produce original content.

The audience that we’ve built on The Onion has grown a couple hundred percent in the last 18 months.”

On social promos:

“Every campaign that we do has a component of social activation, social promotion…here’s one [example]: ‘If you believe some websites still have the integrity not to shill for sponsors, you’re as dumb as we thought.’

And we’ve also done business [in which] we actually are running [clients’] social media account for the year.”

Here’s the company’s most successful clip to date, created to promote partner YouTube on April Fool’s Day:

Check out the full interview here.