Staff Writer
Nov 11, 2019

What it takes to create award-winning branded content

Five team members from SCMP’s Morning Studio tell us about creativity, big data and multimedia storytelling.

(from top left, clockwise) Michala Sabnani, content director; Karrie Lam, VP, sales and marketing solutions; Maciej Slomczynski, lead art director, multimedia; Reggie Ho, associate content director; Johnny Ng, marketing solutions director
(from top left, clockwise) Michala Sabnani, content director; Karrie Lam, VP, sales and marketing solutions; Maciej Slomczynski, lead art director, multimedia; Reggie Ho, associate content director; Johnny Ng, marketing solutions director

A year ago, Morning Studio launched itself with a lavish award-winning branding campaign that included interviews, videos and a two-day offline event at Victoria Dockside. Since then, the branded content arm of the South China Morning Post has built ever richer canvases to create on, whilst also upping the ante on its AI and data analytics expertise. The Studio’s diverse team of content, design, digital and data specialists means that it has the capability to execute campaigns that pushes the envelope of what multimedia storytelling means. In the past 12 months, the team has pocketed such coveted clients as the Hong Kong Tourism Board, Macao Government Tourism Office, Deutsche Bank and Tiffany & Co. To cap off a glittering first year, the Studio won big at the 2019 WAN-IFRA Asian Digital Media Awards, sweeping gold, silver and bronze in the Native Advertising and Branded Content category.

The team behind Morning Studio

Campaign Asia talks to five members of Morning Studio’s team to understand their strengths, ambitions and hopes for the future. A future that is no doubt powered by creativity and driven by data. 

Karrie Lam, VP, sales and marketing solutions 

Pitch Morning Studio to me in three sentences. 

A creative studio operating within SCMP and by an award-winning team specialising in through-the-line brand communications. A content studio that leverages the Post’s 116 years of storytelling. With the vision to translate Asia stories to the world, Morning Studio partners with brands from Asia and globally to engage Asia-curious audiences from all over the world. 

What is the number one misperception marketers have of ‘communications’? 

Manufactured talk is a NO. Communication does not come from what one brand wants to say, it’s about what the target audiences want, and how they want it.  “How to say” should complement “What to say”. 

SCMP has very strong roots in print. How do you convince clients you are also strong in online and digital? 

Since 2017, we’ve invested heavily in digital technologies and research, allowing us to move beyond a broadsheet format to one that is committed to bringing our world-class journalism to our readers anywhere, anytime, and on any device. New media formats, unrestricted by the dimensions of print, give us wide canvases on which to tell compelling stories. Data intelligence gives our coverage more depth and accuracy. Our growing video capabilities allow the world to see and understand China with more texture and colour.  

What is your favourite campaign?

‘Building Connections’ for the Hong Kong Tourism Board, which won gold at the 2019 WAN-IFRA Asian Digital Media Awards. It was a series of multimedia stories in infographics and video exploring how cutting-edge infrastructure projects are transforming Hong Kong into a smart, accessible city, and a truly connected global hub for business and leisure travellers to easily reach a host of destinations in China. 

Building Connections, a series of multimedia stories in infographics and video 

Johnny Ng, marketing solutions director

Pitch Morning Studio to me in three sentences. 

Morning Studio leverages SCMP’s 116 years of storytelling experience to produce and distribute content in partnership with brands. As the in-house creative arm for the Post, Morning Studio offers a variety of integrated marketing solutions, fusing editorial, creative, marketing, and event experience. The award-winning team takes advertisers to the next century, helping them connect with an influential global audience. 

What is the number one misperception people have of ‘likes’, ‘views’ and ‘clicks’?

The primary misperception people have of social media metrics is that you can have them all! Each post on social media should have a persona (target audience) and purpose (objective), for that specific platform (social media channel)which means it should be optimised for a singular objective: engagement (likes, shares, comments), clicks (linking off the platform for page views), or views (completing a video). Given organic reach is increasingly low, and social platforms are primarily algorithm-based, a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer effectivemeaning a singular focus for each post is required. Performance tracking should correspond accordingly.

What role does big data play in marketing?

Long gone are the days of advertisers lamenting that half the money they spend on advertising is wasted whilst not knowing which half. With marketers increasingly pressured to deliver return on investment and return on advertising spend, the importance of data and transparent performance reporting has never been higher. Big data enables marketers to better understand who their audiences are on a granular level and provides intelligence for a complex and  ever-evolving customer journey across many touchpoints. Big data is here to stay and will continue to be a primary marketing tool.

What is your proudest campaign? 

Uncover Art Macao’ for the Macao Government Tourism Office. With the aim of positioning the city as a hub of cultural exploration, we produced a series of multimedia stories with interactive maps, videos and audio to paint a varied picture of the many things the SAR has to offer as part of its five-month Art Macao program. We hope this creative content series will get recognised at the upcoming awards season!

Uncover Art Macao

Michala Sabnani, content director

Pitch Morning Studio to me in three sentences. 

Morning Studio is a content and creative house within the South China Morning Post. We offer a toolbox of services for brands to create content, with their messaging, to reach SCMP’s rich audiences. We leverage our 100+ years of storytelling, with our explosive digital transformation, alongside the reality of the upcoming ‘Asian Century’ to provide effective content solutions. 

What is the number one misperception people have of ‘branded content’?  

That branded content has to explicitly talk about a brand or a campaign. Sometimes the most effective branded content doesn’t mention the brand at all. Leveraging an editorial voice to communicate a campaign is a really powerful tool. Once you have powerful, engaging content that has attracted an audience, the branding can play a strong role in other ways outside of the actual content, for example, through retargeting strategies. 

Video or text? And why?

Both. There is a platform, an audience, and a purpose for video, text, or video and text. In today’s world, the way you tell a story can be limitlessit all depends on where that story is being hosted, who the audience of that story is, and what the purpose of this content is. 

What is your proudest work? 

The launch campaign for Morning Studio, ‘Good Morning, Hong Kong’. When we launched the Studio, we wanted to create branded content for ourselves—treating us as the client. What resulted was a multimedia campaign that included online content, incredible video storytelling, an event that interpreted our online content, which then went viral, resulting in its own content. It’s not a single piece of work—but that is exactly the point. The Good Morning Hong Kong portfolio of content shows how beautifully a content strategy can come together, through a variety of online and offline content, to tell a single story. 

Morning Studio's 'Good Morning, Hong Kong' campaign

Reggie Ho, associate content director

Pitch Morning Studio to me in three sentences. 

Storytelling is in our blood. Morning Studio loves engaging people in dialogue, and knows how to do it well. We want to offer our expertise to clients looking to get people talking. 

You come from an editorial background. What was the number one challenge of switching to doing branded content?  

The main challenge is having to explain my vision to the client, whereas before a story angle needed only to be agreed upon among the editorial team. But it’s a welcome challenge as communicating with the client gives me an additional perspective. If I am confident I can get readers interested in a story, I need to be confident about getting the client onboard, too. 

What is the best story you have told for Morning Studio? 

This is going to make me sound super geeky, but one of the assignments I am most proud of is about ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance), a set of criteria that has been adopted by major stock exchanges around the world to measure listed companies’ investment worthiness and sustainability. It might sound like a dry topic, but there are so many stories to tell about how lives are impacted positively by adopting these standards. For an ESG series, I wrote a story about how sound diversity policies benefit both the employer and the employee, and in the process I met a female executive who decided to become a single mother through adoption. She said the process was so complicated that it was only made possible because of support from the company she worked for. It was fascinating to hear how people made life choices so differently. 

The ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance), a set of criteria that has been adopted by major stock exchanges around the world to measure listed companies’ investment worthiness and sustainability.

What do you want your clients to understand about creativity? 

Creativity is like galloping horseit looks the most beautiful when you let it run freely. Keep your mind open to endless possibilities. 

Maciej Slomczynski, lead art director, multimedia 

Pitch Morning Studio to me in three sentences. 

Morning Studio is an award-winning team of passionate and creative storytellers. We visually and digitally translate Asia’s stories for the rest of the world to enjoy. We create bespoke content that delivers the unique voice of SCMP and all of its platforms.

How does designing for print differ from designing for online and digital?  

While print process forces you to be good at layouts and flat graphic design, it never physically moves. Digital design, on the other hand, opens up a completely different world of possibilitiesyou need to think of things being interactive and responsive, and as such, each digital project needs to be viewed as a new multimedia experience comprising videos, animations and infographics. If you take into account that we are all using different screens on different devices that have different functionalities, we need to be able to know how to adapt our design so it creates good intuitive experience for everybody.

What do you want your clients to understand about creativity? 

“Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought,” says Albert Einstein. Creativity is, in essence, a journey. It’s a journey to understand a client’s brand, their vision and what custom solution will align with their goal. We need to recycle the old, and come up with the new, through brainstorming, research and visualisation, and during that process, it’s important the client is with us every step of the way.

What is your proudest work? 

I’m quite happy with ‘Building Connections’ for Hong Kong Tourism Board, where we made use of infographics to explain the scientific facts of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and the High Speed Rail, and to explore how connectivity is built on different levels that is beyond physics. It just got nominated for best use of infographics at the Native Advertising Awards in Berlin. 

Animation for Building Connections


Campaign Asia

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