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6 A.M.

Quartz, The Quality Play

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I just finished lunch with Kevin Delaney, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Quartz, a very successful business news start-up. Delaney, formerly of The Wall Street Journal, launched Quartz in September, 2012 with the idea that “high quality content can thrive in the digital era.” Given the roughly five million monthly unique visitors to the site – more than 40 percent come via mobile or tablet device, just over half are from the U.S. and the balance from countries including the UK, India, Australia and Germany, the median age of 40 and with 40 percent of its readership having household incomes above $100,000 (a level even higher than The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and Forbes, in February, according to comScore) – I would say that this aspiration has become a reality.

Quartz has a very popular email newsletter called “The Daily Brief,” that is sent to 70,000 subscribers in three editions (U.S., Europe, Asia) distributed early in the morning. It is 800 words in length, no images and some part of its own content while aggregating important stories from other media. The newsletter has an open rate greater than 40 percent and luxury sponsors such as Porsche, Cathay Pacific and Ernest Alexander. There are five main headers, including Matter of Debate, Surprising Discoveries, While You Were Sleeping and What to Watch Today.

The site has attracted reporters from traditional media establishments such as The Wall Street Journal and The Economist. “They find the purity of the mission very attractive,” said Delaney. There are about 25 full-time journalists who collectively speak 19 languages, with two in Europe, four in Asia and the rest in the U.S.

Reporters are urged to do either short-form or long-form pieces. Delaney has a fascinating V curve analysis (pictured above), which makes the case that the probability of success in social media is affected by the length, depth and timeliness of articles. “The best pieces are either short, snappy and topical, or they are long analysis. We want our reporters to do both short-form and long-form. We just don’t want them to lapse into 500 words. One popular article was 7,800 words by Steve Levine, formerly of the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, on a battery technology start-up that became mired in controversy.”

The reporters are also asked to incorporate charts into their work. The site has developed a tool called Chartbuilder, which is now available to the public. Delaney had an unforgettable line for PR folks: “Pitch me data, don’t pitch me a story.” He gave me the example of the PR team at Square, which provided his site with state data on tipping behavior — Alaskans are the most generous, people in Delaware the least generous. His co-president, Jay Lauf, said that “charts are our site’s version of cat videos.”

More than 60 percent of the site’s traffic comes from social media. The reporters are asked to write their headlines first and to move the “nut graf” up in the story. “We do the opposite of search optimization. Our view is that the social web reinforces quality.” The content must be inherently social; an example for PR folks is a story Quartz saw on Tesla Motors’ corporate blog about a man in Norway who owns seven (yes seven) of the electric vehicles and lives near the Arctic Circle.

The key content areas are technology, finance and design. “There is real opportunity for sponsored editorial content, particularly in the design area. People love stories about products, architecture and graphics.” Goldman Sachs currently has a native content article on the site, “25 Ways We Saw the World Change in 2013.”

Advertising on the site is intended to be part of the pleasurable user experience, said Delaney. “The ads must be high quality. They are in our news stream, not on the side. They are big and functional (example: Louis Vuitton ads with beautiful photos and high interaction rates). The company also makes money through its events. A summit is planned soon in Seattle on the next billion consumers coming on line, underwritten by Intel.

The flowering of social media options is a tremendous opportunity for PR folks with imagination and confidence. A dinner with opinion formers can have crowdsourced questions. Statistics on consumption habits can become a compelling chart that accompanies three paragraphs on your brand. The early morning newsletter is a terrific way to break news that will ultimately be in mainstream outlets. Let’s push our clients in the direction of intelligent experimentation that blends earned, owned and paid content with the likes of Quartz.

Richard Edelman is president and CEO. 

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