* Valeria Raimondi, Fine Dining Lovers editor in chief
Branded content: an expression so used in recent years that it has entered the common language, as well as in all marketing manuals. Its meaning, after all, is quite simple: a brand that invests in the production of original content – be it articles, videos, audio or social assets. What may perhaps be more difficult to understand is the reason for this strategy: why does a brand decide to become, in fact, a publisher?
In the case of Fine Dining Lovers, online magazine by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna dedicated to the world of fine food and fine drinking online since 2011 in English, then also in Italian, French e Spanish), the reasons can be identified in the ambition of give a new voice to the story of the values and positioning of the brand: “The bond established with the restaurant industry by S.Pellegrino since the first years after its foundation, in 1899” explains the CEO of the Sanpellegrino group, Stefano Marini “has meant that the brand was recognized as an icon of that world and positioned itself as the table water of quality restaurants. Fine Dining Lovers is the virtual place where every day the brand sees its perception of authoritative voice in the sector strengthen, at the same time giving visibility to the most talented chefs, restaurateurs, producers, mixologists”.
Inform and inspire: the objectives of Fine Dining Lovers, despite the inevitable transformation that the site has undergone in almost ten years since it went online, have never failed. Without forgetting the highly editorial and journalistic nature of the project, which every day involves the total publication of about 15 original contents, whose formats are constantly evolving to intercept the interests and new ways of using users: articles and interviews, therefore, but also videos and podcasts.
Over time, the strength of the editorial outlook has proved to be the real added value of this project, making it a point of reference for food experts and foodies who have rewarded the authority and quality of in-depth, well-written and documented content.
For nine years Editor in Chief of Fine Dining Lovers was Bettina Jacomini, a very talented journalist who led the site after an experience in Condè Nast, while from 2020 the management was divided between me and my colleague Ryan King: both journalists professionals, we are part of the team since day one and we drive the local (Italian, French, Spanish) and international versions respectively. Today the Fine Dining Lovers team's activity is organized with an agile central editorial staff made up of about twelve journalists – all, needless to say, passionate foodies – divided between the four versions of the magazine, as well as a network of external collaborators around the world.
When we talk about Fine Dining Lovers, one of the longest-running branded content projects currently online, one of the questions I am asked most often is how to reconcile the journalistic nature with editorial freedom and independence. I think the answer is very simple and can be summed up in one word: transparency. The presence of the brand, until now the only financier of the project, has never been hidden or silenced but has indeed been made explicit from the first day in the magazine's own head.
Should other external brands knock on our door, the possibility of developing ad hoc editorial projects is not excluded, always and in any case ensuring editorial consistency and transparency on the origin of these initiatives. At the same time, it was clear from the start that in order to build the authority on which the project is based, we could not ‘filter’ the content on the basis of relevance other than editorial. And on this point even the brand itself has clear ideas: “More than a price to pay for credibility, editorial independence is the only possible way to always photograph excellence”, commented Stefano Marini.
What remains, then, of the traditional newspapers? Personally, I don't consider social media (or more generally branded content projects) as a threat to the stability of the journalism we have known up to now. Of course, thanks to social media, everyone – not just brands – can communicate in a simpler and more immediate way, but I believe that the content market can never be saturated enough if they are truly of quality: in short, I don't consider branded contents and traditional journalism two mutually exclusive realities of the information landscape, but complementary, which can multiply the possibilities of users to access sources and resources of value. It was 1996 when Bill Gates stated that “Content is king”, turning this sentence into a real manifesto. Words that guide our work, today as 25 years ago.