There’s no shortage of brands producing excellent content marketing. But with such a competitive content landscape, it can be difficult to stand apart. That’s the challenge HP Inc. (formerly known as Hewlett-Packard) faced when it launched The Garage in 2017.
The Garage is an owned content hub designed to help HP carve out a brand identity through high-quality, multi-channel branded content. It’s won multiple awards since launch, and helped raise HP’s profile even further as a thought leader in the technology industry.
We recently spoke with Sarah Murry, Deputy Editor of The Garage by HP, about what it’s like to launch an owned content hub inside a major organization, how the team approaches content creation, and how they measure content marketing success.
Welcome to The Garage
In 2015, HP split into two companies; HP Inc. (B2C) and HP Enterprise (B2B). After the split, there were a lot of conversations about how to market HP so that consumers would understand its values—and its value proposition—as a standalone public company.
“We needed to solve two problems,” Murry told us. “How do we get people to recognize that we’re a separate entity that’s now a B2C? And how do we want them to think about this new organization?”
Murry was brought on to help solve those two problems. The idea at the time was to create a newsroom around all things HP. But over time, it became apparent that the company needed to develop an owned content site that was complementary to traditional product communications.
By creating engaging content about technology, Chief Communications Officer Karen Kahn believed HP could build brand awareness and affinity, which in turn would entice consumers to seek out HP’s products and services.
“Storytelling can transform the way people perceive your brand in a different way than traditional communications,” says Murry, who comes from a journalism background and worked as a reporter and editor before joining HP Inc. in 2016. “We can release a new printer or laptop, but ultimately people care about what their consumption means and how a company like HP is thinking about our shared future.”
The Garage launched in Q4 2017 under the helm of Angela Matusik, HP’s Head of Content & Creative. Matusik championed the idea of “brand journalism”— audience-first, story-driven content that focuses on how technology can help bring about meaningful positive change.
As for the name, Murry says “The Garage” is a callback to HP’s startup roots in Silicon Valley.
“A garage is a place of experimentation and new thought,” says Murry. “HP started in a garage, and we wanted to leverage that legacy.”
Quality Over Quantity
The Garage primarily publishes content around real-world examples of how people are using technology for good. Recent examples include an article on how VR is being used to help train healthcare professionals treating COVID-19 patients, and a mini documentary about how a composer is using video chat to create music with an orchestra amid the pandemic lockdowns, called “The Way We Work Now.”
But behind the highly polished finished product is a long content creation process. Two to three times a year The Garage team gets together with other HP stakeholders and their agency partner, T Brand Studio (The New York Times’ in-house agency), to perform what Murry calls “story mining.”
“We basically bug folks about what they’re working on, what they’re excited about, and how they’re getting their jobs done,” Murry says. “We then allow that research to inform and inspire our own editorial development process.”
The Garage aims to have their editorial calendar planned out 2-3 months in advance, as most of their content takes anywhere from 6-8 weeks to produce. However, The Garage will also post one-off stories around HP events or news.
“We aren’t beholden to every news announcement, but we try to hit bigger moments on the calendar,” Murry explains. “We also create content around milestones that are significant in the wider world, such as an article about how technology is helping preserve Holocaust history that coincided with the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII.”
Every new piece of content starts with a brief that includes suggested headlines, meta data, background links, and as much detail as possible about the subject of the story. Murry also makes sure to note which in-house and third-party experts should be interviewed. The agency, T Brand, then sources writers from their stable of experienced freelancers and provides recommendations to The Garage.
“With writers, we look across the board at those we have pre-existing relationships with, and those who have a particular area of expertise we need,” Murry says. “We also consider diversity, as we want to have as many unique voices as possible represented.”
Once the story is assigned, Murry and her team allow the writer to take the lead until a first draft is sent for review from T Brand. The article goes through a few rounds of edits, including fact checking, and is published on the site with original illustrations (such as in this story about tips to help remote teams collaborate) and photography sourced by a visual editor from HP’s creative team.
The last piece is promotion. Murry works with HP’s paid media team to determine how to promote each unique piece of content on HP’s social accounts.
The Garage also works with a film agency to produce longform video content, such as the upcoming “Dear Future Me” docu-shorts, and last year’s award-winning “History of Memory” series.
“With content creation, our goal is to give talented people the ability to run free,” says Murry. “I think that’s key for creating the human-driven, authentic content that’s worked really well for us.”
The overarching goal of The Garage is to build brand awareness for HP. A big part of Murry’s job is determining what that looks like from a numbers perspective.
Since The Garage’s content isn’t focused on search engine optimization (SEO), she typically looks at engagement on social networks.
However, this year HP has participated in the Facebook Boycott, which has forced the team to re-think success metrics.
And that’s where Knotch comes in.
“We don’t have a massive promotion budget, so we’re never really going to win the battle for pageviews without more dollars to invest in paid ad campaigns on social media platforms,” Murry explains. “This has made Knotch become more valuable to us because it allows us to quantify success in different ways.”
Using Knotch, Murry is able to see how much time visitors spend reading content, how they interact with it, and their general sentiment toward HP after reading The Garage’s content.
“We look at these metrics as a strong indicator of brand perception,” she says. “Tracking through Knotch has become extremely important to us because the pandemic has changed our viewership. Knotch allows us to see clearly what’s working and what’s not, which has been a huge help.”
HP Inc. has over 50,000 employees, but The Garage team is small and scrappy. Aside from Murry and Matusik, there’s an executive editor, production coordinator, and visual editor. While team members write stories when they can, all other work is sourced through T Brand and freelancers.
“It’s a hustle, but in a different way when you’re under the shelter of a giant corporate entity,” says Murry. “I get to work with really great people who value storytelling in the same way that I do, and I’ve had so many great learning experiences.”
Among those lessons: Good content takes time. And more of it isn’t necessarily better.
“Brands want authentic content, and it takes time and energy to produce,” Murry says. “Sometimes as content creators, we get wedded to our editorial calendars and start pushing out content that doesn’t make sense. At The Garage we try to think long-term and put out content that has a shelf life. They’re not throwaway blog posts for the sake of chiming in. They’re designed to last.”
Each long-form piece, which average around 1,500 words, has substantial editing and fact-checking. “What we’re really trying to do is apply the lessons of good journalism to create high quality content marketing,” says Murry. “We only publish 1-2 stories per week, which isn’t a lot. But we believe that more isn’t better. Better is more.”
Murry says she’s proud that she’s been able to carve out a career path in content marketing using the journalism skills she spent years developing.
“Within HP I love that I can still write about amazing people and exciting new technology,” she says.” I am able to leverage my reporting and writing skills but within the confines of a large brand that gives me a lot of autonomy. I wouldn’t be able to do this under any other circumstances, and for that I’m grateful.”