When Longreads, the acclaimed source for exceptional long form journalism and short fiction, launched its spinoff service Travelreads in late March, it went from being a Twitter feed and blog favored by the literati to an appealing springboard for brands wanting to reach engaged consumers through content. Sponsored by Virgin Atlantic, Travelreads curates compelling in-depth stories about far-flung places–perfect plane fare.
Its launch also revealed the potential that Joyce King Thomas, the former chief creative officer of McCann Erickson who is most famous for the MasterCard “Priceless” campaign, saw in the tiny social reading company that began in 2009 as no more than a hashtag. For Thomas, now Longreads partner and Director of Brand Partnerships, helping a client like Virgin Atlantic bring the best in travel writing to its consumers cemented her opinion of the potential of brands to meaningfully connect with people through content, while allowing her to apply her considerable creative might to one of her true passions: reading.
Wondering how a five-person operation with 53,000 followers captured the imagination of one of the ad world’s most lauded creative directors, we caught up with Thomas to find out more about the lure of the long form, bringing brands into the fold, and why following a “wavy” career path might just be the most interesting trip.
CO.CREATE: You left the ad world in 2010–how did you find your way to Longreads?
JOYCE KING THOMAS: I’d been at McCann for 16 years and it really did just hit me that it was time to do something a little different. Since then, I’ve met and talked to so many people, I’ve traveled so much, I’ve done things I didn’t have time to do when I was at that job.
[Longreads founder] Mark Armstrong was one of those people I met with no purpose–that’s what was so great, you can meet people with no objective to make a partnership or to get a job. We sat down and it turned out that he really wanted to find a way to take Longreads further; he wanted to see how if there was a way to figure out interesting new advertising models. So we started exploring and then we started meeting with people. Virgin Atlantic was our dream partnership. It’s a terrific, adventurous brand, so collecting the best stories about places seemed like such a useful and inspiring line extension for Virgin’s customers.
What unique opportunity does Longreads in general offer brands, and how is Travelreads representative of that?
Well, I am way more interested in what brands do versus what brands say, which is really interesting for brands. With so many commercials I don’t find anything that illuminates or inspires me. I think that brands are going to have to do different things to offer service and inspiration to their customers.
For example, Travelreads sends a signal to Virgin’s customers about what they care about, that they’re a service to their customers, they’re going a little further than other airlines. I like the idea that brands can make these gestures. There’s a lot of talk these days about content, and the truth is there’s better content out there than what most brands can create. In very few cases can brands create better content than what is out there.
So, Travelreads is a service to Virgin’s customers; it’s like a different kind of in-flight magazine. If you’re going to London you can read a story about the Olympics or something you might not have known about the city. It’s meant to be inspirational.
Also, we curate stories that are not just current. They’re not just stories you find in the New York Times right now, but stories that are everywhere and from 30 or 40 years ago. One of the stories on Travelreads recently was from 1967 by [journalist and author] Joan Didion about when she moved to New York. It’s just a beautiful piece about what New York means to a 23-year-old. That’s what we offer to our readers and Virgin’s customers this week.
Are you thinking of other ways to expand Longreads?
Yes, we’ve talked about short-term curation of articles related to a film that might be coming out. Take War Horse for example. You could curate stories about horses for two months leading up to the release of the film. Or you could curate stories about sports for a brand leading up to the Olympics. There are really a million ways to slice it.
Really, the key for Longreads, and the reason I was so intrigued by them is that Mark and his curatorial team have impeccable taste. I thought I had good taste, but they’re just amazing. They really make sure that every story is a discovery.
Are you reading more now that you’ve joined Longreads?
I’ve always been an avid reader. I’m probably reading more non-fiction than I ever read before. There was a terrific piece from a site about a man that took the SAT again at the age of 35. It was just a hilarious piece that I never would have found online.
Do you ever miss the agency world?
You know, it’s funny you ask that because I was reading an article recently about horizontal careers. You know how we all talk about how we need to have vertical careers? This was talking about making lateral career moves and I thought that was so interesting. I do believe in that. And I don’t even mind if it’s wavy, with ups and downs. It’s more interesting. So, to answer your question, yes, sometimes I miss it because I love ideas. But I’m actually working with a little agency for a few weeks right now. So, if I have a chance to be part of ideas and it’s fun, I’ll do that, too.
Wondering what Joyce King Thomas is reading? Find out at http://longreads.com/joycekthomas/