Custom publishing is a proven branding and messaging strategy that can be an important part of an integrated marketing campaign. But this communications approach—whether "sponsored" supplements, newsletters or magazines—can also play a role in a strategic PR initiative.

Custom publications normally target a company's current customers, clients or prospects. A sponsored supplement, for example, can help manufacturers demonstrate how their products work in real-word settings, using informative, full-length magazine articles that demonstrate a business need's being met.

A newsletter can assist real estate agents develop a relationship with renters considering buying their first home or condominium. And a luxury auto manufacturer like Lexus can use its arts and lifestyle magazine to reinforce its brand while showing Lexus owners how to live the high life at fine restaurants and secret getaways.

But such tools can also serve a greater purpose as a PR vehicle—a device to get a company's name and message before broader audiences—if specific tactics are used in their planning and distribution. The key is to take advantage of the audiences that a sponsored supplement can reach, and then make sure the messages you are sending are clear and to the point.

Here's how three companies we know of did it.

One software consulting firm teamed up with a leading marketing publication to sponsor a series of seminars that discreetly promoted its services by using speakers from its clients to present mini case studies. The proceedings provided the consulting firm with the basis of sponsored supplements that were stitched into the publication that's read by the exact business prospects the firm wanted to reach.

Two years and four supplements later, the firm had doubled its client roster, with the new business directly attributable to the supplements.

Other companies have successfully used sponsored supplements to introduce new products to new target markets. One major software developer created an "advertorial" package that explained its new line of healthcare-related data management software.

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Chris Scott is vice-president of Chicago-based Hodge Communications, Inc. ( and head of its custom publishing division, Hodge Media Group. He can be reached at