Inside Swedish media group Bonnier’s native ad ambitions

Bonnier News, publisher of national Swedish daily newspaper Expressen, is experimenting with how to more closely link its content studio with its newsrooms without compromising editorial independence.

The media group, one of the two most dominant media groups in Sweden along with Schibsted, operates in 15 countries, including the U.S. and U.K., and owns five major newspapers in Sweden. Its 38-person content studio, Bonnier News Brand Studio, sits within Bonnier News’ sales division and pitches and executes all native ad business across the five newspapers, which include Expressen, financial daily Dagens Industri, national newspaper Dagens Nyheter and regional newspapers Helsingborgs Dagblad and Sydsvenskan. These have a combined reach of 5 million weekly unique users, according to media research firm Orvesto Consumer — a decent chunk of Sweden’s total population of just under 10 million people.

Since it started in 2013, Bonnier News Brand Studio has operated separately from the five different news desks, though to ensure content mirrors the look and feel of the editorial, 90 percent of native content is published via the same CMS that the news desks use. When clients request their campaigns run across the full network, the design, style and tone of native ads are tweaked according to the different styles of the five newspapers. While distributing across five publishers is good for scaling a campaign, it’s costly, so just 10 percent of the 140 clients the content studio has a year opt for this.

So far, the model has worked well, with 10 percent of Bonnier News’ digital sales coming from the content studio, which Anna Arvidsson heads. But now it wants more.

Two weeks ago, the agency put a plan in motion to make its native content work more in sync with the newsrooms’ publishing cycles, starting with Expressen. A Bonnier News Brand Studio staffer now attends all Expressen’s news meetings to learn the day’s news agenda, what stories are being planned and how many articles will run and at what times. That same studio staffer will then also have access to the real-time audience data the news desk uses. The aim is to ensure the content studio team is up to speed on the news cycle and their clients’ place within it.

That seems to already be paying off. Last week, Alex Schulman, one of Sweden’s most prominent authors, podcasters and TV personalities, wrote a hard-hitting article in Expressen criticizing PostNord, the country’s main postal service and one of Bonnier News Brand Studio’s largest clients. The article went viral on social media, and complaints from customers flooded in. Having a member of the content studio team plugged into the newsroom meant it could get a head start on responding via native advertising distributed across Expressen’s sites and the paper.

In a native ad, PostNord’s communications manager apologized to the unhappy customers but also stressed that Schulman never had any problems with its service. Readers spent an average of 55 seconds with the article, compared to the 35 seconds they typically spend on Bonnier News Brand Studio’s native content, according to Arvidsson.

“There is a strict line around what the newsroom publishes, and what we publish,” said Arvidsson. “The goal is to master the combination of data insights and the journalist’s know-how, in order to create better native ads with more real-time feeling. We believe in being data informed, not data driven.”

Metrics like video-completion rates, scroll depth and time spent on articles are prized over clicks when measuring campaign success, according to Arvidsson. “Some will say that moving an commercial content manager to the newsroom is offensive. But it’s more offensive how the display market revenue model is built. Click-bait headlines drive page views that creates inventory. Native creates engagement and ads value to our readers. We’re in it for the long run.”

That’s particularly important given how much video the studio creates: 40 percent of all native ad output is long- and short-form videos, in a mix of styles like documentary and fictional drama. These have an average completion rate of 60 percent, according to Bonnier News. Bonnier owns TV channels and Expressen has its own video channel, so the content studio shares production studio resources with the video teams.

Arvidsson’s team has a go-to contact within the editorial departments of all five of the newspapers on which it runs native campaigns to ensure the content it creates mirrors the tone, design and feel of the individual news brands. For now, it has only placed one staffer in Expressen’s news meetings, but if this works, it will likely extend the tactic to the other papers. Expressen and Bonnier News Brand Studio also recently collaborated on the development of a native continuous-scroll product that uses artificial intelligence to contextually match native content to news articles.

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