Publishers are rapidly embracing sponsored content as an additional revenue stream (alongside subscriptions and display). But there are real concerns when it comes to allowing brands or other financial interests to directly fund (and oversee) content production.
Much like the division of church and state, the line between advertising and editorial is one of the strongest tenets of contemporary journalism. However, like most lines in professional ethics, this one is far from solid. Digiday asked speakers from the upcoming Digiday Publishing Summit Europe (June 2-4, in Barcelona, Spain) about their approaches to this complex issue.
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Read their answers below, then jump over to our event page to check out the conference agenda in more detail.
Tessa Gould, director, native ads products, Huffington Post
All of our native content is produced in-house by HuffPost Partner Studio, our in-house content and creative agency for brands. It works directly with brands and agencies to create content experiences that will live on The Huffington Post platform and resonate directly with our readers. The team sits on the business team, on an entirely separate floor from editorial; however, we do meet frequently with the relevant editorial teams to share best practices and insights on what is versus is not working well on the site.
Sebastian Tomich, vp of advertising, The New York Times
We’ve built the New York Times Content Studio, completely independent of our newsroom, that’s staffed with best-in-class journalists, videographers, developers, creative directors and social media specialists to help brands create compelling content. Brands generally aren’t the story, but at their best they have great stories to tell, and the Content Studio helps find them and get them in front of the right readers. We’re unambiguous about labeling the content as from the brands we work with and feel that the quality of the content will make the case for itself.
Audra Martin, vp of advertising, The Economist Group
Yes, we have a thought leadership business that’s created sponsored research for many years now. We’ve also expanded into client-branded content. The editorial teams for each have a few things in common — they all have very high editorial standards and experienced industry experts focused on readers — but we’re adamant about having separate editorial teams. It makes sense: They cover different things, work on different schedules and have differing priorities. When you have your core editorial staff creating content for brands without any separation, it’s difficult to maintain editorial independence and prioritize based on the mission rather than what clients are willing to pay the most money for. It might be less of an issue for entertainment and lifestyle content, but I just don’t think it’s possible for news and analysis organizations like The Economist without having completely separate teams.
John Barnes, managing director of digital, Incisive Media
We don’t have a division per se, but we have a product set around our content delivery network and lead products that’s increasingly producing content for advertisers, whether this is research made into reports, white paper writing services or, increasingly, video infographics or informercials. We use a range of experts, freelancers, our own content teams and graphic designers to do this, mostly paying a freelance rate and always publishing from the brand with no named writers. Our attitude is that we have or know the experts, so reward them (share the love), but present it as the brand and reenforce our value to the market and client. Our branded content produces a 3-5 times better result than their own branded vendor material.
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