Time, The FT, Vox and other publishers see ad dollars flow to sustainability content after increasing climate coverage

Publishers that have grown their teams covering climate change and sustainability are starting to see those strategies pay off with an increase in ad dollars.

Time, The Financial Times, BBC, The Economist, Vox Media and The Washington Post have expanded their sustainability coverage areas in the last two years and each told Digiday anecdotally that they’ve seen ad growth — and not just around this year’s Earth Day.

And some strategies are recommitting to the investment.

Time is expanding its climate coverage with a new editorial franchise, special magazine issue, and dedicated hub on Time.com as the publisher sees more investment from advertisers around this content category.

About 20% of advertising dollars spent with Time is going toward the publisher’s sustainability coverage and businesses. Roughly half of that money is in the form of event sponsorships and the other half in digital and print advertising, a Time spokesperson said. The spokesperson declined to share how much this represents in raw figures.

Michelle Chong, group director at ad agency Fitzco, called that a “big number.” “But it feels right,” she continued. “We’re seeing a lot more focus on that [topic] and a lot of this type of outreach.”

The new franchise, called the Time CO2 Earth Awards, will bring in nearly seven figures among advertisers Deloitte, co-executive chair of Galvanize Climate Solutions Tom Steyer and Ralph Lauren, the spokesperson said.

Simon Mulcahy, president of sustainability at Time, declined to share the financial arrangements of those deals. Deloitte is providing insights for panels at the Time CO2 and Time100 summit, as well as sponsoring part of an upcoming Earth Awards gala on April 25 and a climate newsletter by journalist Justin Worland.

Time isn’t alone in seeing more advertiser interest in climate and sustainability verticals recently:

The Financial Times has seen about a 9% increase in advertising revenue from 2021 to 2023 from Climate Capital and Moral Money, the publisher’s main climate and ESG focused verticals, a spokesperson said, without providing exact figures.

Roughly a third of all Economist Impact deals — where the business unit provides corporations, foundations, NGOs and governments with data, research, branded content and other consultancy services — are focused on sustainability, said Claudia Malley, president and managing director of partnership at Economist Impact, in an email. Last year, Economist Impact expanded both existing and new deals with clients, she said. “Over 50% of all discussions are focused on sustainability themes and many are aligned with COP28,” Malley said.

The Washington Post credited its climate coverage with driving “some of our most significant partnerships,” Johanna Mayer-Jones, The Post’s head of global client & agency partnerships, said in an email, without naming names. Food safety company Ecolab recently paid for a campaign with The Post, including an activation in New York around Climate Week. The financial terms were not made available.

Vox Media reported internal figures that showed over 400 million views on climate and sustainability coverage in 2022. “We are seeing an influx of demand tied to opportunities around Earth Day and Earth Month, but we are also seeing brands come to us outside of cultural moments as more of our partners prioritize making [corporate social responsibility] a core part of their advertising strategies,” said Aaron Tabas, vp of content strategy and innovation at Vox Creative, in an email.

About a quarter of all of Time’s journalists contribute in some way to sustainability coverage, according to the company. Readers on average spend over 10 minutes per visit with Time’s sustainability content, said Time CMO Sadé Muhammad. Time declined to share how much time readers spend on other verticals in comparison. Time has recently produced branded sustainability content for companies like American Family Insurance, Audi, Siemens and the Singapore Tourism Board.

The number of requests for proposals have gone up around sustainability and climate change at Time, though the company declined to say by how much. Muhammad said that 20% of ad spend going to sustainability content is part of an overall growth in advertising revenue for Time. First quarter ad revenue was up 20% year-over-year, with sustainability being a large driver of that, a spokesperson said.

“Almost every company that we talk to also wants to talk to us about sustainability,” Muhammad said.

Media buyers said they are not seeing specific requests from clients to increase their ad spend around sustainability content, however.

While Fitzco’s Chong isn’t seeing an uptick in the RFPs they’re sending to publishers around sustainability, Chong said she “wouldn’t put it past us to do that this year with that focus,” due to the topic being considered brand-safe, relevant and timely. Fitzco works with clients in a variety of verticals, such as healthcare and retail, she said.

While sustainability isn’t a specific category that advertisers are “demanding,” Ollie Joyce, global chief transformation officer at ad agency Mindshare said his team is “pushing for increased investment in areas such as responsible journalism which this would absolutely fit into.” Some marketers, he noted, worry about sustainability content being accused of “greenwashing.” 

Mulcahy said marketers’ concerns around greenwashing are part of why Time CO2, a division the company formed last September, was created. Time CO2, which hired over a dozen people to create a 15-person team, acts as a consultancy and custom content business, as well as a consortium of sustainability leaders and organizations to help businesses with their sustainability challenges. 

“There are a lot of organizations who really care about climate… and they don’t want just a logo slap,” Mulcahy said. “It’s not just a media buyer, who’s saying, ‘Give me some climate media stuff.’ We’re having conversations that bring a CMO with a media buyer and a chief sustainability officer, or it could be led by the CEO.”


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