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Publisher studios

What price native advertising? Publishers’ rate cards investigated

native-ad-word-cloudIn a short series of blogs here on Collective Content we’ve been looking at the evolving nature of native advertising and how brands are working with publishers to put this kind of content in front of readers. In this post we’ll try to outline some of the ways in which publishers structure pricing for this native content and how much they charge.

To briefly recap, my colleague Tony Hallett first revisited the whole term ‘native advertising’ to explain the difference between native and sponsored or brand content and what is driving its growth. The buffeting of the traditional display ad publishing revenue model has forced publishers to embrace native advertising as a way of filling that gaping hole. In this model, native is produced by a publisher’s in-house creative teams and is designed to look and feel more like regular editorial, with the promise of greater engagement with its readers.

Increasingly, that’s done through a separate in-house studio or agency at the publisher, which we’ve charted through the rise of publisher studios such as BBC StoryWorks, Guardian Labs, The New York Times’ T Brand Studio and Wired Brand Labs. As we’ve covered in a post on ethics, there should be a clear division between a publisher’s regular editorial team and those working on content for brands.

Most publishers claim they do this. For example, Reuters says freelancers and not its editorial staffers create its Content Solutions native content for brands. Likewise, BuzzFeed maintains what it calls a “clear glass wall” between the two teams because its editorial staff must also be able to write objective hard news (as well as all those viral listicles).

How much?

Which brings us back to the million-dollar question. How much would a leading publisher charge you, as a brand, to produce this native content through its in-house lab or studio?

A quick search of articles on this reveals a few oft-quoted figures from some of the leading publishers. DigiDay (which also has its own native ‘lab’) is one of the most-cited sources on this. In a three-year old article, DigiDay quotes figures like $100,000 for up to five posts created by BuzzFeed’s in-house creative services team. At the higher end, Gawker charged $300,000 to $500,000 for 12 to 16 pieces of content. A more recent DigiDay article from 2015 quotes the Huffington Post as charging $30,000 per article for three million impressions and the Daily Mail charging $10,000 per article with creative built in for 40,000 guaranteed views.

We contacted 21 publishers, including all of those on our list of publisher studios to try and get up-to-date figures for what they charge brands for native content. Not surprisingly, of those that responded (just six of the 21 did), none was prepared to reveal exact pricing details.

The BBC said that, for commercial reasons, it doesn’t disclose its charges for BBC StoryWorks. The Washington Post also declined to give out any details. Guardian News & Media stressed that the presentation of content produced through GLabs for brands makes it clear how the content has been commissioned, produced and funded. It added in a statement: “The pricing of the funding varies from project to project as it depends on many factors which can be exclusive to each project. These include length of the project, necessary manpower, technology needs and how expansive the project will be.”

BuzzFeed also declined to reveal any specific figures but confirmed that those quoted by DigiDay are out of date. BuzzFeed adds, however, that its metrics are geared more towards overall impact and engagement and vary according to the type of content and the various channels of distribution. That’s a step away from the basic CPM model that some publishers still use for this.

BuzzFeed cites successful native campaigns with brands such as one with Baileys, which used the Proper Tasty video format to create recipes with a Baileys twist. According to BuzzFeed, that resulted in 14 million views and 274,000 shares. Another campaign for Skoda to encourage kids to reconnect with nature hit 20.5 million views.

While it’s difficult to get absolute clarity on pricing and charging structures, there is already a divide emerging. On one side, some of the higher-end publishers are charging top dollar to create premium native content for brands that fits well alongside regular editorial and engages their readers. That can be seen in the likes of the New York Times native article on women prison inmates to promote the Netflix series Orange is the New Black and the Wall Street Journal’s interactive piece, ‘Gaming the American Dream’, for the TV show ‘Billionaires’.

On the other side of the fence, some publishers are driving down prices with per-article, CPM-based models, and it’s likely that some of the prices listed by DigiDay and others in the past few years have come down.

As the Daily Mail’s Jon Steinberg told DigiDay: “I can’t charge what the New York Times or Wall Street Journal does. Part of what I want to do is be competitive and easier to work with. And I’m looking to disrupt them.”

We’d warn the latter approach potentially threatens the quality, integrity and impact of publisher-produced native advertising content. And that’s bad for everyone.

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Why trust is everything for brand content

This post was first published on 19 May 2015

This post draws on two separate but related conversations. Speaking on a panel a couple of weeks ago, one of the people who runs the Guardian Labs (who, I should add, is a former colleague and friend) talked about the ways his well-known publication labels advertiser involvement next to content items. A few weeks before that, I had a really interesting chat with someone at the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) about the sophistication of the average reader.

How are the two related? You probably have a good idea. Our ability as publishers and brand content creators to be good at the former (the labelling) doesn’t always match up with our assumptions about audiences (the sophistication).

When we get that wrong, as professional content people, we lose trust. And trust is the bedrock of all serious content.

Graham Hayday from Guardian Labs talked about that newspaper whittling down ways to refer to an advertiser’s involvement – including ‘no involvement’ – from a total of eight labels to the current three. (These are ‘Sponsored by’, ‘Brought to you by’ and ‘Supported by’.)

This is an issue most of us will face in the era of brand content. Years ago, there was editorial copy, there was advertising creative/copy that sat next to it, and on occasion there were supplements or ‘advertising features’ that were clearly created by or for paying clients but weaved into or around the main product.

Today there are all manner of standalone commercial creations – brand publications, blogs, white papers, infographics, animations, videos and events (I’m not even going near social media for the moment) – and often these aren’t even the hardest to deal with. Something like the Amex OpenForum publication for small businesses, for instance, is clearly created by that charge card provider, and it wants you to know that.

It’s harder when you look at media publications that are now dabbling in native advertising. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, because a traditional ad (advertisers usually don’t know which stories their creative will appear beside) might not need any labelling, whereas ad creative in a section developed especially for an advertiser (who still doesn’t get sign-off or any input) will. But that kind of ad creative won’t be the same as copy (the ‘native’ bit in native advertising) produced by a brand that will need a special marker, as it appears in the flow of editorial.

So we see ‘Sponsored by’ or ‘Brought to you by’ or ‘Advertising copy’ or ‘Paid post’ or ‘Partner content’ or any number of other phrases. No wonder a publication such as Digiday writes so often about labelling.

But do readers understand the differences? It’s not like these are standardised industry terms. Each publication uses its own judgment.

Phil Morcom, the head of the NUJ’s PR and Communications Industrial Council, addressed the subject of audience comprehension when we spoke a couple of months ago. He discussed the example of the UK, with its unique media landscape. The UK has one of the world’s most sophisticated media markets with high use of online media and multiple commercial players – arguably too many for such a population size – which means lots of innovation. There’s also the rather huge anomaly of the BBC, a public service broadcaster on a scale you just don’t find elsewhere.

Given such a media environment, Morcom asked, how can a reader know the difference between ‘Partner content’ as opposed to a ‘Sponsored post’? What about when an advertiser has supplied the whole package? How do they know when advertisers just want to appear next to a section of a publication, much as they have always done?

With so many ways to differentiate – or not differentiate – ad content from editorial, it will prove very easy for publications to lose reader trust. This is a challenge that will take years of education and openness with audiences, even audiences who are smart and sophisticated about how this all works.

Our advice is for labelling to be as plain and descriptive as possible – though sometimes those two things don’t go together. It’s also not just in a publication’s interest to say the involvement a brand has had. Brands will benefit from readers knowing they are responsible for great content, perhaps doubly so on pages where that great content also means one ‘Sponsored by’ reference rather than a dozen flashing types of display ad. Less really can mean more, for publishers, brands and readers.

Might this issue of trust and labelling be the biggest challenge the content industry faces?


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Staffing publisher studios

Much has been made about trust in all things native advertising. Rightly so. If there is no trust between reader and producer of content, all the best efforts of that publishing brand fall down, as does the relationship an advertiser is trying to encourage with the reader.

With this in mind, authorities are cracking down on native advertising that isn’t disclosed as such, in the UK, in the US and elsewhere.

But this goes beyond what’s labelled on a page. Native advertising should be produced by dedicated native ad content creators.

One recent survey of 140 magazine media executives in 39 countries showed a worrying 68 per cent of publishers use editorial staff to create native advertising. Another study put that figure at 50 per cent.

As we’ve made the case in our own research on brand journalism and our interview with the National Union of Journalists, this is unethical.

Divided loyalties

When a journalist is asked to create content for a brand it creates a tension. What if that same journalist has to write an objective piece involving that same company? What if she has to interview an executive – maybe the same head of marketing who commissioned the earlier native campaign?

When you hear about prime exponents such as BuzzFeed having X number of writers dedicated to native advertising creation, they mean this is in addition to other editorial staff. Some will have made the leap from one side of the fence to the other, as many have done at the New York Times’ T-Brand Studio and other well-known publishers. But they now clearly occupy different roles.

And while we talk about trust between publisher and reader, the definition of native advertising is also about the trust between publisher and client. As we’ve previously defined, native advertising isn’t about calling in external parties like us to create content apart from editorial teams. Such a practice usually goes by the name sponsored or branded content, and can be led by brands as much as publishers.

Instead native relies on close integration with a publisher’s in-house teams (design, distribution, SEO, social media and others) and familiarity with audience that outsiders won’t possess.

So any brands that are spending on native advertising need to ask the right questions. Those questions aren’t just about results and how native advertising is presented on a page (or in a graphic or video, for that matter). It’s about the process and related ethical considerations.

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

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Contact us

Contact us to find out how we can help you:

Email:  tony.hallett@collectivecontent.co.uk

Twitter:  @ColContent

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