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NATIVE LANGUAGE - 2/24/2015 -


Here are five tips on how to fit sponsored content into your associationís revenue strategies.

By Mike Winkleman

Popularity is rising for whatís known as native advertising, a form of content-based marketing thatís increasingly found on the same webpages where news organizations such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg.com deliver news produced by standard journalistic methods. But unlike banner ads or leaderboards ó which are separate in placement, design, and approach from the news on these sites ó native ads are, in the words of a recent article in The Guardian, directly "in the flow of editorial content.Ē Thatís why theyíre called "native;Ē they appear to be an integral part of their environment.

By all measures, online native ads have been tremendously successful. Publishers have courted them, seeing a chance to grab the revenue that neither print nor banner ads are generating. At The New York Times and other places, publishers have even established in-house agencies to sell and create native ads, executed in online and print formats.

But all that love isnít universal. Many traditional journalists and editors have worried whether the so-called separation of church and state has eroded too much. Association professionals who have been around long enough can likely recall the resistance their organizations faced when it came to soliciting any advertising. It was not uncommon for associations to set up a volunteer review board, which met with potential advertisers to ensure they were reputable and in harmony with the associationís goals and mission. While that may not be common practice now, many of the concerns that fueled it have not entirely abated in the association world.

No doubt, native advertising will not fit into every associationís culture, publishing model, and strategy. However, if you decide to give native advertising a try, here are five pointers to keep in mind:

1. Make sure the sponsored content is informative ó or even better, entertaining. Thought leadership is key; product promotion is not.

2. Make sure itís relevant to your readers ó and fits within the context of your publication. No one benefits if itís not interesting, least of all the advertiser.

3. Make sure youíre transparent about the source. Readers need to know whoís behind the content. 

4. Make sure the sponsored content maintains your associationís integrity. This will help maintain the advertiserís integrity at the same time.

5. Make sure the content is accurate. Yes, by definition, sponsored content will advance the advertiserís point of view, but not at the expense of the truth.

How will your members feel about native advertising? You wonít know for sure until you try it, but according to a recent survey conducted by Roper GfK for the Content Council, about 85 percent of consumers say they prefer to learn about a company through sponsored content rather than through an ad; 75 percent of consumers understand that sponsored content has an ulterior sales motive ó but donít care so long as itís providing them with useful information; and more than two-thirds of consumers say theyíre grateful for the information provided through sponsored content and are likely to reward the information provider with sales and loyalty.

Mike Winkleman is president and chief creative officer of Leverage Media LLC. Donít miss his feature article on native advertising in the March/April 2015 issue of Association Media & Publishingís Signature magazine, which features in depth interviews with several association publishers who are experimenting with sponsored content.


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