<< Return

What’s Your Take on Staff Editors Writing Sponsored Content? - 3/31/2015 -


What’s Your Take on Staff Editors Writing Sponsored Content?

Increasingly, publishers are finding legitimate ways to use in-house content creation skill sets to earn their share of marketing dollars from brands who have stories to tell and are willing to pay to have them told. Is this the rise of sponsored content and the demise of editorial? Not so fast.  

By Lindsey Dunn

In two months, J-schools across the country will graduate tens of thousands of students seeking journalism jobs. The good news? They are much more likely to find a role in their chosen profession now than three-to-five years ago. The caveat? The jobs look a lot different than many of us are used to.

Who’s hiring? Brands. Brands are expanding their newsrooms at rates that would make daily newspapers green with envy. If the top of the newsroom pyramid used to be the editor, it’s now the chief content officer. Publishers, including association publishers, are hiring too, but they aren’t hiring like they used to; they’re hiring writers for their new "brand studios.”

What’s driving the change? Brands — which have traditionally funded association publications through print and banner ads — have stories to tell. And, they’re putting their marketing dollars toward creating and distributing those stories, and less toward our print ads. In fact, one-third of marketing budgets are currently spent on content marketing, and more than half of marketers expect that spending to increase.

How do association publishers respond? They respond by offering their content creation expertise and access to their highly valued audiences to brands.

"Many publishers have created content studios to sell and create content,” says Mike Winkleman, president and chief creative officer of Leverage Media, at Association Media & Publishing’s Signature Breakfast on March 31, 2015 in Chicago.

"It used to be that custom publishing was little more than badly produced brochures,” Winkleman says. "Now sponsored content often rivals editorial content.”

Sponsored content has not only improved its journalistic quality, but also its look.

Advertorials — now a publishing curse word — looked "so unlike the publication, you just passed by it,” Winkleman says. Today’s sponsored content is often "native,” meaning it looks "native to the environment in which it appears,” he explains. Using this definition, print and digital sponsored content can be considered native. (Editor’s note: For more on native advertising trends in association publishing, see Association Media & Publishing’s Signature magazine, March/April 2015.)

If your association is considering expanding its current custom content offerings into a full portfolio of content marketing products for brands executed by a custom studio, consider the following key questions before beginning your endeavor:

  • Who will write for the custom studio? Reporters who also write non-sponsored content? Reporters dedicated to sponsored content? Freelancers? Generally, magazine associations recommend a separate team for sponsored content creation, but Condé Nast recently made waves when it announced its editors would do both branded and editorial work.
  • What level of control will brand have? Will the brand be able to determine sources? Review and approve content? Or, will the publication retain control after the deal is closed?
  • Who will manage the client relationship? Writers and editors? Sales? A dedicated client manager? Do current staff have the necessary client management skills required to service brands?
  • How will the content be labeled? "Sponsored content?” "Paid content?” Is it important to your audience to make distinctions between content that is created in-house versus provided by the brand? The American Society of Magazine Editors and the Interactive Advertising Bureau both offer guidelines for publishers.

Associations should take note: It’s not just Fortune 500 companies that are investing in content marketing, says Carrie Hartin, chief operating officer of Network Media Partners. B2B small businesses — often core advertisers for associations — report using content marketing for lead generation, brand awareness, and engagement.

Hartin says associations that have invested three to four years in developing native and sponsored offerings have grown revenue associated with these products to 20-25 percent of total revenue.

Traditionalists may have concerns about this new business model, but it appears it’s one of the few areas where association publishers can grow revenue.

So, is there still room for objective journalism at association publications?

Absolutely, say Winkleman and Hartin. Even advertisers who pay for sponsored content value it. After all, they don’t want their branded content appearing only next to other brands’ content. A mix of editorial and branded content "makes for a good native environment,” says Winkleman.

Is your publication ready to manage the mix?

Lindsey Dunn is managing editor, custom publications, for Health Forum, an American Hospital Association company. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for the excellent coverage of this Signature Breakfast for our members who were unable to attend.


© Copyright 2017, Association Media and Publishing. All rights reserved.