Your Take on Staff Editors Writing Sponsored Content?
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.
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,
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:
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.
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?
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
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
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
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.