When was the last time you clicked on a news article and read halfway through it before you realized that it wasn’t news at all — but an advertisement disguising itself as news? It’s happening more often than ever. As media companies seek new sources, their editorial staff and creative teams are under increasing pressure to deliver content for paid advertisers. Most media companies have put in place important firewalls between their news teams and their revenue generating advertising teams — but the line is becoming grayer by the day. With the term “fake news” generating so much controversy these days and social media companies like Facebook under fire for allowing misinformation to spread on their platforms, the paid content industry is facing big changes ahead. Because of that, it’s worth exploring the value of paid content and how it can be effectively used to support an advocacy agenda.
It is impossible to have a full understanding of the value of paid content without dissecting the rise of misinformation campaigns. In a future post, I’ll offer a detailed explanation of the important differences between native content and misinformation — or “fake news.” For now, let’s set aside trivial issues like whether our democracy was corrupted by foreign influence and explore the value of paid advertising content, or native content, to advocacy campaigns.
In the early days of native content, advertisers would generate their own content and would pay a fee to a media outlet to embed that content onto their medium — be it a newspaper, magazine or even early digital properties. Because of that, it was relatively inexpensive and comparably priced with traditional advertising. Today, though, major media companies run their own in-house advertising agencies. Washington Post Brand Studio, T Brand Studio for the New York Times, and Atlantic 57 for Atlantic Monthly are all examples of traditional news and media companies transforming themselves into major players in the advertising agency industry. As these companies have become more sophisticated, their ability to integrate advertising content seamlessly into their parent company’s digital news properties has grown. So too has the cost of their services — an entry level content package from a major media outlet like the Times or Post begins at $100,000 to $150,000 and can go as high as the advertiser is willing to pay.
That’s a major investment and one that is out of reach for a lot of organizations. Organizations that are willing to invest at these levels are rewarded with impression and engagement rates that are marginally better than traditional advertising, but the real value to these pieces comes from the cache associated with being a contributor to the Washington political economy. The real value of these pieces is being viewed by policymakers and influencers as a major player in the debate. Organizations can capture far more advocacy value out of that perception than they will from impressions and engagements. Below are three quick tips on how to extract advocacy value from an expensive piece of native content.
Make it a Destination: Every brand studio will celebrate and promote their ability to generate an audience for your message. As competitors, they spend half their day arguing over which studio generates more impressions and engagements. The fact is that any audience they generate for you will only be as targeted as any traditional advertising can be. It is your responsibility to ensure that it reaches your audience. That means that the other channels you use in integrated advocacy campaign should drive your audience to this signature piece of native content. Promote it to your list of through email, engage your followers by promoting it on social channels, promote a redirected website landing page and include that address on any leave-behind material for policymakers. Don’t rely on the studio’s promotion of the piece to extract the value of this piece. The promotion you do yourself will be infinitely more valuable.
Make it Useful for Lobbyists: This is true of any advocacy content — but particularly so when investing in a signature piece of native content; Consult your lobbyists early in the creative and message development phase to ensure it incorporates their needs. As impressive as some of the impression and engagement rates can be on native content pieces, there’s never any guarantee that targeted policymakers have seen it. When a lobbyist shows it directly to a committee chairman or federal regulator, your organization gains immediate and irreplaceable credibility to help shape the debate. You must make sure that your lobbyists will use it in their direct engagement with policymakers.
Share it with Stakeholders: Whether the content supports a Fortune 500 company, trade association, or NGO, quality content has great value with stakeholders. It can be used as a marketing tool on customers or prospective members, as an influence tool on coalition partners, and as a fundraising tool on supporters. All of these uses have substantial internal value to your organization that can help make the cost/benefit assessment of the investment make more sense.