As a journalist, one of my more regrettable experiences was being enlisted to write fluff pieces for advertisers or to curry favor with them. I didn’t have much choice in the matter, as I really needed a paycheck.
Also, the stories didn’t carry my byline. That meant I didn’t have to trade my impartial journalistic soul for the sake of bringing ad dollars in the door. So I wrote about products and companies in a reporting style that prioritized immediacy and explained ideas in a way any fifth-grader could understand.
As it turned out, I was pretty good at it -- at least according to the salespeople and advertisers that negotiated these native ad deals.
I didn’t see any readership numbers on the native ads, or hear complaints that readers found them deceptive. It’s important they are clearly labeled as paid advertising to avoid alienating readers, and to prevent fines from regulatory agencies like the FTC.
It’s also important that native advertising aligns well with the interests of a publisher’s audience, such as the way readers buy fashion magazines to look at the ads, as much as the editorial content.
Advertisers want a chance to tell a story, which is harder to do when ads on social media and even broadcast networks are limited to six seconds. Try explaining all the features and financing terms of a car in that time.
The most significant drawback was the time and effort required to write the copy, which also required a fair amount of research to sound authoritative. That was time I didn’t spend on other editorial projects, which meant stories got abandoned or were cut short.
Fortunately, the percentage of publishers that rely on editorial staff for native advertising shrank to 29% this year from 47% in 2017, according to an annual survey from the Native Advertising Institute and WAN-IFRA, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.
That means publishers are more likely to invest in native ad studios rather than taxing their editorial teams with side work.
The investments are critical, as publishers see their share of the ad market shrink amid the migration to digital platforms like Google and Facebook.
The revenue trends for news publishers show they are growing more dependent on native advertising. The share of total ad revenue from native advertising is forecast to grow from 20% in 2017 to 36% by 2021.
Capturing a share of that growth means investing in native ad teams that can work closely with advertisers and agencies to understand their needs. Publishers can develop institutional knowledge about what works and what doesn’t, while honing their sales efforts to highlight the benefits of native ad formats for advertisers.
More job specialization will mean publishers can find greater efficiencies in their operations. The skills that make a good editor, including a contrarian and even adversarial attitude, won’t necessarily work in a sales pitch to an advertiser. Investing in a dedicated native ad team may produce a big payoff.