Thomas Jefferson famously once said “Advertisements are the most truthful part of a newspaper”, which served to illustrate the uneasy nature in which ads often sit next to the content produced by authors. Despite its antiquity, Jefferson’s remark sound more truthful than ever, as our age sees ever-growing proliferation of “fake news”, hidden advertorials and increasingly blurred lines between “classic” editorials, PR and sponsored content. Therefore, publishers who pride themselves on the quality of their content find themselves between a rock and a hard place when they have to please increasingly demanding advertisers, and meet the needs of an audience that demands an endless supply of quality content. Thus, make sure you take five minutes to learn more about how you can protect your editorial content from being influenced by overbearing advertisers, while protecting the integrity and financial underpinnings of your site.
Tearing down the Wall
The Jefferson era quote points to a long-lasting conflict between advertising and authorial content that publishers face today, even though the battlefield has changed considerably. Digital advertising has emerged as a major money generation marketing segment and one wall, older than even Jefferson himself, has begun to crumble.
A “wall”, you say? Yes, and it’s called “Chinese Wall”, at least metaphorically. Primarily called this for its quality of offering a clear line of separation between what is considered “pure” content and the publisher’s business endeavors. Whatever you decide to do in terms of either preserving or destroying, familiarizing yourself with this concept will help you understand the spasms that plague efforts to make these two sides co-exist peacefully. For decades, authors prided themselves on separation of the editorial and business domains of their profession, which was helped by the media landscape dominated by traditional newspapers and TV.
Enter the age of digital media in form of the internet, which hit the crumbling Wall like a shell. With an almost infinite number of competing sources of content, and global audiences prone to switching between publishers (and, consequently, advertisers) with no second thoughts about, well, the business side of your business. Thus, the pressure from companies that want to advertise with you grew, with even top shelf players now feeling the pinch. Buzzfeed, for example, made headlines when it succumbed to the pressure from publisher Hasbro to remove the story on why the Monopoly was the worst game ever. This came following the signing of a marketing deal with Hasbro, who publishes the popular board game. The case served as an example demonstrating how even publishers relying on a mixture of paid and light-weight content can exhibit a lack of transparency when it comes to demands of their advertisers.
Seeing It with the Businessman’s Eyes
Instead of mourning the demise of the aforementioned Chinese Wall, your best course of action to prevent incidents such as that which befell Buzzfeed, is to actually jump across the wall. You will land in the province in which you’ll be able to learn more about the business side of publishing endeavors, which will, in turn, help ensure the sustainability of your content generation engine. You’ll have to accept that securing a quality revenue model today is as important as the production of quality content, be it freemium, paywall, native advertising and so on. Keep in mind that if you go for advertising, users might respond with ad blocking software and add-ons. Tackling this issue is a science in its own right, but one of the best approaches so far is to engage in a dialogue with your audience in hopes of them adblock whitelisting your site. Once you arm yourself with the knowledge about the non-existence of magic money trees, you’ll also be better equipped to explain to your audience that even though they can interact with your content for free (to a degree), this does not mean that it is a “free lunch” that generates itself out of thin air.
Once you establish rapport with your audience based on your pledge to be transparent about advertised or sponsored content, you’ll be able to shield yourself from aggressive advertisers that may attempt to hijack your editorial policy. Your understanding of the advertising business models will be your best protection in this case: You can prove that you are immune to the “shock & awe” tactics of ad buyers by managing to present yourself as a partner who is both transparent and well-versed in advertising practices.
Worldwide digital ad spending is seeing nothing but growth [Image Source: Ironpaper]
Make Them Respect Your Audience and Brand
The circle becomes complete only if you pair your knowledge and expertise with sufficient credibility and brand strength. If you infuse your editorials with the sense of well-deserved respectability that is supported by the impressive audience size and quality, you’ll attract advertisers that will be less willing to try to force you to compromise on your content production principles. In return, you can approach advertisers with the offer to closely collaborate on the production of native advertising or paid content in form of sponsored stories.
You’ll do well to explain to your advertising partners that effective blending of their advertisements and your content will succeed only if the final product is both engaging and editorially independent. If you are dealing with advertisers that are initially unable to grasp that it is the quality of your readership that made them approach you in the first place, you’ll have to put a lot of effort into presenting them with a comprehensive profile of your audience, which they could easily lose if they press on with the demands that will ultimately hurt your brand’s image. In case you manage to present this argument with enough supporting facts and arguments, your advertisers will have no problem understanding that protecting the backbone of your brand means that people will, in turn, place more trust in their ads or even be even more likely to click on them whenever they see them placed under the brand they feel they can trust.
Your site’s editorial content is your brand’s premium ambassador that is no longer protected by the crumbling wall that used to separate the purely creative from the business side of your publishing efforts. Resisting the urge to go fully commercial under pressure from advertisers requires applying clever strategies, from becoming better acquainted with various advertising business models, to making your partners understand the value of protecting your brand and audience as being in their best marketing interest.