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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Publishers: Prepare to meet the evolving needs of content advertisers

April 6, 2016 | By Sarah Mandato, Director, Content Labs— Nativo

Creating content for brands has been a windfall for publishers. On the receiving end of advertisers’ investment in content marketing, publishers are even encroaching on ground formerly dominated by agencies. But this could change, so it’s critical publishers start to think differently about content creation, and the bigger impact these content assets can make in meeting the evolving needs of advertisers.

Content creation: too many cooks
The current ecosystem and marketer needs are breeding a growing supply of content creators fighting for a piece of the pie. First, there are holding companies and media agencies acquiring creator businesses, to fold content into their client offerings. You then have publishers like the Times’s T-Brand Studio, Conde Nast’s 23 Stories, Time Inc.’s The Foundry and the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ. Custom Studios. Next are third party creators, including studioD and Visual.ly, the latter being one of several in a field seeing hundreds of millions in venture investment. Finally, brands like Red Bull or GoPro (with the help of UGC) create their content in-house. There are a lot of content cooks in this kitchen.

Given the coming market saturation, publishers that are creating content for advertising and marketing partners must prove unique value and impact to stay relevant to their partners. This means integrating their knowledge, experience with and data about a target audience into content that resonates; as publishers should know their readers best.

Publishers: think beyond your sites
Whether a client comes to you with content in hand or relies on the publisher for content creation, they are seeking an audience.  Certainly, a targeted audience is desirable. However, many will also seek scale.

Publishers need to think about the reach and distribution an advertiser will want for their content, and address usage and related rights in their creation arrangements. Having a potential scale discussion up front enables publishers to define these terms and add corresponding fees onto a project: yielding higher top line revenue, and higher profit margin.

Creating publisher-voiced content is a big part of the value publishers can bring to the table, but to deliver increased scale, publishers may need to think beyond their sites. Advertisers will want take the publisher-related content and seek to distribute it more broadly than the publisher’s property alone.

Shutting down a distribution rights conversation will push marketers to seek out other content creators that do not limit their usage, leaving publishers to operate without an important differentiator and run the risk of missing out on renewal business. The market will start to filter out the content creators only able to field boutique opportunities, and whose value has a (low) ceiling.

Extended distribution can open opportunities
Allowing the content that publishers create for brands to live outside their own sites should be a more common expectation that publishers are prepared to accommodate. Publishers should also plan for reach extension solutions that push their content onto other platforms. Bumping up against the limits of their owned and operated scale should not always lead to arbitraged traffic, but instead beg the question: Where can this brand content meet the desired consumers?

Allowing marketers to extend reach and amplify content across other publications at scale keeps revenue in the source publisher’s pocket while making clients happy.  Publishers with targeted reach extension offerings will cultivate the publisher-brand relationship by providing transparency on where brand content is published.

Scaling distribution to the desired audience in other contextually relevant environments can also help publishers more easily meet advertiser KPIs. Learnings on how content resonates in multiple environments may then be packaged up into insights for the advertiser to inform content creation and messaging tactics – fortifying the content creation offering with knowledge sharing and making the publisher an indispensable partner.

For publishers, content creation is only an opportunity of which they will want to take full advantage. The content they create is a valuable component of advertisers’ native programs, ultimately supporting the relationship brands hope to build and maintain with their consumers. As an overcrowded market shrinks, however, staying-power depends not just on content quality, and reaching desirable audiences, but reaching those audiences at scale.


Sarah Mandato is the Director of Content Labs at Nativo, where she oversees all brand content populating the native advertising technology platform. Sarah was previously the SVP of Community at VaynerMedia. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Notre Dame Law School, she was a member of the New York State Bar, before decamping for the world of high growth new media and tech startups. Her writing on the native advertising space has also been featured in Ad Age, iMedia and studioD’s Content Marketing Spotlight.

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