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Bob Cohn

The Newest Journalism

Bob Cohn Editorial - 10/07/2013-15:13 PM

 

Once upon a time, there was old media. It was reported, edited, top-edited, copy-edited, and fact-checked. It was good.
 
And there was new media. It was fast, hungry, loosely edited, quick to fix the mistakes it often made. It was good enough.
 
For a while, readers and journalists alike seemed willing to accept that there might be different standards. People expected less of digital in the early days; it was, everyone said, “just the web." Accuracy and fairness and good writing and smart design—all that mattered, of course, but it was sometimes hard to square those demands with the implications of everyone’s favorite analogy, that the web was “the wild west.”
 
These days, the web seems a bit less wild and more polished. Everywhere you look, there are signs that publishers are importing traditional journalism values to the constantly shifting digital environment. The web continues to do what it does better than print—delivering on-the-minute stories with a conversational tone to an always-connected audience—and the blog post, as one distinct unit of digital journalism, still offers what Andrew Sullivan called in 2008 “the spontaneous expression of instantaneous thought…accountable in immediate and unavoidable ways to readers.” But increasingly, digital journalism does its business while embracing certain core beliefs typically associated with old media.
 
Take design. As recently as five years ago, the web was mostly text. Rivers and rivers of text, without much thought given to breaking up the grey. Over time, digital publishers discovered that even a little bit of old-media design love—a sharp photo or illustration, a crisp chart or map, a well-crafted pull quote—can make a story more appealing (and more shareable in social media).

Then came Snowfall. That, of course, refers to the digital treatment that The New York Times gave to its 10,000-word story in December 2012 on 16 skiers caught in an avalanche in Washington state’s Cascade Mountains, three of whom died. The article, with its panoramic photos, embedded videos, interactive satellite maps, slideshows, and sidebars, set a standard for splashy web treatment of a big story. (Or, as some have argued, not such a big story.)
 
Within weeks, snowfall became, in a kind of comic-desperate way, part of the vocabulary in digital circles, as publishers sought to create their own snowfalls and advertisers asked to be adjacent to (or integrated within) snowfall stories. Of course, few publishers have the multimedia and developer resources to pull off this treatment; even the Times has been understandably stingy about doing the full snowfall for more than a couple of stories. Still, more and more outlets are creating their versions of this type of digital storytelling. From ESPN and Rolling Stone to Pitchfork and The Verge, the results can be impressive.
 
It won’t be possible for digital publishers to bring this kind of ambition to every web story, but of course that’s not the goal. Even the glossiest of magazines reserves the most resourceful design for cover stories and other major features, while front-of-the-book stories rely on templates. The point is that enterprising treatment in the service of storytelling, once the province of print, has edged into the digital mainstream.
 
When it comes to traditional journalism values now trumping hoary digital truisms, it’s also worth looking at the question of velocity. Without paper, printing, or postage costs, the main limitation on how much you publish is how many stories you can wring from the day’s developments, broadly defined, each day. So a lot of us, seeing the success of a Huffington Post, tried to compete on volume. We soon realized that yes, we were running a lot of posts, but relatively few of them were attracting big audiences.
 
During a series of experiments, we played with the quantity-quality matrix: Could we draw more readers by publishing fewer posts, if those posts prized original analysis and creative thinking? The results suggest that, while there’s always the case of that quickie aggregation post that goes viral, readers do reward enterprise. It’s been refreshing to confirm that, on the web, as in print, quality, however it might be defined or measured, is the ultimate driver of success.
 
The changing newsroom culture may be one of the best opportunities for transmitting mainstream journalism values to the new order of things. In the early web days, newsrooms were segregated. You had the digital nerds in one corner and the “regular” journalists at the center. At The Washington Post, digital operations were for years located not in the paper’s massive building near the White House but across the Potomac in suburban Virginia. At Wired, where I worked for seven years on the print side, I learned (to my shame, and only after I left in 2008) that the sometimes-disrespected web team referred to the corridor that separated us as the Berlin Hall. Even as recently as a few years ago, while executives were boasting about their digital-first cultures, a lot of folks on the web continued to feel like second-class citizens.
 
Those days really are over. Change didn’t happen just because people started sitting near each other. At The Atlantic, where the print and digital teams have long shared space, there has recently developed a culture of cross-training. Digital writers are doing stories for the monthly magazine; print editors are running web projects. One of our newest products, The Atlantic Weekly, is a slick magazine-style presentation, on the iPad, of some of our best digital stories that week.

We’re learning each other’s languages—and each other’s tricks. And that old gap between good and good enough is closing fast.

 

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Michael Rondon

Poll: Which "Shutdown" Cover Got It Right?

Michael Rondon Consumer - 10/07/2013-11:38 AM

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Tony Silber

On the “Free Fall” in Media Advertising

Tony Silber B2B - 10/04/2013-14:45 PM

 

Yesterday, I read a well-done blog from a writer and social-media consultant named Paul Gillin lamenting the death of BtoB Magazine, which Crain Communications said it is folding into Ad Age as of the first of next year.

What especially caught my eye was this observation:

“The advertising market for business publications is in free fall, and since most of the magazine’s advertisers are themselves B2B media companies, BtoB has suffered along with everybody else.”

Being a student of the media industry, I wanted to know why. I have a few theories, and I like to test them out on other smart people. Sometimes they agree, and other times I suspect they think I’m way wrong.

So I wrote a comment to Gillin’s blog that asked him what he thinks is driving that free fall. Specifically, I asked:

• Is it that print advertising has become an inefficient way to deliver brand messages?

• Is it because software products have emerged in the media industry that render third-party suppliers—advertisers—less essential? In other words, is it a case of, 'we can build, so we don't need to buy?'

• And also, do we buy less? For example, online, 'we don't need a printer in a continuous relationship, we need a Web development firm just once every few years.'

• Is advertising in free fall too because new channels and technologies have emerged—such as Facebook, Google and database-management tools—that allow marketers to more effectively identify and communicate with prospects?

• And if that's the case, does that mean that the audiences that media companies have traditionally aggregated are less valuable and less compelling to marketers?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. I don’t even know if they’re the right questions to ask. But something is driving the decline in advertising, not just in media on media, not just in b-to-b media, but in many print publications.

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Linda Ruth

TNG to Take Over Mercury’s Texas Distribution

Linda Ruth Sales and Marketing - 10/03/2013-15:07 PM

 

I’ve been updating readers of this blog about the Mercury News situation.

If you have newsstand distribution, what’s happening with Mercury News has been affecting you whether you have kept track of the details or not. Mercury has been on shaky financial footing for some time, and there has been a lot of speculation as to who will pick up the distribution.

It isn’t an inconsequential question. Mercury’s footprint was big. Back in May, I reported that Cowley (a TNG marketing partner) had negotiated to buy out Mercury’s distribution in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and northwest Mississippi. At the time it was believed that Mercury would keep its Texas accounts and focus on them.

Today we are told that TNG (formerly The News Group) has entered into an agreement to assume responsibility for servicing Mercury’s retail accounts in Texas and the southern Arkansas markets, effective October 2013.

Mercury’s final distribution is to be October 3. After that, all remaining product will be received into the TNG system. For now, and until the transition is complete, there will be no change in the title mix or allotment levels.

We’ll be hearing more as things develop, but for now it’s a relief that we can look to some stabilization of a volatile situation.

See Also: Waiting to See How the Mercury News Situation Shakes Out

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Roy Beagley

Tips for Optimizing Email Marketing

Roy Beagley Audience Development - 10/01/2013-14:19 PM

 

Despite best intentions, it seems as though response to email efforts is still difficult to predict. Quite why this is, I am not sure, but the “usual” rules of marketing just don’t apply to an email effort, be it for new subscriptions, renewals, re-qualifications or other products.

Even the rules that have been established do not apply all the time. I am constantly told not to send an email out on Friday, yet many of the email blasts I send on a Friday get good results. The problem is, what works this Friday may not work next Friday, but there is no obvious reason why. I am told the best time to send an email is at 6:00 am, so the email is in the recipient’s inbox when they start to look through their email. I tried this. It failed the first time, worked the second time, and the third time most of the messages seemed to get delayed since many of the responses came back the following afternoon.

Until the rules are standardized and predictable, you need to be the rule maker. Try a few simple tests to see what works and, just as importantly, doesn’t work for you.

1) Do an a/b split on your email blast and send half in the morning, half in the afternoon and see if one responds better than the other. Do this several times to see if you can determine a pattern.

2) Test html and text versions of the same email. Text may but ugly, but ugliness did not stop Frankenstein’s monster from getting a bride!

3) If the first email does not succeed, send it again. Very often response is better on the resend (and resend of the resend) than on the original deployment.

4) Make sure your html does not have too many images because this can cause spam filters to go into hyper drive.

5) I know spam filters supposedly hate the word “free,” but test it, you may be surprised. “Free” does work in some cases.

It is a good idea to send out a re-qualification effort on controlled books over a three-week period. The first is deployed on Tuesday, the follow up nine days later on Thursday and a final follow up six days later on the Wednesday. Very often, the response on Wednesday is higher than the previous Thursday’s response. Why? I don’t have a clue, but that is what makes being the rule-maker fun! 

 

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Jeffrey S. Litvack

So Your CEO Says You Need to Be A “Digital First” Publisher? | Part Five

Jeffrey S. Litvack B2B - 09/26/2013-15:06 PM

 

In my last post, I laid out the importance of the mobile web to publishers and dove into two strategic and operational mobile questions that CDOs need to address. In this post, I’ll pick up where I left off, and address three additional questions:

• Which devices should you support?
• What content should be available on the site?
• What’s your mobile revenue model?

Which Devices Should You Support?

The first step in deciding which devices to support is to review your mobile data from Omniture or Google Analytics. During this process you should evaluate both the devices that are most in use today and their relative growth over the past six months. Consider breaking this information down into the following categories:

• Smartphones vs. Feature Phones
• Tablet Devices vs. Smartphones
• Operating Systems (i.e., Android, iOS, etc.)
• Operating System versions (i.e., 6.0, 6.1, 7.0)
• Browser (this is an upcoming category as more users choose to use a browser other than their default mobile browser)

Once you have the data, I suggest focusing your design and development capital by applying the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. At ALM, for instance, when we embarked on the creation of our mobile strategy, we found that 15 percent of our visitors were already accessing ALM content on mobile devices. Of that 15 percent, 80 percent were on Apple devices and more than 90 percent were on smartphones. Equally as important, we identified Tablets as the “next” platform for growth

Less than four months after launch, we’ve leveraged our understanding of our audience’s mobile inclinations to grow overall mobile traffic from 15 percent to almost 25 percent of our user base. We’ve seen tablet usage increase by 7 percent. We accomplished this by investing in a more iOS centric look and feel, launching a tablet-optimized site (not just a smartphone version) and by ensuring backwards compatibility to earlier iOS operating systems.

What Content Should Be Available on the Mobile Website?

Smartphones: When you’re considering what content to include on your smartphone-compatible website, your biggest consideration (and your biggest challenge) is screen size. How do you fit all your web content onto such a small screen? The answer is: You don’t. Instead, focus on understanding what content do your users read “on the go” and make that content available to them. In this process, remember that mobile readers snack on content, often taking it in little bites, because they’re usually looking to either solve a simple problem or to fill in free time (e.g., in the elevator). So, you want content that’s to-the-point, easily consumed, and easily read no matter the size of the screen. Everything else should be excluded from your mobile website.

While tailoring your mobile site to meet these standards might feel like a recipe for denying your readers needed content, it’s actually a great opportunity for both the product team and editorial to rethink their content strategy. Over the past few years, an everything-in-the-kitchen sink approach to posting web content has prevailed. Customizing a mobile site permits you to refine your content and your overall message about what your site really means to each reader. And, if you’re really still concerned about readers missing out on content that they want, a simple solution is to add a link to your online site at the bottom of your mobile webpage, thereby providing the user with the best of both worlds.

Tablets: While most publishers today are repurposing the same content across all devices, content for tablets probably shouldn’t be the same as that for smartphones due to different use cases (“on the go” vs. “on the couch”), but I’ll have to hold off on this for a future post. Assuming you are going to repurpose, here’s the most important thing to remember—pay attention to inoperability issues with tablets. Two important differences to consider: (a) Flash won’t work on many devices, and all those great infographics may not display properly and (b) Navigating by your finger is different than navigating by a mouse and inherently changes the user’s experience with certain content pieces.

A Reminder: While your primary focus will likely be on repurposing your editorial content, you also must define your non-editorial content for smartphones and tablets, including advertising and classifieds. For many readers, those print ads were valuable content in and of themselves. You should be sure to integrate them thoughtfully into the mobile experience. Also keep in mind the sales challenges of having a separate mobile site:  For example, do you need to have one-to-one parity between ad units online and mobile web ad units?

What’s Your Revenue Model?

While this is theoretically a straight-forward question, many people invest in the mobile web without understanding the ROI or how it fits in with their overall strategy. Generally, the mobile web should be an extension of your online and print business models. This means that you’ll need to incorporate access control parameters at launch, and align print and digital ad operations and sales.

Here’s a breakdown of some issues to take into consideration as you develop your strategy:

Mobile Advertising: Marketing dollars allocated to mobile ads are increasing exponentially and represent a huge opportunity for companies. For instance, Facebook is realigning its entire business to capture the growing mobile audience and mobile revenue. However, as publishers, we need to remember that mobile ads have the lowest CPMs around (hopefully you’ve heard the adage “print dollars, to online dimes, to mobile pennies”). This is compounded by the reality that there is typically only one ad per mobile page versus 4 -6 ads per page online. Add to this the fact that new creative is needed for mobile and it’s not worth it for many b-to-b advertisers to boil down their messages into a 320x50 actionable ad unit. Now we’ve got ourselves a real business challenge. As a result, I would suggest that you be realistic when projecting your ROI and give the market time to adjust to the new realities and opportunities. This is going to be a big opportunity, it just is going to take more time to develop.

Subscriptions: Most publishers will extend their online subscriptions to mobile devices at no additional charge. The only real challenge in doing so is to be sure to redesign the sign-on and subscriptions screens so that they are optimized for smartphone and touch-screen devices. Forcing users to tap and zoom to enter a password and not keeping them automatically signed in are user behaviors you want to avoid.

Summary

In short, mobile web is the next big opportunity for publishers. More users are reading content on mobile devices each day, and as a result, more advertising dollars are flowing to mobile web daily. That said, getting to a great mobile web experience requires significant time, energy, and investment from across your organization.

 

 

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Caysey Welton

Travel + Leisure EIC’s 20-Year Anniversary Prompts Ad-Page Spike

Caysey Welton Consumer - 09/26/2013-14:45 PM

October is a big month for American Express's Travel + Leisure. Actually, 2013 is shaping up to be a big year for the luxury travel title.

Sure, ad pages are up 28 percent in October year-over-year. And, yes, the aggregate count is up 7 percent compared to 2012--impressive figures when considering how many publishers are looking at red ink this year. But the real cause for celebration in October, and 2013 for that matter, is that editor-in-chief Nancy Novogrod is celebrating her 20th anniversary at the helm.

20 years is a big milestone, and one that's ordinarily recognized by employers and colleagues. However, the celebration and recognition for Nancy at American Express has been anything but ordinary.

Earlier this year, Travel + Leisure's publisher, Jay Meyer, knew he wanted to do something special to honor an individual that he believed defined the brand. What he introduced was an almost yearlong celebration, one that is capped off in October's issue with a 20-page feature tribute and 18 customized ads from the brand's loyal travel partners.

Courtesy of American Express Publishing

"I'm happy to say it was my idea," Meyer says. He admits that it didn't take long for him to understand what Novogrod meant to the brand and, to the travel industry as a whole, until he had the opportunity to attend a trade show with her in France.

"Walking into that show with Nancy was very Hollywood-like," he says. "People were coming out of their spaces to say hello, and ask her to sit down or if she'd like some coffee or had time to chat. She introduced me to probably 20 people in less than 5 minutes, it was really a special moment and very eye-opening in terms of what these travel partners think of her, what she does and how she supports the travel industry."

Meyer says the pitch to advertisers wasn't a hard sell, "The general response was ‘yes, of course we want to celebrate Nancy.'"

And likewise, the concept was well received in the C-suite. "As we made our way through producing these custom ads, I had a catch-up meeting with our CEO, and he--in a way I hadn't seen in a while--was blown away, primarily because the custom creative that you see within the section was just so heartfelt," Meyer says. "And you could see the time, the energy and the thought that went into the messaging."

Generating excitement for advertisers on a paper medium has been tricky lately, to say the least. But it seems American Express has tapped into a something many have lost sight of--the importance of relationship building. Not only that, but it's also a reminder of how editorial can impact business.

Transactions have changed in every industry. And more and more the relationship between buyers and sellers is being left on autopilot in order to promote efficiencies. While that isn't necessarily a bad thing, the problem is that sometimes it's human exchange and human voice that pushes a buyer through the funnel and sustains business.

The clients who bought ad space in October's Travel + Leisure weren't buying space in a magazine; they were buying an opportunity to thank an individual they developed a quality relationship with over two decades.

Obviously Novogrod's situation is unique, and not something very many publishers can leverage themselves (at least not overnight). Still, there is an important lesson at play here--people are your most valuable asset.

 

Image: courtesy of American Express Publishing

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Katelyn Belyus

Winning the Paywall Debate

Katelyn Belyus Audience Development - 09/25/2013-09:19 AM

 

We’re doing something revolutionary at The Nation: we’re finally testing different paywall strategies. Sharing this is like dumping my purse on the table of a restaurant—it’s a mixed bag of embarrassment and pride. Why haven’t we done this sooner?

It’s a little tricky, of course, being a subscription-based publication with a 150-year history of an audience allied to very strong editorial content. We have become increasingly forward-thinking with our approach to advertising, but at the core of it, our subscribers fund the magazine. At The Nation, Editorial Rules. We’ve been slower to test for all the reasons you think: less money; limited staff; an audience of truth-seekers who find paywalls a moral hindrance if nothing else; a founding prospectus that emphasizes our role to engage open, critical discussion of political and social issues; a staunch belief in the freedom of the press.

Though it may seem anti-climactic to you, given the rigorous discussion and testing around other publications’ paywalls, this is giant for us. We’ve finally moved from discussion to doing, and I, for one, could not be happier. Movement and experimentation, not standing still and hiding, is how smart business decisions are made.

Previously, half of our content was behind a paywall that pushed people to subscribe. Now, the majority of our new content will be paywalled for at least a day or two, as it’s released. Editors will gradually rotate all pieces in front of the paywall during the week, so that every single piece will get its chance to circulate for free. This allows editors to better control the timing and PR strategy surrounding the release of content, but especially helps the efforts of the marketing team. Because our issues go live each week, the impact of our paywall is to encourage people to pay for instant access to our content.

One of the most unanticipated pushbacks has been not from readers, but from writers who worry about cutting off eyeballs to their page. Our editorial staff has done a good job of communicating the necessity of testing, and I hope that my points below help other publications open a constructive dialogue about paywall strategy with their writers.

1. Our financial vitality is necessary in order to further our editorial mission.
Being a subscription-based publication, we rely on money from our readers in ways that other places do not. I’m not giving away free copies of The Nation at the dentist’s office; our basic annual rate for a printed magazine is $79 (a pittance compared to $138 for The Economist). We are not beholden to advertisers or a ratebase, leaving us to refreshingly cover what we want how we want. News media across the board have been fighting an uphill battle against free news on the web for years; The Nation is not immune. But I sense a shifting of the tides, and the industry has been teaching readers, little by little, that good, factual journalism costs something. Sending a reporter to Egypt or Russia or a photo-essayist to Detroit costs more than travel fees—these reporters are in Syria or Russia or Detroit, and readers should expect to have to pay people for the work that surrounds these issues. Believe it or not, solid, rigorous reporting isn’t done from a desktop or pieced together from a bunch of Wikipedia facts. Real journalism, like a crane operator or a chef, requires nuanced skill, time, and expertise. Writers know this. But it’s easy for them to lose sight of this in a vacuum—especially in an era we’ve created where we make clicks and pageviews count more than actual content, which practically demands a reversal. What needs to be reiterated is how, in order to avoid becoming a slogfest of half-truths and online “facts,” we need money to fund their work. If we’re not relying on advertising, then we need to rely on circulation. And in this day and age, a paywall is just another type of circulation.

2. Our readers, not our advertisers, are our future.
I liken our readers to Packers fans. Green Bay is the only community-owned sports franchise in the country. Cheeseheads are rabid about their Packers because they have a psychological stake in the team (no dividends are paid out; extra monies go to a variety of non-profits throughout Wisconsin). The structure is different, but the sentiment is similar: The Nation’s writers give readers a point of view they don’t often read. We need them both on board to continue our work. As long as we push affordable business initiatives to a new audience, we can build said audience with a greater psychological investment in our content provided by the writers. The readers and writers work in tandem, walking along a tightrope of limited funds, and without those funds, both will falter.

3. Leverage the exclusionary aspect to inspire a bigger audience.
It’s not rocket science: the glut of crap on the internet is astounding, and we all read it, but we don’t remember it (when was the last time you quoted a Yahoo News statistic at a meeting?). Everything has been bit.ly’ed to the point where news has become trivia questions, not actual substance. But the writers can fight that, with their own followings and via their own audiences, by talking about their “exclusive” content on The Nation. It’s a way to leverage money for the paywall, but also for readers of their content. They want more eyeballs, not less; their resistance is to the general idea that a paywall will reduce eyeballs. This may be accurate on the outset. But the ownership is on everyone at the magazine—from the PR team to the writers’ own connections—to emphasize the importance of their pieces, offer teasers, and establish a firm stance that there is a reason we are asking you to cough up some money (in our case, $9.50) to read content. We’re like an exclusive club that costs next to nothing to join.

4. Finally, this too shall pass.
This is only temporary. This is only a test. Remember: it will either work or it won’t. If it works, then you’ve got the eyeballs, and we’ve got money to pay you. If it doesn’t, we experiment with something new and try a different angle. I promise you, it’s not in my interest to pour money into a continually failing strategy. Trust that your business staff is doing the best they can in your interest and in the publication’s, and that we won’t do something that will hurt the future of magazine.

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Bill Mickey

PopSci Turns Off Article Commenting

Bill Mickey Consumer - 09/24/2013-14:25 PM

 

Widely touted as a major engagement booster, article commenting features have nevertheless remained a prickly issue for many publishers, and it boils down to this: Are the trolls and spam worth the effort? Bonnier's Popular Science doesn't think so.

Suzanne LaBarre, PopSci's online content director, announced this morning that the site has decided to turn off its article commenting feature. How this went over with the site's visitors is unknown because, well, there are no comments.

But according to LaBarre, the issue goes way beyond the typical annoyances of managing inappropriate or spammed comments—science itself is at risk.

Civility, or the lack of it, is one thing. Redirecting an article's conclusion is a whole new ballgame.

Citing a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison that found uncivil comments not only had a polarizing effect on readers, they also changed interpretation, LaBarre pulled the plug to protect the science community at large.

"If you carry out those results to their logical end—commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded—you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the 'off' switch," she says.

The phrase "it's a scientific fact" doesn't seem to carry the weight it used to. "Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to 'debate' on television," she continues.

LaBarre says the often politically motivated nature of the rogue commenting chips away at an article's conclusion, hijacking the conversation into an anti-science framework and creating debates out of thin air. 

"And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science," she says.

Nevertheless, LaBarre says readers will still be able to interact with each other and the brand, just not in such close proximity to the stories. The brand's social platforms will be the new conversation hubs and there will still be the occasional story that has the commenting feature turned back on.

 

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Caysey Welton

Why Publishers Should Embrace the FTC’s Native Advertising Workshop

Caysey Welton Editorial - 09/18/2013-11:44 AM

 

Lately almost everyone in publishing has been talking about native advertising. Right? Well, the Federal Trade Commission wants to join in on the conversation, too.

On September 16, the FTC announced that it is holding a workshop on December 4 to "explore the blurring of digital ads with digital content." In an official release the FTC stated the following:

Increasingly, advertisements that more closely resemble the content in which they are embedded are replacing banner advertisements-graphical images that typically are rectangular in shape on publishers' websites and mobile applications. The workshop will bring together publishing and advertising industry representatives, consumer advocates, academics, and government regulators to explore changes in how paid messages are presented to consumers and consumers' recognition and understanding of these messages.

A conversation between the FTC, publishers, consumer advocates and academics about transparency guidelines gives native advertising the legitimacy it needs to become a new standard. What that means, however, is that publishers and advertisers have to work together to create dynamic advertorial content that is not deceptively presented as editorial.

Self-Regulation Still Rules

Some skeptics are viewing the workshop as a doomsday prophecy for native advertising, despite history showing the FTC's actions have put the public's best interests in mind. Goverment intervention has been historically minimal when it comes to media. That is, there has always been a great deal of freedom to self-regulate. But advertising is a different story, largely thanks to the rise of crooked radio ads in the 1920s, which lead to programs like FTC. In other words, advertisers were getting it over on consumers, but that's not how native advertising should be planned or perceived. 

The government's reputation to initiate effective policies and actions has certainly waned in recent years. But the FTC has not proposed any plans to draft legislation that will upheave native advertising. On the contrary, instead it is looking to focus in on exactly what native advertising is.

Let's face it, even media "experts" can't quite define native, agree on what it should be called or, in some cases, identify it when they see it. So maybe it's time everyone was on the same page?

A July study by the Online Publishers Association revealed that 75 percent of its membership leverages native advertising, and even more plan to do so in the near future. What that means is this isn't an intermediate fad for generating more revenue; it's arguably the most important forward-looking trend in publishing. Therefore, figuring it out sooner rather than later is crucial for seamless adoption and scalable appropriation.

Keep Calm

Regardless of history, some may still find government intervention as meddlesome. However, Pam Horan, president of the Online Publishers Association, maintains that the FTC's workshop should be embraced and viewed as a good opportunity. "The FTC regularly convenes workshops like these to identify industry best practices," she says. "And they typically use these workshops to act as a learning tool for their staff as they are thinking about what their role is, and ultimately how they may want to think about developing some form of guidance."

Horan points to recent similar workshops the FTC held which resulted in helpful industry guidelines that ensure everyone is playing fair. Specifically, with Search Engine Advertising Guidance, Dot Com Disclosures and the Endorsements and Testimonial Guides. Horan says, "These identify a set of best practices for the industry and really help establish what the FTC defines as unfair or deceptive practices, because that is what their role is."

Given that, the OPA doesn't view the workshop as a disruptive probe, but rather a necessary action to learn more about native advertising and how publishers can work together to self-regulate. Horan refers to the process as "a natural evolution."

It's All About Trust

Fearing how the FTC could transform native advertising implicitly suggests that publishers are once again engaging in deception. So here's the bottom line: if publishers believe in native advertising, and believe they are presenting dynamic ads that can be clearly identified, then they have nothing to worry about.

Conversely, if publishers are knowingly getting away with taking advantage of consumers, the FTC should step in. It's a case of basic ethics, in that no matter how successful something is, it should be changed or stopped if people are mislead or cheated.

Horan says that for publishers, "trust is at the foundation of the relation between consumers." Therefore, if native advertising is going to be one of the new standards for generating revenue, then publishers and advertisers must adhere to basic guidelines and best practices while maintaining transparency. Otherwise it will become nothing more than digital snake oil.

 

 

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Tony Silber

What Content Marketing Means to Traditional Media (and Traditional Journalists)

Tony Silber Editorial - 09/17/2013-14:27 PM

 

When I started out in journalism—in daily newspapers—every so often you’d have a colleague opt out of the reporter’s life and move into PR instead. It always seemed like a loss, because some of those colleagues were the most capable among us.

But journalism’s loss was PR’s gain. Today, in 2013, that’s perhaps more true than ever, because of the disruption of the traditional media world. Let’s be honest with what’s happening: The newspaper industry—the industry dedicated to putting news on a paper product, which is printed and distributed every morning—is dying. It will be gone in a generation or less. The magazine industry is less challenged than newspapers, but the trend is clear. Think about what’s happened:

• It’s not just that new technologies have massively changed media-consumption patterns and expectations.

• It’s not just that the Internet has destroyed many forms of revenue-producing classified advertising, which once was a staple of newspaper businesses.

• It’s not just that it’s become an extraordinary challenge to invest resources in highly qualified journalists to produce news, when that news is then redistributed online for free within minutes. How do you make money in that environment?

• It’s not just that newspapers have become an inefficient and outdated vehicle for local advertising. Local ad revenue is soaring, but it’s online, and going to contextual and ROI-oriented technology companies like Facebook and Google. 

• And it’s not just that paid reader circulation—an essential part of the revenue model for newspapers and magazines—is unpredictable, at best, online.

It’s all those things, combined. And the pace of change is accelerating. One outcome has been a wave of downsizings in the newspaper and magazine worlds, with some journalists moving into PR. And ironically, what many of them are doing now is—wait for it—creating journalism! They’re just doing it for all different kinds of brands, not just media brands. They’re serving brand communities, not geographic or industry-specific communities.

As media has changed, so has marketing and communications. The most significant change currently in brand marketing is content marketing, where brands engage audiences through traditional journalism techniques—they tell interesting and relevant stories that engage readers. This storytelling doesn’t work if it’s product pitching in disguise. It’s more sophisticated than that. And usually, it’s the PR staff that handles content marketing.

Is content marketing a threat to journalism? No. No more so than the bottom-feeder media companies that for 100 years neglected journalism and viewed content as “the space between the ads.”

What is happening is this: As marketers increasingly engage in content marketing—online, on social media, in video—they become a new source of competition for traditional media companies. And they also provide a new source of employment for those professional journalists who’ve found that career opportunities, good incomes and professional growth are no longer as plentiful in traditional media.

Maybe those folks who went into PR when I was starting out were just a bit ahead of the trend line.

 

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Michael Rondon

Ad Page Losses Mount for B-to-B

Michael Rondon B2B - 09/12/2013-14:33 PM


*Click chart to enlarge 

Just two of 22 b-to-b media verticals showed ad page increases in the first quarter of 2013, according to the latest ABM BIN report.

Though the industry averaged an ad page loss of 9.7 percent year-over-year, the Resources, Environment and Utilities segment grew 6.3 percent, while Travel, Business Conventions and Meetings publications had a 2.3 percent increase. The Automotive and Miscellaneous segments took the biggest hits, each losing more than 20 percent of its ad pages.

Ad revenue numbers were kinder. The average industry loss hovered at just over 6 percent, with seven verticals posting gains. Total revenue for the quarter topped $1.7 billion.

The 9.7-percent average ad page loss is the worst Q1 performance since 2009—then, pages dropped close to 30 percent in the midst of the recession. Losses slowed in each of the following two first quarters before 2012, when b-to-b publications saw a 7.25-percent decrease. Monthly averages have typically ranged between 9 and 12 percent since then.

April's numbers were also released with the Q1 report. Both ad pages (down 9.2 percent) and sales (down 5.5 percent) continued to fall in the month, but at a slower pace than the first three months of the year.

Meanwhile, consumer magazines posted a 4.5-percent loss in ad pages in Q2, according to the first half numbers from PIB. The industry appears to be recovering however, reducing losses in each of the last three quarters.

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