The age-old sacred barrier that once separated media companies’ editorial and sales teams has all but disappeared in the age of branded content and marketing services—and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, a panel of media-company CEOs suggested at a recent Folio:-hosted roundtable in New York.
The execs, who represented a dozen mid- to large-sized B2B and consumer-facing media businesses, broadly agreed that today’s business climate requires editors to work side-by-side with ad sales teams (and their clients) in order to meet new and evolving demands from marketers and offset declines in traditional advertising.
“The only way to truly protect editorial integrity is to have editors involved in the process,” said one CEO, arguing that content teams should be an active part of the ad sales process because they typically have the biggest incentive to prevent advertising arrangements from bleeding into editorial.
The rise of marketing services divisions and branded content studios within media companies—centralized teams staffed by editors, marketers and sales teams meant to both produce creative but also provide agency-style consulting services to advertising clients—is not the only media phenomenon driving this shift. Similar lessons, many of the CEOs agreed, are being applied to live events, another fast-growing revenue stream for companies across the industry.
“Event programming drives your reputation as much as—if not more than—your reporting,” argued one CEO. “Editors should be in charge of it.”
Like the FTC-compliant labeling that should be applied to all pieces of print or digital sponsored content and native advertising, pay-to-play sponsorships at conferences or workshops—a reality in events, the table agreed—need to be clearly designated as such.
Moreover, editorial teams should be empowered to reject bad session topics from sponsors and ensure that any such sessions are educational, not promotional. Sponsors should leverage their clients to help tell their stories to potential customers in a live audience, rather than communicating directly.
“Sponsor attitudes are also changing,” said another CEO. “They realize that they need editorial discretion in order to effectively reach an audience.”
There was, of course, some dissent to this idea. The case for a sustained wall between church and state was emphatically made by one CEO, who argued that the division between editorial and sales is more vital than ever in an age of widespread distrust in both media and advertising.
“Trust is a media brand’s bread and butter,” they said. “Over the long term, credibility is what’s paramount.”
What has changed, everyone agreed, is the need to foster a two-way dialogue with readers, focusing on community building and viewing a media outlet as a connection point not only from advertiser to reader, but from reader to reader.
One CEO went as far as to argue that lead-gen is “the wrong game” for publishers; that tech giants like Google, Amazon and LinkedIn are poised to become far-better equipped than media companies to provide these services to marketers. For all but the very largest outlets, the value proposition isn’t scale, the CEOs said, but quality.
“It’s no longer about RFP’s,” said one exec. “It’s about sitting down with a CEO or CMO and providing a consultative approach. In order to do that, sales teams need to be reorganized around customers and accounts, not brands.”
Publishers, the consensus dictated, can do this much more effectively than agencies can, and many of the execs in the room acknowledged raiding talent from agencies to staff, or in some cases lead, their internal sales teams or custom content studios.
Asked where they’ll be focusing in the second half of the year, many of the execs expressed some concern about preparing their operations for the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)—which goes into effect at the start of 2020—something of a flashback to last year’s nervous anticipation in the face of a looming GDPR in Europe.
Those types of concerns aren’t likely to go away any time soon, with one exec warning that as many as eight additional states are currently working on their own versions of consumer privacy laws likely to impact digital marketing.
“Tech regulation is coming, too,” noted another.