winter / 2015

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Native Born
Publishing Executive Magazine EIC Denis Wilson describes how publishers can best make the leap to native ad programs
Jan 4, 2016

Two years ago, when Denis Wilson first joined NAPCO Media—a publisher in the B2B printing, retail and publishing categories—the company was in transition. Like many legacy print publishers, they were moving away from print and embracing digital.

So as the editor-in-chief of Publishing Executive and Book Business magazines, Wilson has seen the term “entrepreneurial editor” take hold at not only his company, but elsewhere. He’s also had a front row seat, in the publisher’s row, to the emergence and maturity of native advertising. We asked him to explain.

Content Magazine: You’ve said that the mission for an EIC has changed, and not only at your company.
Denis Wilson: It’s evolved. We've used the term entrepreneurial editor around here to help develop future revenue. With the rise of content marketing and native advertising, I think there is a lot more collaboration going on between the editorial side and the sales side than in the past.

A lot of publishers know they have the audience to scale their native advertising efforts. But, for brands, isn’t native really just borrowing audience eyeballs and not creating real brand advocates?
Publishers cultivate audiences and then they let others borrow them for a fee. If brands are providing value, which is the purpose of content marketing, then over the course of time they should be onboarding those viewers and building a relationship. But it's my opinion that brands will always have to go to others because they're not the experts in cultivating audiences.

Ad blocking technology is squeezing publisher's revenue, and as a result we’re seeing all sorts of different web metrics. Time-on-site is something that BuzzFeed and Upworthy have been creating algorithms around. Where do you see that going?
I think engagement metrics are here, and I think they're here to stay. To publishers, they’re incredibly important to monitor audience, and audience development efforts. Of course, it only matters once you can actually make money from it. BuzzFeed or Upworthy and others have had the ability to measure engagement, and publishers have started looking at that from an editorial standpoint. Engagement is what publishers do, and it's starting to be monetized. The Economist and Financial Times have started to charge for campaigns based on cost per hour. And I think marketers will start to see the ROI on paying for engagement, not just clicks.

Aside from a few reputable publishers being gun shy to adopt native advertising, what were some other obstacles publishers faced?
When publishers first pursued native programs, they may not have taken into consideration the effect it could have on the audience if not done properly in terms of being transparent—who's creating the content, who's behind it. I don't see that as much anymore, that was the first wave. Now it's more of, how do publishers execute it from a workflow standpoint? Who is creating this content in-house? A lot of publishers have found you can't just put the burden on your existing editorial. They're already strapped from years and years of cost cutting, they're already doing more than ever, so just adding native programs on top was a more recent lesson learned. That's why you've seen a lot of these brand studios or labs pop up.

The content labs have their own challenges.
Sure, like, what do you need to launch it? They're learning that you probably need some sort of editor to oversee it all. The next challenge I think is how do you sell it? What is being sold, defining what it is, having conversations before the sale is even made that incorporate some sort of content or editorial person to help qualify the expectations for the client. It’s not strictly a metric-based thing these labs are selling. It's a creative vision that the brand has and that the publisher is helping to execute upon. So it takes a different kind of salesperson perhaps to understand the content better. A publisher needs somebody literate in the objectives of content marketing.

And the salesperson may even need to educate their clients, because depending on the industry, some folks may be very advanced in their sophistication when it comes to content marketing, or in some other markets they may not get it.

Do you see native advertising as a permanent way that brands and publishers will interact? Or is this a trend?
I don't think it's a trend, because I think valuable content is being rewarded more on the web, and we're at the mercy of Google, but luckily they're rewarding information that's useful to people. There are a lot of cultural trends that are aligned with this—younger people expecting transparency from brands, and the expectation that they have a relationship and a dialogue with brands, and the expectation that brands do what they think is good and right in the world.

And we've seen many cases where brands have been punished for doing unethical things, or at least unethical in the eyes of some of their consumers. So I think that it all kind of works towards having real communication with a consumer. I don't think that's going away. I think it's being rewarded by many forces online and culturally.