“A Little Too Often, the Involvement of the Brands Is Taken Too Far”

One of the biggest challenges at Børsen Creative is still to make brands understand that Børsen Creative journalists write better and more strategic stories than the brand's marketing team does.
native advertising at børsen

This article is part of a series of interviews that NAI has conducted with the directors of publisher’s Native Ad Studios around the world.

Please reach out if you want to add your Native Ad Studio to the series.


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About 2,5 years ago, the Danish newspaper Børsen – specialising in business news – started offering native advertising in the form of sponsored articles.

“We were a little bit hesitant in the beginning because we were unsure how much it could grow, how to price it, how to handle all the ethical questions and so on. Probably pretty much like others who entered this field in which no one had really stepped before and could tell you how to solve everything,” says Stine Bjerre Herdel, Head of Creative at Børsen Creative, the content studio in charge of the commercial offers at Børsen.

But a lot has happened since the hesitation at the beginning. Børsen Creative no longer only offers articles and the creative process has changed into being way more proactive than it was at first. Learn more in this in-depth interview with Stine Bjerre Herdel.

Being proactive means creating better content

We do most stuff, but only recently. In the past, we have been stuck on producing articles only

What kind of native do you offer at Børsen?

We produce most formats today, like articles, podcasts, video and social media content – but this variation in formats has come in quite late in Børsen Creative’s life.

In the past, we have been stuck on mostly producing articles only. Mainly because that was what customers were mainly asking for, and it has been the easiest thing to solve. To begin with, we didn’t have a lot of access to resources in-house within formats like sound, video and graphics. But now we do now. So we either produce these formats ourselves with the help of internal resources, or we work with production companies.

We are also working on opening up Børsen’s video platform, Play, to customers, and we have started doing client publishing as well, where we produce formats that suit the customer’s own media platform.

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We try to be more proactive by having a creative brainstorm before meeting the customer.

What is your creative process when producing native advertising?

If you asked me that 6-8 months ago it would have been very straightforward: A salesperson meets with a customer who finds out they want native. They contact us and we develop a creative brief, the customer approves, and then we start producing the content. Or a customer calls and orders native. You know, much like a booking. This process meant that we didn’t always have that much creativity.

Today, we do it a bit differently. We try to be more proactive by having a creative brainstorm before meeting the customer. In this brainstorm, we develop a lot of ideas (and those we end up not doing can often be used with variations for other customers).

RELATED: T Brand Studio’s Creative Process and Most Essential Learnings

We also contact different types of leads now. Typically, we have done native through media agencies and marketing units in the organisations. Now we try to go more directly to the communication managers and the ones working with pr and strategy. This process can often take several months from we start talking to we agree about doing native and what the stories should be like.

We can’t just sit around and wait for the customers out there to just come to us.

Why did you change your process?

We needed to make this change in order til scale our business. We can’t just sit around and wait for the customers out there to just come to us. We need to be more proactive.

Changing the process also means we can create better content because we come in at the beginning of the process.

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The strategy? To not just produce classic “native ads for Børsen” but to produce content that is actually more channel agnostic.

Do you distribute the content anywhere else than in the newspaper/on website? 

We have just made a Nordic deal with some other business papers where we share content across countries for customers. We have done that before and it works very well for the customer to be able to run content across 4 countries at once.

RELATED: The Golden Rules of Paid Content Distribution on Facebook

Also, we have just started to deliver client publishing solutions where we don’t just produce content to our own platform but to the customers’ platform as well and then they distribute it.

The strategy? To not just produce classic “native ads for Børsen” but to produce content that is actually more channel agnostic. Content for all types of purposes – but with the significant touch of a Børsen/business journalist.

A little too often, the involvement is taken too far in my opinion.

You have to enter the process as early as possible

How much and in what ways are the brands involved in the creative process?

That really varies a lot. Involvement is great because the brands who often have the good stories and the expert knowledge that usually performs really well on Børsen. But a little too often, the involvement is taken too far in my opinion. The customer wants to decide the story, the cases – and sometimes even the quotes of others. We had a case where the customer had 60 comments to one article and more or less rewrote everything. That’s when we take a deep breath and wish they would trust us more.

RELATED: T Brand Studio: 12 Tips for Creating Killer Content

We do not accept when the customer wants to change the quotes of others. And with 60 comments we try to find a way in between where we explain our editorial right (and the purpose of it) to the customer. But they do have the right to change facts and certain figures of speaking that might not serve a good purpose in relation to the message in the native content.

At other times the customers are like, “take it away”. That’s when we get to produce the really cool stuff. And actually, that cool, creative stuff performs better than the customer-written stuff. It’s not something I’m just saying to convince you that we are, “oh, so smart”. The numbers can prove it.

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Often I feel that when we do have these first meetings where we get to unfold all the stuff you can actually do, then the customers get really inspired.

How do you create the best cooperation with new clients?

It is important for us to enter the process as early as possible in order to tell the customer about the opportunities they have and what native can actually do. If we come in too late they might have already decided that “this is what we want you to write about and we want it this way”.

Often I feel that when we do have these first meetings where we get to unfold all the stuff you can actually do, then the customers get really inspired. And they are a lot happier with the result than when we just get a “native booking” from one of the sales consultants where everything is decided in advance.

Most times we ended up finding a solution after a while.

Have you ever turned down clients?

Yes. For different reasons. One reason has been that the client’s budget was way too small for native. But they insisted on native and tried to push the price down to where it doesn’t belong.

Another reason has been that they insisted on writing their own content and we just couldn’t accept that style and quality.

But, actually, most times we ended up finding a solution after a while.

RELATED: “The Perfect Task Force for Native Advertising Consists of the Sales Team and the Editorial Team”

The creative team slowly changes into a role of selling

How are you organised at Børsen Creative?

We have our own small unit of four full-time employees. I am head of the team and refer directly to the commercial director for Børsen.

Besides me, the team consists of a commercial editor, a commercial journalist and a content manager. The content manager primarily works with analysis, technical input and content execution in combination with other ad types like social, banners, retargeting and programmatic.

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We share as much information with them as possible regarding how to inspire the customers in the direction of using native

Do you have a separate sales team for native advertising? Or have you trained your existing sales team to sell native? How?

We use the existing sales team. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the best way to do it, but that’s the way it is. The idea is that everyone in the sales team should be able to sell native. Which is a great thought when it works.

We try to educate the sales team. We share as much information with them as possible regarding how to inspire the customers in the direction of using native, we teach them about KPIs for native, we ask to go with them for meetings, we help them with creative pitches in advance, we discuss pricing with them… it’s an ongoing process and it takes a lot of dialogue.

RELATED: How Niche Publication Works with Multiple Sponsors and Native Ads About Science

But as I see it, we ourselves in the creative team slowly change into a role of selling too. Or at least some of us do. We just sell in a completely different way. More like if you were a strategic agency. We start to find our own leads and approach them in a different way than the traditional sales way.

Which parameters do you include when setting the price for a native advertising campaign?

  • The time we spend producing it.
  • The creative process we offer.
  • The Børsen brand value.
  • Our certain Børsen journalistic skills that result in bespoke content.
  • The distribution.

How do you set KPIs?

It varies. Sometimes the customers set them, and sometimes we help them do so. We ask them: So why do you want to do native? What do you want to obtain?

Sometimes it’s all about conversions and sometimes it’s about time spent. It depends whether the customer is in it for direct sale or for the long-term branding and positioning.

How do you measure the success of your native advertising campaigns?

We look at numbers such as CTR from the front page, reading time, click on CTA and on conversions on the customers’ channels.

We recently started to also use Inizio til measure the effect on the audience such as brand awareness, purchase intent, brand affinity etc. Inizio is a piece of software that has the shape of form placed in a banner position. People fill out the form and answers questions about the brand. Then the form compares the answers from people who have read native from the brand with answers from people who didn’t.

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The editorial team is useful in the idea creation process

You used to be in journalism. How do you leverage those skills when doing native?

I am a good writer and I master various tones of voice. I spot good stories. I know how to angle a story so it really catches the readers interest, I can play with wording text structures in a way that creates certain reading patterns.

RELATED: Thinking Like a Journalist Will Make You Awesome at Native Advertising

I know exactly which people and types of quotes that create a strong reader experience, I know how to do an interview. All this is important when creating native advertising.

The editorial team experience us in a different way. They see that we are not all about sales and money, that we want to create good stuff for the readers too.

Do you believe the editorial team and the native team can and should collaborate? How?

Not on a daily basis.

But the past half year we have moved closer to the editorial team in the way that we now use them for the idea creation process. We now also have access to Børsens social channels. This means we create social posts together with the editorial social media editor.

RELATED: How to Strike the Right Balance Between Church and State

I feel that it ensures that our native stories become even more native. Even more relevant to our readers. And the editorial team experience us in a different way. They see that we are not all about sales and money, that we want to create good stuff for the readers too. They begin to understand that we can do commercial stuff without being tacky or by crossing the borders between commercial and editorial.

Our biggest challenge is still to make brands understand that we, Børsen Creative journalists, write better and more strategic stories than their marketing team does.

Brands can still be difficult to convince

What are your biggest challenges when working with brands on native advertising?

Frustratingly enough, even though we have been doing native at Børsen for three years, our biggest challenge is still to make brands understand that we, Børsen Creative journalists, write better and more strategic stories than their marketing team does. 

And it’s a challenge to make them see that YES, we DO understand that they have a message they want to deliver. And we WILL deliver that message. We just do it the Børsen-way. Because that’s the whole idea of native advertising.

I really believe that if we create an understanding and find new ways to work around this then there is a total win for everyone

What are your biggest challenges regarding native advertising in general?

I actually think there are many. Internally in the organization and externally. But to pick one that I focus on a lot these days, it is to create different and new ways of working with agencies around native. Here I mean both the media agencies and the PR-agencies.

The PR-agencies still haven’t really found a way to include native as part of the way they advise their customers. And they have been very hesitant so far, which I find kind of surprising since it can be such a strong channel for quality content and strategic messages – when done right.

RELATED: How to Run a Native Advertising Award-Winning Branded Content Studio

And the media agencies often, still, see native as something you just book. Like “we have this content, we would like to put it on your front page”.

So we have some talking to. I really believe that if we create an understanding and find new ways to work around this then there is a total win for everyone: The agencies, us and the customers.

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Make sure the editor in chief gives you a high five

How do you overcome these challenges?

I work. A lot! No, to be serious I do a LOT of talking to as many as I can. And I do things like I do now: I try to spread as much knowledge about this as I can.

Right now I am on “media agency tour”, where I do a short talk about how we do native, how it works and how we can work together around it.

I have also established some projects with some really great PR agencies who have started to see how their customers can benefit from working with Børsen.

Be sure even the editor in chief will always give you a high five in the canteen and not look at the native team as someone they just hired to do the dirty job.

What important learnings would you pass on to other publishers who want to improve or set up a native ad studio?

Don’t start by saying “oh ok, let’s test this” and create some mediocre setup and put them in a corner. Hire awesome people. Make great stuff.

Be sure even the editor in chief will always give you a high five in the canteen and not look at the native team as someone they just hired to do the dirty job.

Be freaking proud! Treat native like a quality product, be clear and honest about it, and know that native can take a lot of shapes and grow into your media as probably the most intelligent and future orientated way to shape a modern, economically viable media brand.

Get more learnings from native ad studios around the world with the ebook “24 Essential Learnings from Native Ad Studios Around the World”

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