This article is part of a series of interviews that NAI has conducted with the directors of publishers’ Native Ad Studios around the world.
Please reach out if you want to add your Native Ad Studio to the series.
Today, we speak with Jukka Hurme, creative producer at Alma Media Solutions, native ad studio of Finland-based Alma Media.
Alma Media is a media company focusing on digital services and publishing within news, lifestyle, career and business. Its operations stretch from Finland to the Nordic countries, the Baltics and Central Europe.
In Finland, a total of 146,5 Million Euros was spent on display advertising including native advertising in 2016.
Facts about the publication
Company and media brand(s): Alma Media; Kauppalehti, Iltalehti, Aamulehti, Etuovi, Monster, Talouselämä
Name and title: Jukka Hurme, creative producer at Alma Media Solutions
Audience: Our news media and digital services reach nearly 80% of all Finns in the 15–74 age bracket each week. Our audience has a strong presence in digital channels, and Alma’s mobile websites, mobile applications and desktop give advertisers access to 7.9 million browsers weekly (Mads, 2015).
Why did Alma Media decide to build a Native Ad Studio?
Content marketing and native advertising is the name of the game these years. It’s natural for media companies to take part in this type of business since it’s nothing new for us to create great stories. Like everybody else in media, we are also having issues with ad blocking issues and falling ad revenues.
Setting the team
How do you recruit?
Mostly we are using existing resources, so we don’t do much recruiting outside of the company, though we have also created new positions in sales and for project managers for these types of campaigns. For producing native advertising we mainly use freelancers who are specialists on the topics they write about. Sometimes we will use a journalist from one of our publications. Freelancers can write for us as well as for our editorial side.
We need a lot of different specialists. That’s why we use the content producers who already work for us.
What skills do you look for?
We look for the same skills as when we hire editorial journalists. For the other positions they have to be good at project management etc., but we don’t look for any native advertising skills in particular.
Every journalist should have an expertise in some field; business, economics, sports etc. We need a lot of different specialists. That’s why we use the content producers who already work with us.
What are the ideal size and team composition?
We think it’s a good solution to have some key positions in-house — not necessarily journalists who are easy to hire freelance, but I would like video editors and photographers because video production is growing a lot and it would make a lot of difference to have a specialised in-house team.
Who does the native staff report to?
We don’t have a manager who is only responsible for all aspects of native advertising. We have a matrix organisation, so the editorial staff have their own bosses, sales staff have their bosses etc. I’m in marketing and product management and I’m working with the editors as well as the sales people.
Who is in charge of deciding which campaigns will be or won’t be done?
The first gatekeeper is the account manager, which is naturally most concerned about selling. If this person has sold a native advertising campaign and I don’t agree with how the brand wants to do it, I can both turn it down. The Editor-in-Chief as well. For us, it wouldn’t be worth doing a campaign that an editor opposes. It causes too much trouble, but I can only imagine this happening with smaller clients such as foreign betting companies and the likes.
Who is in contact with the customers?
Mainly sales staff until the campaign is sold. Then the native team takes over.
To what degree is your editorial staff involved in native solutions?
The Editor-in-Chief can say no to campaigns but is not involved in the final outcome. Editorial staff can be used for the production of native campaigns on a voluntary basis.
Dealing with the ethics
Do you have written editorial guidelines for your content studio?
In Finland, we have the ‘Council for Mass Media’ that regulates all media companies (like the FTC, ed.). There are very strict rules about how to separate native content from editorial content.
The content should offer something of value to the readers, rather than just promote the brand.
All Finnish media take this very seriously, so we have complete transparency and clear labelling. All paid content have to be marked as marked as an advertisement, ‘sponsored’. We also have internal guidelines that say that the content should offer something of value to the readers, rather than just promote the brand.
How have you dealt with internal scepticism from the editorial staff and from readers?
We did experience concerns from readers and editorial staff. Finnish people are very proud of their media and the journalists are proud of their work. Anything that’s commercial is generally considered bad. Also internally in our company.
That’s why it’s important that no one is forced to do native advertising. It’s much lesser of a problem in our lifestyle media brands such as fashion and cars where we are working closely with the editorial team who has a more commercial mindset.
How do you label native advertising?
We use a different look and feel and label as sponsored content.
Selling and pricing native advertising
Have you hired native sales specialists or do you use existing sales force?
We are using the existing sales staff. I get involved if they are selling a native campaign and then the sales staff are learning from how I handle it. We are also doing internal training of 30 sales staff.
How do you sell native advertising?
Usually, our sales staff are meeting the clients. They will suggest native advertising – and then I usually come in. I spend about 30% of my time selling native advertising. Sometimes the editorial staff is helping me pitch ideas.
Whenever we are doing native – we are giving some of our credibility to the client, so the price must be higher.
Do you have a separate native budget and who is responsible?
We have a separate budget for native and content marketing and it’s growing.
How do you price native advertising?
Definitely higher. It’s a premium product. Whenever we are doing native – we are giving some of our credibility to the client, so the price must be higher. Display was sold too cheaply, I don’t want to see that happen again with native advertising.
What are the factors you consider when pricing?
We have different pricing models: Our prices for content production are on the level of ad agencies. Other factors are e.g. how long the campaign should be visible, if we keep it in our archives or not and whether or not it should lead to the client’s own website. Native advertising is sold the same way as other online advertising: cost per click or time spent.
How do you measure/report native advertising?
Depends on the campaign but typically clicks, time spent, the actions of the user doing; sharing, click to own site, comments, etc.
The publisher role versus the agency role
What is the role of your content studio compared to advertising agencies and the media buying agencies?
We are standing on two pillars: We are providing the same services as ad agencies and media buying agencies so in a way we are competitors, but we are partners as well. This is no problem because our goal is the same; to get the best results.
Content marketing and native advertising is new territory in Finland, so we are not stepping on any one’s toes because even though PR agencies or ad agencies should produce this type of content as well, they haven’t stepped into it much.
As media companies, we should probably more often tell the clients ‘no’.
Which learnings or takeaways from your work with a content studio would you pass on to other media companies?
Native advertising is a process of trial and error but generally, it’s important to underline that native advertising is not just a new word for traditional advertising. It should be measured differently.
As media companies, we should probably more often tell the clients ‘no’ and guide them about this new type of advertising and what it takes but it’s a delicate matter to turn away clients who want to buy advertising. Like social media, which is today a part of all advertising campaigns, native advertising will also be a normal part of all campaigns, I think.