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 Ronald Viin, then Advertising Director at Ajakirjade Kirjastus AS, an Estonian media company with more than 35 magazine brands and websites.
Editor’s note: This interview was conducted earlier this year. Ronald Viin has since this interview left Ajakirjade Kirjastus AS for a position as Head of Print and Special Solutions Division, Advertising Department, Ekspress Meedia AS.
Facts about the publication
Company and media brand(s): Ajakirjade Kirjastus AS, +35 magazine brands and websites
Name and title: Ronald Viin, Advertising Director
Content studio founded: 2016
Audience in print / digital / video: 600.000 readers per month (print), 500 000 readers per month online, 170 000 fans in social media
Target group (men/women/age): Mainly women of all ages
Setting the Native Ad Studio team
What was your role in creating the Native Ad Studio?
The Native Ad Studio is Integrated as a hub in our advertising department. I established it when I became advertising director. Display ads are dying slowly so storytelling is an obvious approach for reaching the audiences. The market is hungry for solutions like this. The only downside is that it’s time-consuming to sell and that it’s expensive to produce and to buy.
Sometimes our commercial content ends up being more read than or editorial content online. That proves to me that native advertising is the future as long as it’s quality content.
How have you recruited for the Native Ad Studio?
I saw the potential in someone from within the company who now works full time for the hub. She has a commercial mindset while also knowing our target groups and the editorial side of things.
The others have been recruited externally. Even though we have over 30 magazines and a lot of editorial know-how, the content editors who produce this type of commercial content has to think differently from a classical editor by having in mind, what the client wants to achieve. Also, many journalists don’t like to mix their name with commercial content and they typically work more slowly than what we need in advertising.
What are the ideal size and team composition?
We are still a small team of three people. Whether we grow will depend on the revenue we can create. We have a separate sales team and we also include other departments and freelancers in the production.
Who does the native staff report to?
To me. The advertising department as a whole report to me as well.
Who is in charge of deciding which campaigns will be or won’t be done?
Mainly I decide it, but if the Editors-in-Chief disagrees with a campaign, we listen to them.
Who is in contact with the clients?
Usually, the salesperson makes the sell but for bigger projects, the whole team of content producers, editors, strategists and myself come together and set up an appointment with the client. We usually end up with bigger campaigns after these meetings.
The editorial staff doesn’t produce native advertising.
The production of native advertising
Are the editorial staff members or freelancers who normally write for your publication involved in native solutions?
No, the editorial staff doesn’t produce native advertising. It wouldn’t be ethical for an editor to endorse a brand in a native advertising campaign. In Estonia, we have had a couple of situations where prominent names in the media industry did that and it didn’t make for good publicity. We do use freelancers who normally write for our magazines for the production of native advertising though. The editors will also assist with ideas for native advertising campaigns in order to achieve the biggest impact for the client and the target group.
Dealing with the ethics
Do you have written editorial guidelines for your content studio?
We follow the general editorial guidelines of our media company.
How do you label native advertising?
It doesn’t work in the Estonian language to translate ‘sponsored/branded content’ in a sexy way. We mostly produce sponsored articles and we label them as content marketing so the customer knows it’s paid content. Apart from that, it’s designed like the articles of the publication using the same fonts and colours.
How have you dealt with internal scepticism from the editorial staff and from readers or other conflicts relating to your content studio?
There hasn’t been much scepticism from the editorial side nor from our readers. Everybody understands that advertising is an important revenue stream for us. Also, the editorial staff is pretty satisfied with native advertising because it’s less disruptive than traditional advertising.
In one area though, we do have some conflicts. Many brands are used to getting free publicity by sending products for testing to our editors. They have basically hired PR companies who will charge them for getting free publicity in our magazines. So we are trying to change this by telling the editors and the journalists to contact the advertising department when they are approached with PR requests so that we can turn them into native advertising products rather than give away publicity for free.
On one occasion, we experienced a more serious disagreement with an editor which resulted in a cancellation of the online campaign.
On one occasion, we experienced a more serious disagreement with an editor which resulted in a cancellation of the online campaign. It was regarding an online article sponsored by a company introducing a new generation of breast implants to the Estonian market. We made an exclusive deal involving all our relevant media brands including a magazine for pregnant women and mothers, whom we know are in the market for this product.
Online, the article only received a couple of critical comments even though it didn’t promote the product as such and even mentioned the dangers related to breast implants. Still, the editor feared it would damage the magazine and requested we take it down. I was opposed at first because all the readers who like the article never comment on it. Also, it was read more than 1,200 times in two days which is huge for us. I believe it was an overreaction from the editorial side, but we decided to take it down – the editorial staff always has the final word.
Selling and pricing native advertising
Have you hired native sales specialists for selling native advertising?
No, we don’t have the resources yet, but I teach our sales staff about native advertising. We still sell a lot of display ads and traditional advertising, though in the future I don’t believe that will be enough.
How do you sell native advertising?
The salesperson will introduce the idea to the customer who is typically contacted about other advertising products. The final sale comes from someone in the native advertising hub, while someone from the sales team will agree on the price with the client. I would like to create ‘transactional editors’, a phrase coined by Ebner Media’s Dominik Grau, which means editors who can serve as a link between the editorial side and the commercial side.
It’s a big challenge for the sales team because it’s more expensive and time-consuming to sell native advertising.
How do you convince advertisers of the benefits of native advertising?
Clients only want to buy native advertising if you’re selling an idea and a target group. But it’s a big challenge for the sales team because it’s more expensive and time-consuming to sell native advertising. They have to start by explaining to the advertiser what it is. We used to push clicks and CPMs and now we are trying to push other measuring tools, which helps us sell native advertising.
Do you have a separate native budget and who is responsible?
Native budget is a part of our general budget in the advertising department. I am responsible for it.
How do you price native advertising?
We price it higher. The price also depends on the number of websites and magazines it appears in as well as the number of sponsored posts in social it involves, cross marketing, event marketing etc.
How do you measure/report native advertising?
We always try to set a target for the campaign. If the goal is to make people sign up it’s easy to measure but we also look at how many read the article, how many were reached on Facebook, what was the engagement like etc.
It can be difficult to measure the exact effect but you have to keep track of the campaign and make sure that the advertiser isn’t doing other things that might affect the campaign, that’s why it’s good to be an exclusive partners on all platforms, so it’s easier to measure the effect on sales or brand awareness.
The publisher role versus the agency role
How do you see the role of your Native Ad Studio compared to advertising agencies and the media buying agencies?
The market for communications-, media- and PR agencies is very crowded in Estonia. We prefer to focus on our own channels and niches. Also, we are the leaders when it comes to the female target groups, so if a client wants to reach women of any age as an advertiser, they have to come to us.
Which native solutions do you offer?
Advertorials, true native, supplements.
Which learnings or takeaways from your work with a Native Ad Studio would you pass on to other media companies?
Publishers have done advertorials since the 20th century. It’s basically just advertising in the form of an article. Native advertising and especially content marketing has to be something completely different. It’s about raising awareness and give the readers tools to solve issues. It’s not about promoting products. If publishers don’t keep that in mind, it’s just a matter of time before the value and price of native will demolished. And then, of course, you have to measure the effect of native advertising — otherwise, you will never convince advertisers to invest.