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 Hugo McCafferty, Native Editor at the Storyplus Native Ad Studio which is part of the media company Independent News & Media. Storyplus was launched in 2015 and has grown steadily ever since.
INM is the leading newspaper and online publisher on the island of Ireland with household media brands in Ireland such as Irish Independent, Sunday Independent, The Herald, Sunday World, Belfast Telegraph, Sunday Life and The Star, all market leaders in their segments and thirteen weekly regional newspapers.
Hugo McCafferty has found his niche with branded content and native content in particular.
These titles achieve a combined average sale of 1.3 million copies per week and reach 2.4 million readers per week across print and online.
Bringing together his experiences as a journalist and a marketer Hugo McCafferty has found his niche with branded content and native content in particular. Previously editor of Dolce&Gabbana’s online magazine, Hugo lived in Milan for nine years before returning to Ireland to take up the role of Native Editor with the county’s number one news publisher.
Setting the Native Ad Studio team
How do you recruit for Storyplus and which skills do you look for?
I recruited some people from outside of the company and others were transferred from the editorial side.
They have to be good writers, they have to demonstrate that they have an interest in many subjects and themes, they have to write concisely and quickly in engaging formats for digital and print. They have to have an understanding of the digital advertising industry in Dublin and internationally. It’s a broad skill set and it can be difficult to recruit.
A brand can become fixated on a top tier format even though it’s not right for their brand.
What is the size of team?
Our team consists of a core team of three managers, three designers, two videographers and all in all 10-12, freelancers. The team is growing because of the demand. It’s impossible to speak of an ideal size but I would like to have writers with different strengths and skills.
Who does the native staff report to?
Regarding anything that has to do with the content they report to me and I have a journalistic background. I sign off on the campaigns and the quality of the work. If there are any issues regarding other aspects, they report to the commercial campaign managers.
Do you ever turn clients down?
We generally don’t turn clients down. We offer a wide range of native products, so we roughly have something to suit all brands and budgets. A brand can become fixated on a top tier format even though it’s not right for their brand and then I will try to talk them out of it. If they insist, they will have to take guidance from me in order to make it work rather than dictate what they want to be done.
Who is involved in the sales process?
I’m involved in pitches.
Recently Storyplus was behind a sponsored piece highlighting 10 Unmissable Experiences in Eastern Ireland.
Dealing with the ethics
Do you have editorial standards for your content studio?
I decide what we will and won’t do on a case by case basis. We don’t have any written manifesto.
There has been some reluctance from especially print journalists who think of native advertising as an advertorial, which it isn’t.
How do you deal with internal resistance to the production of native advertising within your company?
There has been some reluctance from especially print journalists who think of native advertising as an advertorial, which it isn’t. They are reluctant to attach their name to sponsored content, but in fact, we don’t usually include bylines unless the piece is written from first person perspective, which is also a way of differentiating it.
How do you label native advertising?
We have a section for sponsored content on our website, but a native campaign will appear on the front page of the homepage as well for 24 hours before being moved to the other section. It is clearly labelled as sponsored content.
Selling and pricing native advertising
Have you hired native sales specialists for selling native advertising?
We don’t have native sales specialists as such but we have digital specialists, that have experience in selling campaigns across platforms combining traditional advertising and native advertising.
Generally, we price native advertising higher.
How do you sell native advertising?
The campaign managers and the managers of the content studio will both help sell the campaign, but the sales staff will focus on the pricing.
Do you have a separate native budget?
We do have a separate native budget, that the managers of the content studio are responsible for as well.
How do you price native advertising?
With native, we’re selling the quality of view and engagement, and with display you sell audiences, so it depends on the native advertising campaign, but generally, we price it higher.
What are the factors you consider when pricing native advertising and reporting on campaigns?
A lot of the clients put a lot of value in unique users and impressions, but with most native advertising campaigns we concentrate on dwell time and compare it to the editorial content to see how well it’s doing.
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?
Increasingly we do most of the work ourselves, and in our experience, the creative agencies and the media buying agencies are doing less.
We do see ourselves as a replacement in the long run unless the agencies reinvent themselves. They can’t just be the middleman doing nothing. The hardest part of the job is managing the middlemen; the agencies. They are unsure of their role at this point in time.
How do the brands view your role?
Brands like what we do and when they see the good results, they are more likely to go directly to us next time, which we have experienced several times. Other brands have a long established relationship with the agencies and prefer listening to them.
Do you have a written down strategy framework and how much do you include in this?
We do detailed road maps for the whole campaign, but we don’t advice on other media platforms than our own. The brands can use the content on their own platforms.
Make sure that you take the same care for native advertising as for editorial content.
Which native solutions do you offer?
We do everything from standard native articles that looks and behaves as editorial articles, niche projects on verticals like business or sport, premium high-end product that acts like a microsite with rich media, interactive elements and widgets as well as sponsored features that are the equivalent to an advertorial.
Which learnings or takeaways do you have from the process of building Storyplus?
The quality of the people and the talent will inform the quality of your work, which brands will react to. Make sure that you take the same care for native advertising as for editorial content.