The Standard for Native Ads are Almost Higher Than for Journalism

Speaker Q&A: Content strategist Melanie Deziel, Founder of the Overlap League, comments on the similarities and differences between journalism and branded content.
Journalism

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Melanie Deziel, Founder of the Overlap League, is a content strategist who has made it her mission to bring the tools, tactics, and best practices of journalism to branded content, marketing, and sales team.

According to her, this will add more value to the content, but actually, the standard for branded content and native ads are almost higher than that of editorial content. And there are definitely differences between the two worlds: editorial and commercial.

Brands have an extra responsibility to make their content fair, accurate, trustworthy and valuable.

Why are the journalistic practices so important when doing native advertising?

When we’re talking about native advertising hosted on a publisher’s platform, the key is to have that content take on the form and function of the surrounding content, so that it offers the same level of value for readers, listeners or viewers.

Journalists are very skilled at this: they focus on making the story appealing to readers, filling in gaps in reader knowledge, and adapting their writing style to fit the various publications where they work.

Brands should approach their content in the same way, acknowledging that their content needs to rise to the level of quality that their host publication has set, editorially, in order to be valued by the readers in the same way.

RELATED: Native Advertising Challenge: Tell a Story That Will Improve People’s Lives

On an even deeper level, though, the standards for branded content or native ads are almost higher. While consumers usually seek out content they like and trust from reputable publishers, they rarely seek out brand stories and likely approach them with a fair level of skepticism.

This means that brands have an extra responsibility to make their content fair, accurate, trustworthy and valuable so as to overcome the skepticism with which their readers may be approaching their content.

Since the perception of a conflict of interest is nearly as damaging as an actual conflict of interest, it’s important to create separations

Thinking like a journalist in native advertising, how do you make sure you don’t cross the fine line between commercial and editorial content and make sure you stay within the ethical guidelines?

While brands and marketers should certainly take lessons and best practices from the world of journalism, they should NOT simply impersonate journalists.

Of course, transparency is key—editorially or commercially—and anyone marketers are interviewing or talking to when they report a story should clearly understand that the content they’re producing is commercial in nature.

RELATED: Boston Globe Media’s Brand Studio Works Like a Mini-Newsroom

All of this is also contingent upon the fact that there is a necessary separation between those who report and create editorial content and those who report or create branded content. Someone trusted by readers to produce unbiased content about an industry should not also be paid to write branded content for that same industry; it would create clear problems for readers ability to trust either type of content they create.

And since the perception of a conflict of interest is nearly as damaging as an actual conflict of interest, it’s important to create those separations, but also to communicate them clearly to your internal and external stakeholders too.

To be clear, there are so many things that are different about these two worlds.

Is there anything you’d do in the world of journalism that you should stay away from in native advertising, and vice versa?

To be clear, there are so many things that are different about these two worlds. When I talk about marketers learning from journalists, I’m largely referring to their processes, their best practices, tools they might use, and their standards. Still, they live in two different worlds, as they should.

Obviously, I don’t think journalists should ever take money from a person, company or other organization in exchange for positive, altered or otherwise biased coverage, the way a branded content producer does by their nature. Most journalists I know would never do such a thing, as it compromises their integrity.

On the other side of things, while many journalists spend time trying to dig and uncover previously unreported wrongdoing, crimes, and other frowned-upon behaviors, I don’t think branded content producers should spend their time and efforts trying to damage a company that they intend on keeping as a client.

RELATED: Native Advertising Must Be as Good as Your Editorial Content

But there’s no reason both sides can’t have a thorough reporting process, strive to tell interesting stories, choose reliable and trustworthy sources, look to data to surface story ideas, put their readers’ interests first, have thorough copy editing, leverage different multimedia formats and be strategic about how they promote their content to ensure it gets seen.

At the end of the day, journalists aim to tell objective stories, and branded content producers aim to tell stories that fit marketing objectives. It doesn’t mean both kinds of content can’t be interesting, valuable and truthful, but it does mean that the content these two types of storytellers create is somewhat different.

SHOW the point you’re trying to make, so you don’t have to be the one to simply claim it’s true without evidence.

How can brand marketers that have never worked with editorial and journalistic content become great storytellers?

The key, I think is to ask yourself what your audience doesn’t know, and ask how you can provide something of value to them.

In journalism, we teach reporters to “Show, don’t tell,” meaning you should find examples, people, places and stories that SHOW the point you’re trying to make, so you don’t have to be the one to simply claim it’s true without evidence.

RELATED: 6 Tips to Succeed in Native Advertising and Content Marketing

Brands should think about their content in the same way. Don’t tell us that you are helpful, smart, innovative, making our lives easier, giving back in your community: SHOW us through examples, stories, and providing that value to us.

If you’re just hopping on the bandwagon and using a story as a soft opening for your sales pitch, your audience your audience will see right through that.

Some of the brand challenges involve being willing to let go of creative control and let the publisher content team create content

What should publishers working with brands and native ads be aware of? Which challenges are there and how do they overcome them?

There are certainly challenges in these types of content partnerships, and a lot of my consulting work is focused on helping publishers and brands work together more efficiently so they can tell better stories together.

Some of the challenges for publishers are around selling: Figuring out what “native” means and looks like on their platform, equipping their sales team with the right language and materials to properly pitch native content to their clients, ensuring that the concepts they sell through will resonate with their audience, and designing promotion and distribution plans that make the best use of their audience and ad tech resources.

RELATED: Everyone Needs to Stop Panicking About Native Content

Some of the brand challenges involve being willing to let go of creative control and let the publisher content team create content, having a clear understanding of their goals and being transparent about them up front, focusing on stories that are valuable to readers, and being patient and understanding that the best content programs happen over time so that you can learn, test, and adapt according to the data.

What is the most important message for brands who want to do native advertising when it comes to storytelling?

When someone introduces you to their friend, you don’t immediately start talking about yourself, list 10 reasons why you’re great, and end with a formal request to be friends. It’s just not natural. So when a publisher is willing to introduce you to their audience, ask what value you can bring to them and how you can create an authentic connection with them.

Melanie Deziel was an official speaker at Native Advertising DAYS 2017.

DOWNLOAD: Native Advertising Trends 2017 – The Magazine Industry

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