Through interviews with expert practitioners of native advertising, my thesis explores the main challenges of integrating a native advertising offering in news media organisations as well as how to solve these challenges drawing on a theoretical framework.
Since I first began researching the subject of native advertising about a year ago, the primary discussion no longer concerns whether native advertising is an option for news media organisations, but rather how they can successfully integrate it.
Overall, the traditional news media industry suffers from diminishing revenue streams due to a disruption caused by the digital revolution. Since 2006, Danish news media companies’ advertising revenues have decreased by 65 percent and they have been forced into cost cuttings which potentially jeopardises the editorial quality. Motivated by this challenge, the thesis looks into the ad format ‘native advertising’.
Native advertising is an opportunity for news media to support their business model because clients can link their brand to a valuable and relevant editorial context in a way that readers find engaging and non-intrusive.
At the same time, the format challenges the fundamental journalistic value of separation between the editorial and the commercial content.
Though most of the leading Danish news media companies have developed their respective native advertising concepts, they are still not fully integrated into the organisations. By not fully embracing native advertising as a fundamental part of the business model, news media companies are at risk of not getting the full potential of the native ad format.
Through research papers and in-depth interviews with commercial editors at two of the leading Danish Newspapers (Jyllands-Posten and Børsen), this thesis examines some of the obstacles for integrating native advertising in a news organisation and how to overcome them.
3 key findings from the thesis
1. Lack of understanding
It is a challenge for commercial stakeholders outside of as well as within the news media organisations to understand the difference between the ad formats ‘advertorial’ and ‘native advertising’. The difference is important at the surveyed media organisations because of the editorial characteristics of native advertising, contrary to those of ‘advertorials’, qualify the product to be integrated into the regular editorial flow of the two media organisations in question. Many advertisers and sales consultants have yet to become comfortable with the format and accept the need to focus less on sales and direct branding, and instead, tell stories that create value for both the readers and the advertiser in the longer term.
2. Lack of time and resources
In the two surveyed media organisations, the commercial editor is the only full-time journalist in the advertising department. That causes the commercial editor to be outnumbered when fighting for her editorial values. Since native advertising demands editorial competencies, there is a general lack of editorial knowledge and resources to ensure that the native product meets the quality of the regular editorial content.
3. Lack of involvement with the editorial side
In the current set-up, the editorial management hesitates to involve the commercial editor when it comes to decisions regarding the native advertising strategy of the media organisation. That limits the development of native advertising within the organisation.
How to reorganise to achieve the best results
My theoretical framework combines perspectives from Karl E. Weick and Etienne Wenger. They represent the lens to evaluate and discuss the current native advertising set-up at the selected Danish news media organisations and how they can evolve.
Based on my research, I suggest three initiatives which can make the process of integrating native advertising in the business model smoother and help the concept to be adapted and accepted successfully by the whole organisation.
1. Wanted: Loosely coupled systems
According to Weick, it makes sense to organise the different departments of a business as loosely coupled systems, because it enables the different entities to develop appropriately, to evolve their own identity and to select the most relevant input from the other departments.
Organising native advertising in the commercial department causes a tight coupling to this department and a decoupling from the editorial department. This relation gives the commercial competencies a predominance in the development of native advertising.
Media companies can, therefore, benefit from viewing the organisation as many loosely coupled systems giving native advertising a more independent status in the business model, which will underline native advertising as a product that belongs in between the commercial and the editorial side since both competencies are needed for native advertising to succeed.
2. Build a defined community of practice
Inspired by Wenger, the thesis finds that media organisations can benefit from reorganising native advertising as a community of practice containing the different editorial and commercial competencies needed to make high-quality native advertising.
In the current set-up, few journalists work full-time to support and create native advertising for the media organisations, I included in this thesis. Reorganising native advertising as a community of practice where the involved stakeholders negotiate some common guidelines that can help to facilitate knowledge sharing and work assignments across the professional boundaries could be a solution. Such a common approach to native advertising would not only ensure the quality of the native advertising products, it would also ensure an individual and identity driven sense-making among the different professional identities involved in native advertising as well as a common understanding across the entire organisation.
3. Top management should involve the commercial editors
Lastly, the commercial editor should be coordinating the community of practice around native advertising since she has the daily interaction with all the competencies involved in the native advertising products. In light of that, the top editorial management would most likely benefit from involving the commercial editor when making strategic decisions concerning the future of native advertising in the media organisation.