This article is part of a series of interviews that NAI has conducted with the directors of publisher’s Native Ad Studios around the world.
Please reach out if you want to add your Native Ad Studio to the series.
Today we dive into the engine room of The Foundry, Time Inc’s full-service content and creative studio with Christopher Hercik, Chief Creative Officer at the Foundry.
We asked Christopher Hercik to reveal some of the challenges and processes of running a native ad studio and to pass on some of his most important learnings from his time at The Foundry.
For how long have you been part of The Foundry, and what are your most important tasks as Chief Creative Officer at the Foundry?
I joined Time Inc. in 2002 at the Sports Illustrated Group, where I rose through the ranks to eventually oversee creative for one of Time Inc.’s most iconic brands. After spending over 12 years at Sports Illustrated, I was part of a team that launched The Foundry to oversee the alignment of editorial tone and business needs in the strategic content space. Among my responsibilities, the most critical are collaborating with our clients, brands, editors and sales directors to develop strategic content plans that are transparent and consistent with the Time Inc. brands’ experience.
Trends and challenges
Our clients now have more demand for video than ever before. From social style video to long-form documentaries, to broadcast-quality commercials.
What’s trending right now in terms of native advertising within Time Inc.’s publications?
We are seeing a big uptick in video creation. Our clients now have more demand for video than ever before. From social style video to long-form documentaries, to broadcast-quality commercials, we see video taking a leadership stake in many of our conversations.
We are also leading the industry in AR & VR content. Through our LIFE VR/AR platform, we are able to offer our clients an extremely creative way to communicate their marketing message to our shared audiences in a very immersive/interactive and tangible way. We are able to bring content to life, making our consumers touch, feel, and experience in ways that one only dreamt of.
Ensuring collaboration with our clients is the most important part of creating native advertising.
What are your biggest challenges when creating native advertising? And how do you overcome them?
Our biggest challenge is also our biggest area of expertise—if that makes any sense. Ensuring collaboration with our clients is the most important part of creating native advertising. That means understanding our clients’ brands as well as we understand our own. It is a step in the process that cannot be overlooked. We have to take the time to know their marketing messages, brand essence/nuances and KPIs to create premium content. So I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge. It’s more a vested interest in taking the time to learn and understand our clients’ businesses.
The creative team and process
How do you recruit for The Foundry and which skills do you look for?
We look for candidates who demonstrate creativity and have a great understanding of the content creation process—whether it’s a strong portfolio of innovative ideas (as we know, great ideas can come from everywhere), thought-provoking designs, ingenious use of copy, or video production styles. We also like to recruit people who have a collaborative spirit and relentless attention to detail.
Having our clients involved from the start of the creation process is extremely important, as we have the responsibility not only to tell a great and engaging story but also to communicate our partners’ marketing messages.
What does your creative process look like? And how much are the brands involved in creating the content?
We are continually getting ahead of the RFP process as we act and serve as long-standing strategic content consultants to our clients. We want to break the mould of the “old RFP regime” and start the process in its infancy, working side by side from inception to execution.
That said, we collaborate with all stakeholders—client, creative and edit. As I mentioned earlier, it is of utmost importance to collaborate. Through the collaboration process, we are able to bridge the gap between a client’s tone and voice and Time Inc.’s voice to create campaigns that are on point in message, look, feel and execution. Having our clients involved from the start of the creation process is extremely important, as we have the responsibility not only to tell a great and engaging story but also to communicate our partners’ marketing messages. It is a not a process that we take lightly.
Our editors are very much involved in the content creation process.
Disclosure and ethics
Is the editorial staff that normally writes for your publications involved in creating native advertising solutions?
We work side by side with our editorial teams, ensuring that the content we create is on brand for Time Inc.’s brands. Our editors are very much involved in the content creation process: From inception (ideation) to execution (written/video), we work hand in hand to create the best possible content we can on behalf of our clients.
How do you label the branded content/native advertising?
We make it very clear to our readers/viewers that the content they are consuming is in partnership with our advertising clients.
Have you done any reader surveys to make sure the readers understand the labelling?
We go to great lengths to adhere to FTC and IAB guidelines, ensuring that our readers/users are clear on the types of content that they are consuming.
Repetition is also key: We frequently host training sessions for our sales force to keep them up to date
Selling and pricing
How do you train the sales team to sell native advertising?
We have a dedicated native sales team that is embedded in the larger sales organization, which allows us to further leverage The Foundry’s powerful capabilities. This team works closely with category and brand sales teams to bring the best of The Foundry to market. Repetition is also key: We frequently host training sessions for our sales force to keep them up to date with changes in the industry and the variety of our offerings and capabilities.
How do you pitch native advertising to brands and get them to tell real stories?
We know our brands, so we pitch stories that fall in line with their voices and what we know our audiences will love. We also make sure we’re working closely with our clients to ensure that all parties give readers the best experience.
How do you price native advertising? Which parameters do you include?
We have created packages and solutions that work for all our advertising clients’ budget levels. There is no wrong way to work with us, and we have gone to great lengths to show the advertising community that we have a solution to every spending level. That said, we have worked tirelessly with our dedicated product and operations team to create packages that allow marketers to transact on engagement in addition to content output.
Success is measured differently from campaign to campaign as each partner can have a different metric for success.
How do you measure the efficiency of your native advertising campaigns?
We work closely with our clients to understand their KPIs and deliver campaigns that all parties are happy with at the end of the program. Success is measured differently from campaign to campaign as each partner can have a different metric for success.
One thing that holds constant is that we work as hard as possible to deliver the best product and experience for each and every campaign.
The important learnings
From content types to storytelling tactics and delivery mechanisms, there is always more to learn.
Which (if any) mistakes have you learned from regarding creating native advertising?
Rather than focusing on mistakes, we always keep an important lesson in mind: Never stop learning. If you stop learning in this space, you will quickly be passed by. From content types to storytelling tactics and delivery mechanisms, there is always more to learn.
Do you have a piece of native advertising that you are particularly proud of?
Perhaps the one project nearest and dearest is the AR/VR execution for which we partnered with Coors Light. Together with Sports Illustrated, we introduced the Time Inc. audience to an entirely new medium. We used AR to launch VR off the cover of one of the most iconic sports brand in the industry. I grew up at SI here at Time Inc., and it was special to roll out a massive technological breakthrough and awesome campaign on that platform by way of The Foundry and Coors.
Don’t open a coffee shop next to Starbucks. Know what you know and know what you don’t know.
What important learnings would you pass on to other media companies who are considering setting up a branded content studio?
Don’t open a coffee shop next to Starbucks. Know what you know and know what you don’t know. Work with folks like us at The Foundry, who are already experts in branded content creation.