Public Relations practitioners look down their noses at the surge of native advertising and sponsored content available on digital platforms, from The Guardian to the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed. It’s not what we do, we say. It’s pay-for-play. That stuff’s for marketers. If there’s no need to tailor a message to interest a hack, there’s no need to us to stick our noses in.
Last week, Spada launched a new report, The State of Native Advertising 2014 in collaboration with Hexagram, a new native advertising exchange. It analysed the results of a survey of brands, agencies and publishers – 30 per cent of respondents were Public Relations professionals. We learned a lot from it – most importantly, that PR ignores the rise of native advertising at its peril. Understanding how to get the best from it will become a staple of any integrated communications plan over the next few years. Even if it’s not directly in our PR patch, ignorance will not be tolerated by practitioners in our sister comms disciplines, especially marketers and in-housers.
We need to know how it works, when to use it, and how our clients or businesses can benefit.
1. Everyone’s doing it – 80 per cent of digital publishers intend to offer native advertising by the end of 2014. The reason is obvious – by that time, the publishers surveyed expect to generate a third of their digital revenues via sponsored content. Sites from Associated Press to Forbes and Slate are already on board. There are thousands of column inches of (virtual) space to occupy on some of the highest-quality platforms in the world. And its a (relatively) inexpensive option.
2. Agencies risk missing the boat – brands want more native advertising, are prepared to pay for it, and yet only 30 per cent of agencies currently offer it as a service. Unless something changes, the 66 per cent of brands that are generating sponsored content on their own will mushroom. And given platforms like The Atlantic and Chicago Tribune are already pioneering their own in-house departments to work with advertisers on their sponsored content, agencies could be beaten on their own turf by the media itself.
3. It’s widely used and consumed by target audiences. Provided that native advertising is clearly labelled as such, consumers appear to have no problem with consuming sponsored content, and are doing so increasingly frequently. At a time when banner ads are largely ignored by the viewing public and are swiftly becoming obsolete, digital publishers are increasingly turning to native advertising to refresh their sites with new and interesting content that – crucially – is actually engaging for users. The bottom line is that native advertising is not going away.
There are, of course, ethical issues for Public Relations professionals producing or advising on native advertising – in particular, the need to ensure transparency and clarity for the consumer. Delivering quality, engaging content is key – lest governments or search engines step in to curb sponsored content. However, the core PR skillset – an understanding of what makes news, communicating concepts and big ideas, and wordsmithing – should mean the discipline’s alliance with native advertising is a natural one.