On native advertising: the media and PR views

When PR professionals and the media get together…magic can happen. The latest #PRCATech Group – The Future of Tech Journalism 2015 event – is one such example. On the 24th November, the PR industry gathered to watch a debate involving Hannah Bouckley from the Press Association, Sam Shead from Business Insider, Alex Wood from The Memo and Charles Arthur, formerly of the Guardian.

This year, the theme of the annual event was: Show me the Money, and the questions being asked:

  • How are writers and editors adapting to multiple revenue streams without compromising all-important integrity?
  • How can PRs be a functioning part of the future of journalism and its revenue streams?
  • And how are readers’ relationships changing with the authors and publishers they prefer?

In reality, this was a conversation about the rise of native advertising, it questioned the perceived bias of some publications towards those that sponsor content and it asked that omnipresent question of what the PR agency’s future will be. On the other hand, it was a chance for the PR industry to question whether we can trust the content put out for public consumption.

Did we come away with a clear answer? Of course not, there is no straight-forward, honest response to this question, but perhaps if we lay out the arguments as they arose, you can draw your own conclusions.

Point one:

Did you know that many of the new breed of digital publications are owned by private investors?  For example, Business Insider received a $5m round of investment from the CEO of Amazon; Jez Bezos has also invested in the Washington Post. Meanwhile, Tech Crunch invests in many of the companies it gives coverage to.

While Hannah told us that she also works in a separate marketing capacity for BT, each panellist insisted that they remain neutral in their reporting. However, one panellist did point out that close relationships with a company can skew coverage; they admitted a strong relationship with one company which they say has supported them through their career. As a result, they remember this company when in search of comment, perhaps before their competitors.

Beyond financial influence, Charles made the interesting statement that he is seeing increasing pressure from powerful start-ups. If they don’t like the way they are portrayed, he said, they have no qualms going to the top to complain. Media are under pressure to be positive: if they write a negative piece they risk being blacklisted by the company in question.

It seems there are a lot of powers at play in the coverage game, the key takeaway being that relationships are everything. Form a close working relationship with your key influencers, support them and help them, and they’ll return the favour – hopefully!

Point two:

Is native advertising the future?  First of all, what is native advertising? There was initially confusion of whether native advertising and advertorial content were one and the same. It seems they are not; the differences are subtle but real.

Native advertising is a type of online advertising that matches the form and function of the platform on which it appears.

Advertorial: a newspaper or magazine advertisement giving information about a product in the style of an editorial or objective journalistic article.

To kick off this conversation we were shown the following example of collaboration between NEST and the New York Times (online):

While none of us can deny this is an extremely clever and creative piece of content, the debate begins when we ask whether this piece ‘lies’ to the audience. Does it make it clear enough that it is sponsored content? ‘Yes’, said Charles and the debate’s moderator, Ben. ‘No’, argued Alex. In fact, Alex strongly believes content in this format leads the reader to feel cheated; it isn’t clear enough that the piece is sponsored, he said, until the end, by which time the reader has invested their time in the story.

We then considered the following piece on the MailOnline:

Despite all saying that the content might not be of as high a standard as the NEST advert, they also agreed that no-one could ever argue that the Daily Mail hadn’t made it clear that the content was sponsored. The piece screams ‘PAID FOR’ from the banner ad, to the side images and the bright blue ‘sponsored by’ text.

So with advertising of all types moving online, do we need to learn to accept the increasing frequency of native advertising campaigns? Is this an art form that we, as PR professionals, need to master? The answer is a resounding yes; this form of content isn’t going away any time soon. PR will continue to exist, but we will need to adapt, as we did with the emergence of social and digital, in order to deliver relevant and effective campaigns to our clients.

After all, as Charles argued, a native ad is not far removed from seeing a paid placement during a TV ad break, and that is something we all know and accept. Eventually, the implication was that we will feel the same about native advertising.

To end this, and for some light-hearted relief, we were strongly encouraged to watch this video from Last Week Tonight – we did, we loved it, and so we encourage you to view it too.

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The Art of The Spin at the V&A

The Art fo Spin - V&A

Even though we all think that PR is an art form, it’s a rare treat to discover that one of London’s most prestigious cultural venues is showcasing some of our industry’s leading lights. OK, so maybe it’s more of a delve into the dark side, but that just makes it all the more compelling!

V&A Talks: The Art of The Spin, is a series of talks (21st April – 9th May), hosted by some of the Western world’s most legendary PR aficionados, from New Labour’s illustrious spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, to the absolutely fabulous queen of PR, Lynn Franks.

An exciting roster of speakers from all facets of the PR world will be talking about everything from art to politics, advertising to photography. As a flavour of what to expect, here are a few inspirational (and sometimes outrageous) sound bites from the some of the star guests …

Lynne Franks, Founder of Lynne Franks PR:

“It is not how many people the message gets to, it’s the reaction or how they feel when they get that information.”

PR Week, 2011

“There was a time I went to the supermarket and loaded up on champagne and then just stood there waiting for an assistant to process everything for me, not realising you had to do it yourself.”

The Telegraph, 2011

Alan Edwards, former PR for David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson and The Spice Girls:

“The key is proactive rather than reactive PR. A good PR sees trouble coming, he is ahead of the story. If all you’re telling a client is what’s in the papers that morning, then they might as well ask the newsagent.”

The Guardian, 2006

Alastair Campbell, Political Aide:

“Don’t accept that you are in crisis just because everyone says you are.”

The Guardian, 2009

On being asked by a teenager: “What is the difference between PR and spin?”
“Well, I don’t really know.”

The Guardian, 2009

Sir John Hegarty, ‘Advertising Giant’:

“One of the most important lessons to be learned by any communicator (and one of the most easily forgotten) is that you don’t instruct people to do something – you inspire them.”

IPA, 2012

Lord Tim Bell, Advertising & PR Executive:

“I’m very flash and I’m not proud of that, but at least I’m honest about it. The only talent I have is charm.”

Campaign, 2014

Ken Sunshine, ‘American PR Giant’:

“When things are crazy, it makes me calm and when things are calm, it makes me crazy. People my age talk about doctors and ailments and how depressed they are. While they’re slowing down I’m speeding up.”

The City Herald, 2011

For further information on the V&A Talks, check out the event website.

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