The business side of news isn’t discussed very often, but it plays a big role in how digital publications operate. Growing a successful advertising program means finding ways for reporters and editors to actively work alongside their colleagues in the marketing and sales departments, without crossing any journalistic boundaries.
This isn’t about reducing editorial independence or inserting paid promotions into a publication’s news coverage. It’s about finding ethically responsible and financially lucrative ways for reporters to support the advertising programs at their own publications.
The days when journalists could simply ignore the business side of news have passed. In order to keep their publications growing and thriving, reporters and editors have to expand their focus beyond audience-building. Using the best practices we’ll describe in this article, an editorial team can support a successful advertising program without losing any independence.
You can’t grow a successful advertising program without getting editorial staffers on board. When they are given the right tools and instructions, reporters can find innovative ways to collaborate with advertising sales teams. In some cases, reporters might actually connect with advertisers themselves on new campaign strategies and initiatives. Finding success in the long-term means keeping these best practices in mind:
The best advertising ideas don’t have to come from the advertising department. Reporters have their feet on the ground in the communities they cover, and they are interacting with local business leaders every day. If you ask, they might have creative approaches to digital advertising that can excite potential advertisers, and that excitement is one of the keys to growing a successful advertising program.
Sales managers are sometimes reluctant to change, especially when it comes from a different department, but that kind of siloed approach to business management just won’t fly when it comes to digital news these days. Publishers can’t afford to have their most creative staffers focused solely on reporting. They need all staffers to be thinking about creative advertising solutions. When new ideas are brought forward, they shouldn’t be shunned. New display advertising formats, metered paywalls, and even daily deals are all ideas that could be brought forward. As a best practice, nothing should be considered too outside-the-box when it comes to digital advertising.
We know that reporters and editors can come up with some pretty creative advertising ideas, but do they know how to actually implement them? For the most part, the answer is no. That’s where collaboration comes in.
Advertising managers should actively look at how their own departments can collaborate with their publications’ editorial teams. Their domain expertise is incredibly valuable. In fact, you can’t grow a successful advertising program without it. The greatest value is created when multiple sides come together. That’s what collaboration is all about.
We’ve all seen the classic magazine advertorials. That’s not what advertisers are after these days, and it certainly won’t fly in any publication that hopes to run a successful advertising program. Businesses that are interested in running sponsored content want writing that has the same sensibility and voice as the publication. Who better to create it, than the publication’s reporters?
Whether having editorial staffers write sponsored content crosses any ethical boundaries depends on how it’s done. A report by Columbia Journalism Review found that many news publishers try to sell the “status, reputation, and aura” of their newsrooms and the reporting skills of their investigative journalists when they pitch advertisers on sponsored content packages.
Should reporters be creating sponsored content for the same businesses they cover in a journalistic capacity? Absolutely not. As a best practice, that sort of thing is frowned upon. Outside of that, we’re in a gray area.
Some publications will only allow reporters to create sponsored content for advertisers who they would never cover in an editorial capacity. For example, a sports reporter would be able to create a sponsored article for a healthcare company. However, that same sports reporter would not be able to write a sponsored article for a local baseball team. Other publishers, including Forbes and The Atlantic, have created entire new teams dedicated to creating and promoting sponsored content.
It’s fine to boast about a publication’s expertise or content creation capabilities when pitching a new advertising client. It’s encouraged, actually. But sales managers should be careful not to approach companies to solicit advertising in direct exchange for editorial coverage. This is a definite no-no in the world of journalism. Reporters shouldn’t be going out on sales calls, either.
Obviously the water can get murky with digital publishers having such broad advertising programs. Publishers aren’t just running display advertising now. They’re also selling social media marketing, sponsored content, search engine marketing, and more. The situation gets even trickier at very small local publications, where the publisher might also be the lead editor or the sole reporter. Regardless, a strict firewall should still remain in place. As a best practice, sales managers should not be “selling” access to their reporters, and whenever possible, reporters should not be “helping out” with advertising campaigns related to any industry or business they might cover in an editorial capacity.
The ethical issues faced by local journalism publications are only growing, especially as advertising programs across the board continue to expand. Although there are a few clear-and-easy rules, most of this world falls into a gray area that publishers, reporters, and ad sales managers have to navigate for themselves.
For guidance on how to handle these challenging issues, and information about the latest ways publishers are generating revenue through digital advertising, contact Broadstreet Ads.
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