Publishers say they’re not out to eat agencies’ native content lunch – they just want to share it

News UK and The Economist claim they’re not out to steal native content briefs from agencies, insisting more collaboration is needed to make it a more successful part of the marketing mix.

The tussle between media owner and media agency for responsibility of native ad formats has pushed the latter to form their own publishing offerings. And while some media shops grumble that publishers are using the popularity of native content to take money from their pockets, News UK and The Economist believe there is nothing to fear; after all, a brand doesn’t go to a media agency when it wants an ad created so why should it do it when it wants to create editorial.

Instead, publishers think they should lead native ad development though media agencies should definitely play a role. Rather than eating agencies’ lunch, Darren Smith, creative director at News UK’s content agency Method, said its “sharing it”. Speaking on an Ad: Tech London panel he dismissed suggestions that agencies are equipped to create content for readers.

“I think media agencies will have a problem because they look at things from a client’s perspective,” he continued. “Our role is different. If clients want to convince our readers that they should buy their products or services then working with us is not so much about servicing their client but instead about finding the right way to represent to that reader. That’s where we have a unique skill that media agencies can’t offer.”

To properly sell that expertise in to brands, publishers like News UK and the Economist are setting up their own internal branded content shops.

The formats may be new but native content has existed for years, during which time media agencies have always helped to develop the technique. “I can’t think of one example in 20 years where we haven’t had an agency working alongside on us on a brief,” said Nick Blunden, managing director and publisher at The Economist. “It’s absolutely fundamental. That’s not to say it will stay this way; who knows what will happen? I think media companies need to be careful they don’t under reach themselves”.

Media agencies’ rush for a larger slice of the native pie is also hampered by the creativity challenge. Native’s share of agencies’ digital budget is set to rise from 18 per cent in 2015 to 26 per cent next year, according to a Adyoulike report although its media agency respondents also observed that creative agencies are still challenged when it comes to executing on the native opportunity.

The growing tension between publishers and agencies is a side effect of industry-wide confusion over the difference between native advertising and content marketing. CNBC International and Forbes shared News UK and The Economist admission that there isn’t a clear definition for native yet, with each of their businesses having their own internal approach that’s pitched to advertisers.

It has fuelled a split in how publishers are building native ad offerings, with some keeping brands separate while others are pushing for closer ties to advertisers. Forbes is one such publisher, giving advertisers access to the CMS used daily by its journalists and freelancers, which it charges $75,000 a month.

“It’s a different approach to how to tackle brand journalism and also how we charge for it because it’s not back-ended into advertising,” said Charles Yardley, managing director for Forbes’ international markets. Almost a third (30 per cent) of Forbes’ revenue is from sponsored content, which accounts for three to five per cent of stories.

“We treat a marketer’s point of view on an equal playing field and in turn their content becomes searchable and discoverable just in the same way that a piece of content that’s written by Steve Forbes or something written by a contributor,” added Yardley.

Native ads could also be advertising answer to ad blockers if publisher’s move fast to standardised the medium.

“Ad blocking is a publisher problem and we need a coordinated response from them on this not a drips and drabs piece, said Nick Baughan, chief executive of Maxus UK, who was also speaking at Ad: Tech London. “It’s a fundamental issue that threatens to publishers and it’s down to them to monetise their content properly. Yes it’s a wake up call to the whole industry about the quality of the content were pushing but at the same time the value exchange between publisher and consumer is imbalanced at the moment."

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