For 170 years, the Associated Press (AP) has been the go-to independent source for news across the globe. Newspapers and other media outlet members look to the not-for-profit AP for stories to fill their content blocks — and native advertising and content is beginning to play a more prominent role. Whereas a decade ago, the thought of the AP going down this path would have been shocking, today, native is a viable trend, albeit one that is still taking shape in the modern news world.
The AP is taking part in a new initiative that will push the news source into native territory. Working with Nativo, an El Segundo, California-based native advertising platform, the AP is building an entirely new channel, which is now being rolled out to publisher members, including Hearst and McClatchy, who have recently completed test campaigns on the platform, targeting branded content to a network of publisher audiences nationwide.
The relationship with Nativo will help AP’s custom content and distribution division, AP Content Services, meet brand and agency demand for native advertising by allowing AP to build a scalable, cross-platform native distribution operation.
As news moves from the page to mobile devices and advertising dives deeper into the digital realm, native grows in importance. But native is nothing new to most news outlets. Advertorials have been around for decades, yet the sophistication of the content has grown exponentially in the digital age. Publisher Hearst is certainly no stranger to native.
“Sometimes advertisers need other ways to communicate with their customers than a display ad or an ad in a paper,” said Karen Brophy, VP of digital at Hearst. “We've seen a lot of innovation in content development, whether it's a platform like video or global, but also the tone and the willingness of advertisers to reach younger audiences,” she said.
Brophy went on to say that native is still a new thing for many advertisers out there, and the reach and reliability of the AP brand helps advertisers trust the work that Nativo is bringing to the table.
Hearst works with Nativo through its high-quality network of advertisers at a national level, then bolsters that with a local push with its own sales staff.
“We have a product called Story Studio that is a local branded product for native and content marketing. It's partly Nativo, but partly other ways that we've evolved that. Our local teams are actually able to go out to local advertisers and say, ‘Hey, we can help you get customers, explain your value proposition, work with you to develop content that's good for the advertiser, good for the user,’ and that's relatively new for us over the past couple years. It's a new platform, and it is driving new revenue streams, and actually the advertisers and the consumers are happy with it. You get plenty of complaints for the pop-up ads and all that, but (with native) you don't get a lot of complaints,” said Brophy.
While the AP had been doing some work on the native front, it wasn’t until recently that the organization took it to the next level.
“Based on some of the things we're already doing, we saw an opportunity to be really helpful to our members and to create a network around (native),” said Paul Caluori, AP’s global director of digital services. “This current step that we're taking is really built on a foundation of two other things we've been doing. One is that for almost a decade we've been doing custom work for brands and PR agencies, just because the AP is very good at creating high-quality content.”
Starting over eight years ago, the AP did photo shoots, made videos and texts for brands and agencies, but only as raw materials to be put together by the advertisers.
“In the last four years we've created some really great vertical versions of hosting products that come with advertising and a revenue share. What we've seen is that across that group of our members who use these hosted services, there's been a lot of opportunities to be valuable to brands and to advertisers through what appears to be a network of really premium publishers in the newspaper and broadcast industry throughout the United States,” said Caluori.
By working with Nativo, the AP is taking steps in creating really customized native advertising presentations for a number of customers and working on ways to expand distribution.
Nativo began by automating sponsored posts on blogs, forums and niche sites, before sponsored posts became mainstream and people started calling it native advertising.
“We were building tech around that for some time not realizing that the category was going to get so important and so large,” said Justin Choi, CEO of Nativo. “By the time 2013 and 2014 rolled around, we went from creating this technology for us to be able to scale sponsored posts across sites ourselves to then talking to publishers about offering our technology as an ad server that sits right alongside DoubleClick. Where they use DoubleClick for banners, they'll use Nativo for native ads. The company just grew like crazy, because there was this massive publisher need for tech that really automated all the workflows around native,” he said.
Nativo worked first with Hearst in helping build automation and scale for a custom execution.
“The scale thing is really important because you have massive platforms like Facebook that offer virtually unlimited scale and publishers really need to offer some kind of scale in their custom executions, otherwise native risks just being this more niche play,” added Choi.
From ‘church and state’ to more collaboration
Some might question the validity and authenticity of a major news source being in the native business.
“It's not the thing that you typically think of when you think of the AP, I know,” said Caluori. “There has always been a question of how do you monetize your services, whether we're talking about one kind of advertising or another. I do think though, that it's an important conversation and that it's quite valuable to the industry to have a really robust conversation about what this content should look like. We have had some spirited debates about how to do this here and we continue to work really closely with our colleagues in the newsroom and our standards editors. Their approach has really been helpful because they recognize that this is a form of advertising that is very important to the publishing industry right now and they don't just simply dismiss it. But they are quite rigorous in making sure that everything is well-disclosed and that we work in a way that is ethical and that is truthful,” he added.
“The nice thing about native is that it's really represented an opportunity where the brands actually care what they run, who writes the content, what is in the content, where it is displayed,” said Choi.
Readers can often sniff out what is not authentic, but as long as they know native content is advertising, the balance between journalism and advertising can remain at stasis.