Building Successful Media Partnerships for Your Brand

You’ve seen native advertising, but you may not have known that’s what it’s called. That listicle everyone in your Facebook feed is sharing that starts with “15 Things You Didn’t Know About…,” and just happens to feature a famous brand of rum? That was a native ad. It looks just like the other articles on a site, but it was paid for by a brand.

Jennifer Risi
Jennifer Risi

Brands are clamoring for innovative ways to reach their audience. The disruption of traditional media in the print and TV worlds means that fewer are seeing a full page spread in the Sunday paper for the latest movie, and they’re not seeing the trailer during prime time because they’re binge watching Netflix.

Marketers are changing their business models to fit this new environment and survive as traditional channels of advertising become less reliable. They’re changing by building partnerships with publishers who have content creation capabilities and built-in distribution channels.

Not long ago there were clear lines of distinction between the editorial and advertising sides of a media company. This was considered by many to be as sacrosanct a division as church and state. But the realities of shrinking ad budgets have caused a shift. Many brands are turning to partners in the media world who can turn to their own writers and tap into their built-in audience. Recently, I moderated a panel at Ogilvy with several top-tier media outlets including the Associated Press, the New York Times and VICE. All have new divisions dedicated to creating content for brands.

The platforms may be new, but brands have been reaching their target audiences through positive media associations for nearly 100 years. Digital advertisers are essentially updating an old playbook. Brands and media have been entwined since at least the 1930s, when soap and detergent manufacturers ran commercials during daytime radio dramas to reach housewives.

Marketers have updated their strategies to fit the online audience. Online native ads break down into two main categories, advertorials and sponsored (or branded) content. Advertorials have been in advertising for decades in one form or another. These are ads that talk about the product in a journalistic style, and designed to look like an article. Sponsored content is when a publisher creates content that brand pays for, and may or may not contain a call to action.

Successful publisher-brand partnerships are based on transparency and quality. Publishers must be open by labeling a piece of paid content with “sponsored by,” “presented by” or something similar. The content itself has to be as good as or better than the publisher’s editorial content. Both transparency and quality are essential to maintain the credibility of the publisher and the client brands.

One of the most important decisions we make for our clients is which media outlet to partner with. First, a partner must develop a relationship that is beneficial for both the brand and the outlet. A brand needs to find a partner that is reflective of its own quality and high standards, or else it risks tarnishing its image.

Second, a media partner needs to work with a brand that won’t hurt its journalistic credibility. Otherwise, it’ll be pilloried for being a paid shill and forced to write an embarrassing mea culpa, and the brand will be made a laughingstock (I’m looking at you The Atlantic and Scientology).

In an ideal partnership a brand and its media partner will share a like-minded audience, and both parties will have clear goals in mind for the campaign. The editorial team will work closely with the brand reps to devise and execute a campaign that is innovative, authentic and enjoyable for the audience. Do it well and the viewer may even forget they’re looking at an ad.

Jennifer Risi is managing director, media influence; head of media relations, North America at Ogilvy Public Relations. Follow Jennifer: @JenRisi