Association Publishers: Something to Think About - If You Aren't Already

By: Tiffani Alexander

As editors, writers, and self-proclaimed protectors of content, the thought of advertising masquerading as editorial is almost sacrilegious to many association publishing professionals.In "Drive Revenue Growth with a Strategic Content Marketing Plan,” Stephanie Holland, manager, advertising sales and marketing for American Chemical Society, and Mike Winkleman, president of Leverage Media and a member of the Association Media & Publishing board of directors, delivered a session that truly gave attendees of AM&P’s Annual Meeting something to think about.

While association publishers have warmed up to the occasional advertorial, few have gone as far as approaching their current and potential advertisers with an actual plan to publish more. This session explored the benefits of creating a content marketing plan to do just that — offering suggestions on how editorial can work hand-in-hand with their sales team and advertisers to meet the growing needs of advertisers, as well as the need for association publishing teams to identify alternative revenue channels outside of traditional advertising.

The presenters began by defining branded content, which can take many forms such as inserts, native advertising, white papers, posters, webinars, and more. They discussed the fact that the revenue model is changing, not only because traditional ad sales are on the decline, but because advertisers are actually demanding new channels to get their message out to potential customers — and they want the metrics to prove that message was received. Speaking of channels, the presenters also noted that for branded content to make an impact, it needs to be multichannel and multiplatform, and most of all, you need a plan.

While some publications like the New York Times and Forbes have created actual "content studios,” an association can begin by exploring the options and getting its ad sales team and organizational leadership on board. Sales reps and executive teams like statistics, so here are few you can share:

  • Nine out of 10 organizations now market with content.
  • Marketers spend about one-third of their budgets on content marketing.
  • $7.9 billion was spent on native advertising in 2014, up from 4.7 billion in 2013.
  • Online native ads drive more responses than banner ads.
  • 85 percent of members surveyed prefer to learn about a company through content, not an advertisement.

Still need convincing? Not surprising: The presenters pointed out that editorial and advertising is almost like church and state to many people — the two shouldn’t mix. Branded content, some feel, is the "end of journalism as we know it.” While this is a bit dramatic, Holland and Winkleman say this shift does indicate an end to advertising as we know it.

"Advertisers want more than a typical banner ad. They are not just buying off the shelf,” says Holland. "We need to get advertisers to buy into ideas.”

Further, consumer attitudes have changed, as has the way in which they access and process content. Association members don’t seem to mind, they say; our members expect to be marketed to. In fact, 75 percent of those surveyed stated that they know branded content is attempting to sell them something. This is fine — as long as said content is "informative and entertaining.” In addition, many of the new channels for advertisers often offer better metrics, which is beneficial to advertisers and publishers of content alike.

Association publishers are starting to see their editorial properties as brands, and are looking increasingly to use branded content to generate revenue. This trend has even resulted in the emergence of a new title in the editorial world: chief content editor. As editors and content publishers become more like salesmen — sometimes being the one to start the sale — it’s important to have members of your sales team in agreement.

To get that needed buy-in from your internal team as well as potential advertisers, the presenters suggested beginning with a Guinea pig — meaning, start by getting one advertiser to produce a native ad. Publish it on your site so other advertisers have a sample, and track its progress so you have numbers to share with them. This is a first step, but the presenters stressed the importance of going all-in with branded content, making sure your plan is strategic, and your content can work on multiple platforms and channels.

Branded content can and does work. There are numbers to prove it, and commercial publications find its potential and return so great that they have created full-fledged content studios dedicated to making advertising work within editorial. These facts indicate that association publications should at least take a closer look at the possibilities.

Author: Tiffani Alexander

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