Editorial, sponsored and advertorial content

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on May 14th, 2014

$ dollar signI spent last week in meetings with journalists in Vancouver and Toronto. Here at AHA, we regularly meet with writers and editors and TV and radio producers so we can keep informed about what they are looking for; how we might be able to provide them with information about our clients that they would see as relevant, valuable and useful; and how their jobs have changed. (They have changed a lot in the past five years and continue to change.)

We’re quite fortunate that we have built up solid relationships with some of the key journalists in Canada and the U.S. and that they take our calls, open our e-mails, and agree to meet us for coffee when we are in town. This is an important activity for us and for our clients. It is a priority for us.

I heard something very interesting in the meetings last week. Toward the end of our meetings, several of the journalists who deal with sections that are not breaking news brought up sponsored content. They made it clear that a good story is a good story and they would run it, but added that there is an opportunity for sponsored content that is written by editorial staff and is like editorial, but paid for by the organization.

This is interesting to me on several levels. When I was at Maclean’s magazine – there was no way that any journalist would have brought up content that was paid for by the interview subject. But that was a different time and the media world has changed completely over the past decade. We used to call this type of content: advertorial. It was more of an article than an ad, but was developed and paid for by the client organization and you paid ad rates to run the piece.

Now, there is a hybrid – you are paying for space but a journalist writes the content. And it is crucial that as communicators we realize that this is now our reality. The question is – how do we best manage the process now that PR or communications is no longer just about earned content, but includes paid content as well? It changes our strategy and our approach.

This is yet another canary in the coal mine, in my opinion. While media relations and generating editorial coverage (and now potentially paying for some of it) will always be important to many organizations, it is also a wake up call that organizations (and their communications teams) should be creating their own content. You need good editorial writers who can authentically tell your story – and not make it feel like a marketing piece.

This is another signal that content is crucial, and that the way we create and share information and our organizational story continues to change. The train has left the station; it is important that you bring your organization or your clients along for this amazing adventure. An adventure that continues to change and evolve – meaning that as communicators, we need to adapt and grow.

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