Sponsored content: how publishers can deliver value to advertisers

Sponsored content IA Schroder

Display advertising is declining, and advertisers are focussed on creating content.  So for media and publishing businesses to thrive, they need to collaborate with their ad clients to create and promote sponsored content.

How are clients marketing plans shifting in specialist markets, and how can publishers deliver greater value?

Based on recent conversations with niche publishers and their advertisers, here’s my summary of what clients are looking for and how publishers should respond.

How are clients marketing plans changing?

Even in more specialist markets, the shift to digital is inexorable.  And perhaps even more significant is the new focus on creating content.  Advertisers estimate that about half their marketing budget is now spent on creating targeted content, which they then promote to their audience via their own media, and also using social media and email marketing.

In business markets, social media is becoming a potential threat to publishers as Linked In becomes a far more sophisticated tool for targeting prospects by job title and sector.

The value they see in third party media is the ability to access new audiences, and the appeal of using publisher websites is the chance to widen the potential reach of their marketing messages.

Clients are experimenting with different forms of content marketing, from articles to PDF reports to short video interviews or full length webinars.  However, many lack the copywriting, design and production skills to create top quality content, or tailor it for different audiences.

In many markets, print advertising is part of the mix to reach some segments of the audience, but clients now have acquired a taste for tracking and analytics.  On their own media they can measure article views, dwell time, shares and downloads, so they expect a similarly sophisticated set of measures on third party websites and digital magazines.

In business markets, there is a move towards creating content that is at least educational, and ideally accredited in some way for CPD.


5 ways publishers can respond

Media owners need to think deeply about their skills and what they can offer advertisers who are pursuing a strategy of content creation.  Here’s 5 ideas to get you started:

1.    Research & audience insight

Publishers know their audience well, from tracking hot topics to listening into discussions at live events and on social media.  Coupled with insights on online behaviour: who, when and where content is consumed and which formats are most popular, this means publishers can advise clients on what content will fly.

2.    Promotional & marketing packages for client content

Smart publishers can use all their channels: web, email and social, to put together a bespoke promotional plan for client-created content, based on past experience of what attracts attention.  Creating specific sections on websites or email newsletters for sharing sponsored content makes these plans easier to deliver.

3.    Quality tracking measures

Digital media has got clients hooked on tracking, so publishers must ensure that they can measure the reach and engagement in sponsored content across web, social, email and digital magazines.

4.    Design and production advice

Editorial and design teams have a deep understanding of how to create appealing, targeted content for their audience, and can advise advertisers on what is likely to work best.

5.    Co-creation of landmark content

The real value is in jointly creating content that is out of the ordinary.  This could be a one-off piece of research, a round table discussion among senior executives, a video explanation of a hot topic or new technology, or a practical online tool for readers.  This landmark content can then be promoted not only on the publisher’s branded channels and the client’s own media, but also made available to third parties.  However to deliver this effectively publishers will need dedicated resource both for content creation and account management.


Sponsored content is potentially a perfect match between publishers’ editorial skills and audience insight, and the advertisers’ wish for quality content marketing and effective measurement.  Done well, it can command a premium and reduce reliance on low-priced commodity display.  But it does require an investment in skills and time on the publisher’s part.

If you have experiences to share about how you have developed sponsored content, please comment below.

If you’d like to discuss how you might extend your marketing solutions offer to your advertisers, feel free to get in touch for an informal discussion.


About the author:

Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on digital publishing strategy.