My new native advertising program is fully implemented. Late January marked the first time I presented it to an audience of my peers.

Word is spreading. I have three upcoming engagements to speak about native in the next two months, and I am very much enjoying sharing our program and responding to the feedback, pushback and questions.

A quick recap: I began my institutional fellowship at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute this past September with the goal of implementing and measuring the success of a native advertising program at a small-market paper.

Now, six months into the eight-month program, I am able to tout some accomplishments:

  • Our publishing group is restructuring our editorial departments so I can continue to produce native advertising and work on other digital projects full time. We believe our 2015 revenue should be substantial enough to cover at least one full-time-equivalent (FTE) salaried editorial staffer to replace me.
  • In response to our initial sales push and the demand we saw, we increased the price for 2015 and changed the packages we offer to provide discounts for those who agree to a long-term campaign.
  • When I am able to meet with a client, either on the phone or in person, I have a 75 percent close rate on native advertising.
  • We have now produced roughly 70 native ads including slideshows, galleries, videos, listicles, articles, columns, quizzes and infographics.
  • We finalized in December our rates and layout specifications for reverse publishing native advertising in print.

Of course, with the accomplishments have come challenges (otherwise known as “opportunities” in Management 101-speak):

  • Selling native advertising requires a consultative sales approach. I was surprised to find this has been the single most difficult part of getting our program off the ground and keeping it growing. For native to work, sales reps must understand it requires talking with the client about their goals and offering a panoply of products — including native — to meet those goals. That isn’t a universally accepted approach, and raises the question of whether sales staff should be specializing instead of trying to sell all our products.
  • Clients don’t always understand the subtlety of native. They want to be quoted in the story, featured in the video, have their logo prominently displayed in the infographic. The solution is to come armed with analytics that show results without those things and lots of examples.
  • Clients prefer one-off native ads to long-term campaigns. Selling them on a three-month contract requires showing definitive brand lift over that same time frame. We haven’t always seen that with the campaigns we’ve done.
  • Native content takes longer to build than a typical ad. It makes sense since our native advertising is the same quality as regular editorial content, but that extra time must be built into the cost. For example, I recently built an interactive map that took about three hours to create. That’s a lot of time to spend on one map with a price tag of $300.

Here’s my presentation to the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s annual conference in January. As always, if you have questions and feedback, don’t hesitate to contact me. And if you want me to talk about native with your organization, I’m a pretty cheap date. Look me up.

RJI recently posted a new native advertising Web page that collects all my research, as well as examples of native and information that will make starting your own program easy.

Jaci Smith  
Institutional fellowship project lead


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