Sponsored content: A new frontier for newspapers

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I love newspapers. Ink is in my blood. Both of my parents were journalists. Reading the paper every day was a ritual I learned at a young age.

I followed in their footsteps and a good portion of my career has been dedicated toward journalism and professional writing.  In fact, I worked for the Coeur d'Alene Press from 2002 to 2008, and when the opportunity to return arose, I didn’t have to think twice. I was home.

As a reporter, I wrote about local government, law enforcement, and human interest stories. In 2008, I left to pursue opportunities in public relations, marketing and social media. I've worked in tribal government, higher education and the financial sector.  

There’s a stale joke in newspapers about reporters who transition to marketing, saying they “have gone to the Dark Side.” Complete nonsense. Newspapers are businesses and many faltered during the 2007 economic collapse.

Newspapers need advertisers in order to bring readers the news. Without advertisers, we can’t tell you about the local elections, environmental issues, or what’s happening in the public schools. And the truth is, sponsored content is going to help strengthen newspapers, providing revenue that can bolster newsrooms.

I returned to the Press in a different role, no longer a reporter. I am now the Director of Sponsored Content, a new position for the organization.

What’s sponsored content?

Sponsored content is advertising that looks and reads just like a news story. Many of you have probably read sponsored content before and didn’t realize it. If you’ve clicked on links on web pages to read about which former NFL players are now broke or the 12 tips on how to cook the perfect Thanksgiving dinner, you’ve read sponsored content.

Since my return, I’ve written a half dozen sponsored content pieces about youth sports, financial education and health care, and fitness.

Is this sponsored content stuff really just advertorial with a new name?

No. Sponsored content is not advertorial, which has been around since the 1930s. While advertorial is a valuable form of advertising, sponsored content is fundamentally different because sponsored content pieces are written like a news story told by a marketing professional instead of the advertiser.

Having worked for an in-house marketing department, I understand messaging, targeting the right market, and knowing how to issue calls to action. Sponsored content stories are structured to engage, educate and entertain the reader, as well as build brand awareness and create goodwill toward the advertiser.

So what are the rules about sponsored content?

The truth is it’s the Wild West out there. Rules and guidelines are being established on the fly and standards vary greatly.  I am in a unique position because I get to help define those standards at The Press. I am committed to doing sponsored content the right way. That means sponsored content is clearly marked as such and it’s of the highest quality.

What will sponsored content look like at the Press?

Professional and well, really cool.  In my view, sponsored content must be truthful and accurate. For people to want to read it, it must be interesting and compelling. The stories are not focused on the advertisers themselves, but about an important issue or a hot trend. Done right, sponsored content is very effective. Customers will be talking about your sponsored story and they will view your business as a leading source for your product and services.

Why should businesses, nonprofits, and civic organizations purchase sponsored content with The Press?

The Coeur d’Alene Press gives you in-depth community news you can’t get anywhere else. It’s the hometown paper and I believe buying local is critical for our community to thrive. Personally, I spend my money in North Idaho whenever possible. Buying local is one of my core philosophies. I am raising my family here; my dollars stay here.

Most importantly, does sponsored content work?

Yes, it does. I wouldn’t be here if The Press and I didn’t believe it works. We’re following industry leaders like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times who have committed considerable resources to creating sponsored content. The response from those who have already purchased sponsored content has been very positive. Here is a portion of an email to me and one of our advertising sales representatives: “I want to personally thank you both for such an incredible article and layout. We have received lots of compliments.  It is always a pleasure working with The Coeur d'Alene Press!”

Here’s your call to action!

If you’re interested in buying sponsored content, contact the Coeur d’Alene Press sales team about securing a package. Special Section Sales Manager Kari Packer can be reached at 664-8176 ext. 3025 or kpacker@cdapress.com

Marc Stewart is the Director of Sponsored Content for the Coeur d’Alene Press. He can be reached at mstewart@cdapress.com or 208-664-8176, ext. 2011.

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