In an ongoing series of interviews with the individuals from Native Ad Studios around the world, we spoke with Evie Kevish, Project Manager at Shaw Media Marketing to get her thoughts on selling native ads.
During the interview, we learned that at Shaw Media Marketing, their secret is to sell native advertising is by showing the clients examples of successful campaigns.
Shaw Media is the publisher of about 80 newspapers and news websites in Illinois and Iowa. Shaw Media Marketing mostly creates native for hyperlocal SMB's across 11 of Shaw Media's publications.
The process of creating native
When and why did you begin creating branded content?
Evie: We started our Native Advertising platform in 2014. We had done some research and tried native ads out with a few clients. Their campaigns did really well so we decided to roll it out company-wide.
We wanted to offer this to our clients as a new and innovative way of advertising where they are featured as the expert on the topic featured in the article.
What is your creative process when creating native advertising?
Evie: Once the sales reps sell it, the contract is sent to me with all contact info. To start the process I have a call with the client. I always call first and then follow up with an email so they have my contact info and we can set up a call to discuss their campaign and objectives. I explain the program again and kind of pick their brain as far as what content ideas we are going to write about.
From there I will do some more research on the business. I will look at their website, blog, Facebook and Twitter to come up with topic ideas for their campaign. Then, I will get their topic ideas locked in for the year. The clients love this because it is so turnkey for them.
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When I have their approval I will assign the content to my writers. I usually give about 2 weeks for the writer to write the content. The writers send the content to me for approval and I proofread the content and send it to the client for approval before I schedule it. I offer the client to get back to me with any changes or revisions in addition to a photo if they have one. If not we provide a stock image to be featured with the article.
Once the content is posted on our site, it is featured on the homepage for 5 days rotating through the front blocks blended with editorial content. The articles are around 300 words or less and they have a photo, logo and tagline that is all linked back to their website. The content is also scheduled to be posted on Facebook and Twitter and sent out via eblast to our markets.
Do you collaborate with the editorial team?
The first few years we did, but now not as much. I just stay in touch with them here and there but overall we both run our own shows.
At first, the editorial team did not want native blended in with their content but as time went on things worked out. We would have monthly meetings to evaluate how native was doing within editorial and making sure we were not posting content at the same time. That way we would have fresh content rotated on the homepage of our sites constantly.
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We stopped collaborating because once we found a format that worked, we just stuck to it. We still communicate here and there but overall they know what I am supplying and I know what they are doing, so we do not step on each other's toes.
Working with clients
How much and in what ways are the brands involved in the creative process?
As much as they would like to be. Some clients are very involved but to be honest most of them are hands off and trusting in our expertise to deliver results.
If they are involved it is by helping to come up with ideas specifically tailored to their business.
Have you ever turned down clients?
We have never turned down a client. Year over year our program has grown and we have about 80% retention rate with our clients.
There have been times clients have said they do not want to invest the money in native advertising but that is when I loop in the Marketing Consultants and Sales Reps to meet with them. I will usually prepare a report of their current results and then the Marketing Consultant and Sales Rep will go over their results and show them the numbers and most of the time they usually stay on board.
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We usually provide reports annually or semi-annually depending on the client, but in cases like this sometimes it will be quarterly. It helps to go over the results with them and talk to them to see if there are any issues they are concerned with. Most of the time that keeps them happy and on board. They just need to see a visual that yes it is working and things are headed the right direction.
How do you set KPIs and measure the success of the campaigns?
I set KPIs by knowing the client's objective for the campaign. We look at engaged time spent, impressions, leads and conversions across all our platforms.
Engagement is the highest measuring factor. Our native ads usually have double the engagement of our editorial content.
Organising a team
How is your team organised?
We are 10 people on my team including myself. We have our own Video Production team which is great because we offer video as part of the native advertising package if clients wish to have it. We have a Digital Officer, a Revenue Director, a Digital Sales Manager, a Web Developer, a Designer, a Marketing Consultants and Sales Reps.
Do you have a separate sales team for native advertising?
We do not have a separate sales team for native advertising. All reps across all markets can sell native advertising to their clients and our Digital Sales Manager and Marketing Consultants have trained the Sales Reps to sell native advertising.
They will set up calls with current, former and new clients and then go on 4-legged calls to meet with the clients. They pitch them the Native Advertising Sales Deck and show live examples of current campaigns and how they are featured on our sites.
How important is it for the creative team and the sales team to collaborate?
This is very important on our end because we have to make sure we are fulfilling what the Sales Reps are selling.
We have to deliver what is being sold so we have to have clear communication across both channels so we can deliver and execute client goals in a timely manner.
And the other way around. The sales reps have to have a full understanding a be fully educated about all of our digital products. Native advertising is the most profitable product we offer within digital.
How to sell native advertising
What is the best way to sell native advertising and get new clients?
We have found that the best way to sell native advertising is to get in front of the client and show them examples.
The Marketing Consultant and Sales Reps will bring an iPad or Laptop to the meeting and pull up live examples. They will show them what it looks like on our homepage, what the article looks like when you open it, show them the eblast format and what it will look like in the paper.
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Another perk is having the video as part of the package. A lot of clients love this because the video can be used across multiple platforms. We encourage our clients to use the video on their own sites as well.
To attract new clients - that is something the Sales Team does separately. They will look at current clients in the same business category and pitch the competitors. If your competition is doing it, why aren't you?
How do you make sure that the collaboration is close?
I have weekly meetings to check in with the Marketing Consultants and Digital Sales Manager to make sure my team is not missing anything and that they are not either.
I also have a spreadsheet and checklists to ensure we are fulfilling each campaign and doing cross-checks with the Sales team.
Which parameters do you include when setting the price for a native advertising campaign?
We look at the value of individual components like the value of content on our website, Social Media, Eblast, Print, YouTube and Video, making sure we keep a margin and what the individual market will bear.
How do you convince brands to invest time, creativity and budgets in native advertising?
Usually, the Marketing Consultants and Sales Reps have shown results from other campaigns (without showing the actual client) to a potential client who is on the fence.
Once they see that the engagements, impressions and overall ROI/ROO are worth the investment they usually are ready to sign the contract to start their own campaign.
The biggest challenges and learnings
What are your biggest challenges when working with brands on native advertising?
I would say just having some of our clients understand that native is more of a branding tool versus an ad.
Sometimes clients like what they see at the sales meeting but then once it is implemented they will ask me why isn't the content directed to a CTA or directly calling them out in the article.
There are times I have to explain it to them again as more of an educational piece of content where they are featured as the expert. Then they usually have a better understanding and are ok with it.
What are your biggest challenges regarding native advertising in general?
I would say in some of our smaller markets it would be having the client understand the program needs time to be effective. They cannot just run native advertising for a couple of months and expect good results. They have to give it time.
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We overcome this challenge by going over reporting with them and let them see their current results and show examples of similar clients who ran a full year campaign.
What important learnings would you pass on to other publishers who want to improve or set up a native ad studio?/h3>
We have found that our clients love our turnkey process. When the Marketing Consultants and Sales Reps meet with the client it makes it so much easier when I have already created content ideas for them.
After a year of running the program we will go over their results and have a proposed calendar laid out for them for the next year and they just love that. I put a lot of thought and effort to come up with creative ideas that help their business.
I will look at topics that had high engagement and recommend to do that topic or a similar topic again in addition to coming up with new ideas for them. The clients love this because the creative process is done for them and they just have to sign off and leave it to us - the experts at Shaw Media to execute their campaign.
We then retain their business and help them grow.