Native advertising panel highlights best practices

With more brands seeking to tell stories natively and more publishers expanding content capabilities, there’s an urgent need for all stakeholders to understand what goes into making native advertising that meets – and exceeds – expectations.  

That was evident at last week’s International News Media Association (INMA) conference, where “400 seats were packed with international media leaders, aware that native is becoming increasingly dominant,” as INMA reported.

Happily, the event convened a panel of leaders in the native space to help bring what makes excellent branded content to light. Bloomberg Media Global Head of Advertiser Marketing Amy Marks offered key insights, joined by top execs from the Atlantic magazine and Google.


Moderator Juan Senor speaks with Bloomberg Media Global Head of Advertiser Marketing Amy Marks, The Atlantic Vice President and Publisher Hayley Romer, and Google Director of Global Partnerships, US News & Publishing Nathalie Sajous at the INMA World Congress 2017.

First and foremost, Marks said, it’s critical to be flexible – recognizing that disruption is now a constant. “Best practices are changing just as much, just as quickly as the industry itself,” she said. “There is no one-size-fits-all ‘model’ that works best for native.”

That said, she added, there are foundational approaches that have proven  successful for Bloomberg Media Studios, the company’s content arm. Authentic storytelling, knowing your audience inside and out, and a readiness to truly work in partnership with clients are the core principles, Marks explained.

Authentic storytelling means taking an in-depth look at what kinds of editorial content appeals to your site’s audience – and then applying the same logic to native content, Marks said. “We found that stories that hit upon these areas had the deepest engagement,” she said, adding that for Bloomberg Media, this strategy dictates content that is rooted in data, provides global context, and is built to play across a wide spectrum of distribution channels. 


Bloomberg Media’s Amy Marks shares examples of Bloomberg Media Studios work at the INMA World Congress, May 23, 2017.

Similarly, publishers should always remember who they’re building content FOR, Marks said – and make sure they’re earning that audience’s time. “It’s increasingly difficult to engage audiences in general,” Marks said, particularly influential, business-focused audiences such as Bloomberg’s. Meaningful content can provide utility – for example, with unique data – or create a powerful emotional connection, as the program “Day Zero,” produced by Bloomberg Media Studios for Optum, did.  

What it doesn’t mean is using a new technology just because it’s the latest thing. Rather, said Marks, “stay true to the story – and then figure out the best platform and technology to tell that story.”  The Day Zero program is a compelling example of how that works in practice. Day Zero, which follows the life-saving journey of a double transplant patient, used innovative interactive video to layer in relevant context and illuminating interview segments – without diminishing the impact of the main narrative.


Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Marks said, be a true partner. “When you truly understand what your partner wants,” she said, “it will always be a success.”  This goes beyond simply recognizing a client’s marketing goals, to mastering a partner’s business goals. Understanding the business problems advertising messages are trying to solve, while also adding value for the audience, sets the bar for breakthrough native content.  

Marks cited a program created for Hartford Funds to illustrate this point. The Bloomberg Media Studios team built a series of custom content pieces that allowed Hartford Funds to “ride the news cycle” – providing unique, real-time perspective around such marketing-moving events as Brexit, the U.S. Presidential election and closely-watched economic reports. That gave affluent investors, financial advisors and business decision-makers an immediate resource to understand what the news meant for them – generating significant performance and engagement.

Related: Atlantic, Bloomberg, Google tout promise of native ads (INMA)

In summary, Marks said, while “ever partner, every idea is unique,” following the guideposts of staying true to your audience, staying true to the story, and being true to your partner – which, Marks noted, is easy to say, but hard to do in practice – can put media companies on right path. Even when it isn’t a straight line.

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– Jen Robinson | May 31, 2017