Content group's new initiative will partner with advertisers on editorial content
June 01, 2015
Rogers Media’s publishing unit has introduced a content marketing offering that will include the names of advertisers on the cover and table of contents of both its English and French titles.
Unilever Canada and Lexus/Toyota are among the program’s first advertisers, the latter partnering with Maclean’s, L’actualité, Sportsnet Magazine and Canadian Business on an editorial series that is still in development.
Unilever, meanwhile, is partnering with Chatelaine on a program promoting the Hellmann’s “Real food movement” that will appear in the magazine’s July issue. Several other deals are currently “on the one-yard line” said Christopher Loudon, director of content solutions with the publishing unit.
Loudon told Marketing that advertisers’ cover presence is restricted to text attached to a headline. There are no plans to incorporate advertiser-related imagery.
The initiative opens up an editorial environment historically off-limits to advertisers. The package can include additional pages of adjacent advertising. Loudon did not disclose specifics on rates.
The new offering features all of the hallmarks of sponsored content, with content developed by Rogers’ editorial teams with advertisers’ objectives in mind. The plan is to have content be labelled as “presented in partnership with” and to be written and edited with no advertiser input.
Rogers began developing the program in February, with the first client presentation occurring in April. In that time, the company’s senior executives met with publishers and editors to determine what Loudon described as “the rules of engagement” for the program.
“For them this is quite a step forward… and the [100%] agreement around the table was that this is not only an essential evolution, but an important revolution,” he said. “They’re used to doing co-branded and advertorial content, and they understand that this is a logical amplification that is not only breakthrough, but essential.”
Steve Maich, senior vice-president and general manager, publishing for Rogers Media (which owns Marketing), said it is important for publishers to be proactive as print advertising revenues continue to fall.
In its most recent ad spend forecast, global media services firm ZenithOptimedia noted that erosion of Canadian print magazine advertising “accelerated” in 2014, falling 15.5% to $483 million following moderate declines in the previous three years. The report called for further erosion of 10% per year through 2017, when magazine spending will stand at $350 million.
Maich said it is imperative for publishers to tackle the problem head-on. “Given the rapidly changing media landscape, and [the] impact it’s had on the advertising business model, I would have grave misgivings about sitting back and doing nothing as print readership continues to decline and print ad budgets wither.
“I think it’s my job to keep looking for ways to work with advertisers so that our brands thrive financially, remain competitive, and can continue to produce great stories and vital journalism that serve the needs of our readers. If I wasn’t doing that, I wouldn’t be doing my job.”
Falling ad revenues have made publishers more receptive to advertising that pushes the traditional boundaries of church and state. U.S. publisher Time Inc. introduced cover ads last year, permitting small ads near the mailing label on titles including Time and Sports Illustrated.
While Maich said being on the cover and table of contents can provide “immeasurable value” for advertisers, he said the program’s true value is in advertisers’ ability to work collaboratively with Rogers editors to develop content that aligns with the publisher’s major editorial pillars.
The program appears to contravene some of Magazines Canada’s Advertising-Editorial Guidelines, as currently written.
The section relating to covers in the “Advertisers” section reads: “No advertisement may be promoted on cover of the magazine or included in the editorial table of contents, unless it involves an editorially directed contest, promotion or sponsored one-off editorial extra.”
A separate section, relating to special advertising sections, reads: “No special advertising section may be promoted on the publication’s cover or included in the editorial table of contents.”
Maich said those guidelines were developed for what made sense for the publishing industry at the time, and need to be updated to reflect the evolution of the publishing landscape.
“We know that maintaining the trust of our readers is paramount, and to me that means full transparency and honesty with readers on our relationships with advertisers, which we’re committed to doing,” he said. “Once a media brand adheres to this, you can then continue to innovate with clients to deliver effective messages that both meet their business objectives and deliver compelling stories to audiences.”
Loudon, meanwhile, predicted that directed content would eventually eclipse standard ROP advertising as advertisers move away from an advertising model that has favoured proximity to compelling content to being part of the content itself.
As the country’s largest magazine publisher, Loudon acknowledged that Rogers could potentially be ushering in a new era for print advertising.
“Obviously the industry is going to take notice and either react in kind or come up with its own version of content,” said Loudon. “It will be an interesting growth period.”