By John Bond
To many, sponsored content comes with more questions than answers. What exactly is it? Who writes it and who approves it? Is it worth the effort? Most recently, the main question raised by many association publishing professionals has been: Is it killing my credibility?
Sponsored content is material in a digital or printed publication that complements the publication's editorial content but is paid for by an advertiser and is intended to promote the advertiser's brand or message. It is often designed to look native to the environment in which it’s housed. Sponsored content can include advertorials, inserts-outserts, native advertising, white papers, ebooks, podcasts, webinars, events, and more.
At the recent Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting in June 2019 in Washington, DC, content marketer Michael Winkleman, president of Leverage Media LLC, led a panel of experts to engage the audience in a debate about sponsored content’s impact on credibility.
The panel consisted of Maggie McGary, CEO and chief strategist for, McGary Associates; Paul Tarricone, editor and publisher, LD+A, Illuminating Engineering Society; and Dianne Vance, CAE former director ad sales and business development ASCE.
Much of the worry about credibility stems from concerns that members and advertisers will be alienated by the improper use of sponsored content; that its presence will undercut an association’s standard-setting responsibility; that it will affect an association’s reputation for providing objective, unbiased content.
The panelists offered some insight on the topic:
Quality content, whether sponsored or not, will reflect well on the association and be valued by readers. Strive for sponsored content to be valued material.
Follow accepted practices and standards in the field to ensure that sponsored content is clearly identified.
An association can usually set its own rules or boundaries. Set these guidelines in advance.
An association must be able to say no to any request that pushes the boundaries and might risk member trust. Having clear guidelines and explaining how sponsored content works up front can help an association avoid this situation.
Make sure partners and advertisers understand the creation and approval process upfront. This means making sure they understand that the approach needs to be reader-driven.
The editorial and sales groups need to buy into the model, as well as have input. Bringing the task in-house or working with an experienced, trusted service provider can often help ease worries.
The panel felt that the association world has moved from the question of whether to produce sponsored content, to an expectation that this is one more way to deliver content—and generate revenue. The key takeaway is that it must be done well.
John Bond is a publishing consultant at RiverwindsConsulting.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.