5 Technology Requirements for Native Advertising Platforms

The excitement around native advertising has spawned a proliferation of “native advertising platforms.”  The market is ready to move past the hype and choose the best technology.

Here are five key technology requirements to focus on when choosing a native advertising platform, whether you’re building a native ad network, selling native advertising to your own advertisers, managing native ad campaigns for your clients, or looking to join a native ad network. Ask native ad platform providers the tough technology questions and make sure they can deliver.

1. Real-time publishing for brand content

Does the platform support feeds, APIs, and other methods for automatically importing and distributing new advertiser content in real time?

Brands that make big investments in continuously producing fresh content want that content published as native advertising as quickly as possible. They don’t want to pay for the distribution of stale content. Platforms that require uploading each piece of new content manually, as if it were display ad creative, do not support this key advertiser requirement.

A native advertising platform must support dynamic feed management, to automate and scale the flow of content from “brand newsrooms” to hundreds or thousands of publishers.

2. Efficient content management for advertisers

Does the platform enable advertisers to easily choose which content they want to distribute as native advertising, and to assign that content to specific campaigns, specific publishers, and even specific publisher sections?

The more content that brands produce, the more essential that efficient content management becomes.  Agencies need a simple dashboard for managing native ad campaigns as content feeds, to easily populate those feeds with brand content and assign them to publishers.  If the content management process for native advertising is not efficient for agencies, it won’t scale across multiple clients.

3. Editorial control for publishers

Does the platform have a simple interface for publishers to review native advertising content available from advertisers and choose which content to publish on their sites?

Editorial control is essential for publishers to protect their brands.  Native advertising works only if publishers can ensure that they are publishing the most relevant, high quality content.  In that respect, editorial control is also a key mechanism for optimization, enabling publishers to direct finite reader attention to native ad content that they know their readers will engage with.

The only way to attract top publishers into a native advertising network is to give them the control that they need to scale native advertising on their sites.  Networks built on native ad platforms that don’t provide editorial control will be at a significant disadvantage.

4. Publish native ad content IN the publisher’s CMS

Can the platform integrate with a publisher’s CMS, to publish the content in the CMS, so that it can be displayed as regular article pages, i.e. actually native?  Can the platform do more than simply link to the content on another site?

Some native ad platforms are merely linking off to where the content is published elsewhere.   If the content does not live on the publisher’s site, then it’s not native.

Top publishers who are running native ads are publishing the content in their CMS — this makes intuitive sense. To build a network of top publishers, a native ad platform must support backend CMS integration.  That means supporting a full range of content import processes, from RSS feeds to proprietary XML feeds to APIs like WordPress’ XML-RPC (standard on every WordPress site).

It’s a nonstarter to tell publishers that joining a native ad network means they must stop publishing the content in their CMS and instead shoehorn it in on the front end with javascript.

Javascript delivery of native advertising should be a fall back option, such as when a publisher uses a homegrown CMS that has no content import capabilities.  It’s one thing for ads and sidebar widgets to experience load delays when there’s lots of javascript executing on a page.  But it’s always going to be suboptimal to render native ad content with javascript when the editorial content is rendered server side by the CMS.

Bottom line, a native ad platform must enable the content to be served the same way the editorial content is served.

5. Automated content optimization

Can the platform automatically optimize content for distribution across a network of publishers?

If the advertiser is providing content from a blog feed, and the images are embedded in the text, but the publisher’s CMS requires them as separate content assets, can the platform automatically extract the images?

If publishers want links within the content back to the advertiser’s site to open in a new tab, can the platform automatically modify the HTML?

If the advertiser wants additional promotional links automatically added to the content, can the platform automatically add them?

Distributing content is not the same as serving ad creative.  Content needs to be formatted and presented properly, and the requirements vary across publisher sites and even across advertiser campaigns.  A native advertising platform needs to be adept at optimizing content, or distribution won’t scale.

Explaining Native Advertising to Publishers

Despite all the hype about native advertising, many publishers are still unclear about what native advertising is and why they should run native ads on their sites. Publishers need to understand the value of native advertising for their publications and for their readers.

Here is a primer on native advertising for publishers:

Valuable Advertising

Native advertising makes advertising valuable again for readers.

On the web and in mobile, readers do not value display ads. They do not value distractions and interruptions. They value high quality content, and they value control.

Native advertising is content produced by and for advertisers that is sufficiently interesting, relevant, and engaging that it is worthy of being presented in the same place as editorial content. Publishing advertiser content where editorial content is published is what makes it “native”.

Enhancing the Reader Experience

At its best, native advertising can enhance the editorial stream, not diminish or detract from it.  Native ad headlines and images, while clearly labeled as paid, fit well within a list of editorial headlines and images because the content is genuinely good.

Native advertising enhances the reader experience, rather than degrade it as display ads too often do.

Native advertising puts readers in control by earning their attention instead of trying to force it.  Readers choose to click on a native ad headline the same way they choose to click on an editorial headline.

Native advertising works well on desktop websites, but it works especially well on mobile devices, where readers are typically browsing streams of content.  High quality native ad content, inserted into the mobile content stream, is a much better reader experience than a tiny, illegible, interruptive display ad.

Publishers in Control

Native advertising also requires that publishers be in control.

Publishers control the flow of editorial content, ensuring that only high quality, engaging content is published. Publishers should be able to do the same for native advertising content, to curate and publish only the most relevant, highest quality content from advertisers.

Publishers should have a simple, efficient way to choose native ad content to automatically publish in their web CMS, or use in print. Publishers should be able to manage native ad feeds the same way they manage other syndicated content feeds.

Premium Pricing for Premium Value

Native advertising is a significant revenue opportunity for publishers because native ads are much more valuable to advertisers than display ads.

Advertisers value native advertising because they want to be more valuable to consumers. They don’t want to be ignored, as most display ads online are. Advertisers want their brands lifted by close association with the publisher’s brand.

CPM prices for display ads are dropping because the value is dropping. Consumers ignore display ads. They don’t click.

Publishers can charge a significant premium for native advertising precisely because the content is valuable to consumers. Consumer click on native ads because the content appeals to them.

Pricing for native advertising is still being determined by publishers, agencies, and advertisers.  Some publishers are charging flat fees, which may include helping advertisers create content.  Publishers are justifiably trying to avoid the CPM pricing associated with display advertising.

One national business publication cited a “cost per engagement” of $1.  That works out to a $1,000 CPM.  While pricing that high likely won’t last, it is indicative of the premium that advertisers will pay for readers actually engaging with their content, as opposed to loading a display ad that most readers ignore.

Ultimately, the better native advertising performs as content, the more publishers can charge for publishing native ads on their sites.

Native Advertising Metrics

Metrics for native advertising are simple — great advertiser content should perform like great editorial content. So the performance of native ads can be tracked the same way that the performance of editorial content is tracked:

  • Article page views — the consumer clicked on a headline and chose to view the content
  • Clicks on links within the article, e.g. back to the advertiser’s site
  • Social shares (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Time spent on the article
  • Number of advertiser articles read

By publishing native ads in their web CMS along with the editorial content, publisher can track the performance of native ads alongside the editorial content. The editorial content can actually help benchmark the performance of the native ad content.

New Business: Helping Advertisers Create Content

Native advertising can only succeed if advertisers have high quality content to publish on publishers’ sites.  In addition to the significant revenue opportunity of distributing native advertising, publishers can create a new business helping advertisers create content.

Creating great content is what defines great publishers.  If publishers can adapt these editorial skills to the business side, they can create a new revenue stream further up the “value chain” of publishing native ads.  With a business that creates content for advertisers, publishers could start hiring journalists again.

Who Will Control the Native Advertising Value Chain?

The display advertising value chain is dominated by ad exchanges and programmatic buying. But who will control the emerging market for native advertising, which depends on human factors to drive real value and scale?

Here are the four critical elements of the native advertising value chain, how they create value, and who is best positioned to control them:

1. Content creation

As Edelman’s Steve Rubel pointed out: “Very few brands have truly operational ‘newsrooms’ that are producing content with enough scale and — this is key — quality to match what the press does daily.”

Creating a newsroom is exactly the right way to frame the goal for scaling content creation to drive native advertising.  To be publishers, brands must develop the capacity of publishers. They must have newsrooms that can consistently produce fresh, high quality, engaging content. To make native advertising work, they need a continuous supply of new content, because there’s no value for consumers in constantly recycled stale content (not like running the same display ad creative over and over).

The organizations best positioned to help brands create newsrooms are the ones that already have newsrooms, that already employ journalists who create high quality content — publishers and… PR firms.

Publishers like BuzzFeed and Forbes, who are at the vanguard of scaling native advertising, have created dedicated newsrooms for brands. They are leveraging their own deep knowledge and experience with running newsrooms and creating high quality content at scale. Publishers also have the unrivaled advantage of being able to leverage their own publications to optimize brand content, i.e. the best way to figure out what content works is to publish it.

In recent years, PR firms have been hiring more journalists than news orgs have, and have great experience running newsrooms for brands.  While PR firm newsrooms haven’t traditionally been focused on content marketing, they do know how to create content that meets the standards of big brands, and they have developed boutique businesses in digital around content marketing.  PR firms have also traditionally been in the business of developing relationships with publishers based on providing editorial value, rather than transactions, so they are well positioned to develop a native ad media buying capacity, which could compete with that of existing media buying agencies.

Of course, media buying agencies still control most of the brand advertising budgets, and publishers and PR firms may well seek strategic alliances with these buyers.

Not to be counted out are the many boutique content marketing agencies, which already create content for brands, often in partnership with the big agencies.

A publisher, PR firm, or agency that develops a robust newsroom for brands, and can cost effectively scale the creation of high quality brand content, is best positioned to control this element of the value chain.  (And most likely to get bought up by the big agency holding companies that own the media buying agencies, control the budgets, and always end up owning all the pieces of the value chain.)

2. Feed management

The only way to scale the distribution of content produced by a “brand newsroom” is the same way that publishers manage content distribution at scale — feeds.

Manually uploading advertising content, one piece at a time, like traditional display ad creative, isn’t going to cut it. Not for the firehose of newsroom output.

A feed is simply a stream of content, but it’s a powerful mechanism for delivering continuous content value. It’s no accident that Facebook organized its core stream of social content as a “news feed”.  Twitter is essentially a never ending feed of 140 characters. Feeds define the content consumption paradigm for mobile, where consumers will increasingly consume most of their content.

Feed are how brands can efficiently organize and manage native advertising content across campaign goals, products, audiences, and markets.  The brand newsroom churns out content, which is curated into feeds that are then plugged into publishers for distributing the content as native advertising.

In fact, for media buyers, “feed management” is what campaign management becomes in native advertising.  Instead of flighting creative, you’re managing a continuous stream of content.  The ideal native advertising interface for a media buyer allows them to take a feed of brand content coming from the newsroom, set a campaign budget, and then choose the publishers (and even specific publisher sections) that are the best fit for the brand and for that particular feed of content.  They can choose the publishers that perform best for each content category, and specify any other targeting criteria.

Simply check a few boxes, and a content feed becomes a native ad campaign.

A native advertising platform designed to manage feeds at scale, that automatically imports content from brand newsroom and enables brand content feeds as native ad campaigns, will be best positioned to own this link in the native ad value chain.  It’s a platform capability that any player who wants to own and control brand content creation will need to have.

3. Editorial control

Publishers with the most respected brands — which have the greatest value as a context for native advertising — will not cede control over their editorial content streams to an ad network that programmatically controls the selection of brand content.

Denying publishers editorial control over native ad content is the enemy of scale. Publishers that value their brands — which is the greatest asset that any publisher has — simply won’t go for it.

The key to editorial control is providing an efficient workflow for editors to select native ad content that fits the publication brand and will be valued by readers, and to share that editorial judgment across a network of editors.

A native advertising platform designed for content curation, efficient newsroom workflows, and enabling network effects for editorial judgment, is best position for this dimension of the value chain.

4. Native ad publishing

Brand content is only truly native if it’s published in the publisher’s CMS, not merely presented on the surface like a display ad. That’s a key to the native advertising value chain for publishers like BuzzFeed and Forbes, who give advertisers direct access to their CMS.

But manually entering brand content in a publisher’s CMS won’t scale across hundreds and thousands of publishers.  Just as brands need feed management to scale the distribution of their content, publishers need deep integration with their CMS on the backend to scale native ad publishing.

A native advertising platform that natively integrates with a publisher’s CMS — from open source CMSs like WordPress and Drupal to the proprietary (and even home grown) CMSs of large media companies to print editorial systems — is best positioned to control native ad publishing.

In fact, the term “native ad publishing” much more accurately describes the true content aspirations of native advertising, which is about shifting the value for brands from advertising to publishing.

Native Advertising in Print Could Save Newspapers

Premium pricing for premium value has made native advertising the great hope for publishers desperate to escape the death spiral of plunging CPM prices for display advertising.  For newspapers, premium pricing for premium value is why print advertising cash flow is still keeping their businesses afloat.

Native advertising could be the long hoped for bridge to a digital future for newspapers, to finally achieve the kind of premium pricing for digital advertising that they have in print, and to effectively monetizing the rapid rise of mobile news consumption.  But near-term, the opportunity for newspapers with native advertising is not just digital.

Newspapers should sell native advertising in print.

Magazines have been running “advertorials” for years, i.e. native advertising in print is not a new idea.  Forbes, for example, wisely extends its BrandVoice native advertising program into print:

Forbes is very smart to position the value of native advertising in print as a complement to the value in digital:

Newspapers can and should do the same.  And some already are. The New York Post ran this ad for their new native advertising program… in the print newspaper:

There is clearly demand for businesses to have a “voice,” to be part of the conversation with consumers, beyond the pure marketing of display ads.  Newspaper brands are still an extremely high value, trusted context for making your voice heard.

For businesses, reversing the old adage, 1,000 words printed in a newspaper are actually worth far more than a 300×250 picture on the web.  For local businesses in particular, having a substantive voice in the affairs of their community has huge value.  It’s a way to brand themselves as an integral part of the community, and worthy of local consumers’ business.

With their new focus on marketing services, newspapers could for example help local business leaders start blogs, with that content appearing as native ads in print and in the newspaper’s digital products.  In fact, for newspapers that help brands create content, distributing that content in print and the newspaper’s website would be a powerful complement to the social and search distribution that the newspapers’ marketing services have been selling.

Just as many publishers are still using display ads to complement native ads in digital, newspapers could run native ads for local businesses alongside their display ads — so no cannibalization. Cannibalizing print ad dollars is the great fear of every newspaper sales team, and such fear is how they have managed in many cases to thwart the development of new digital ad models.

But with native ads, the print sales team can not only protect but actually grow their key accounts.  It’s the alignment of interests that every newspaper publisher has been struggling with in the business model transition.

Will native ads in print break the church/state barrier and destroy the newspaper’s credibility? Not if it’s done right.  It’s all about transparency. The key is readers need to know the content is paid for.  Keep in mind that display ads in print are not typically labeled as ads — even when they started appearing on the once sacrosanct front page.  Traditional display ads in print work because consumers have learned over time how to recognize them as ads.  With ads as content in print, consumers can also learn, with the right labeling and design framework, to distinguish pay-for-play content from editorial content.

The Washington Post recently launched Sponsored Views, which lets businesses and advocacy organizations pay to have their comments appear at the top of the Post’s comments section.

It’s a not big leap from there to giving businesses a voice in print with native ads.

Native ads in print could also revitalize the appeal of newspapers to national advertisers, by providing a seamless extension for the digital distribution of branded content into print.  For a native ad network, extending the value into print could be a significant near-term arbitrage opportunity, and a key competitive advantage (albeit counterintuitive).

With a native ad platform that supports both digital and print distribution, newspapers can scale native ads across all their products, with the sales team fully aligned on the value for key accounts.  With a native ad platform that supports both local sales and a national network, newspapers can maximize the near-term cash flow from print and have a much greater chance of succeeding with the longer-term transition to digital.

5 Types of Advertising That Are NOT Native Advertising

When a term is as hot and hyped as “native advertising”, it’s inevitable that everyone will want to appropriate it to describe everything they are doing. Which means the term will be widely misappropriated.

While it’s still open for debate exactly what native advertising is, it’s useful to agree on what native advertising is NOT. Here are 5 types of advertising that are not *native* advertising:

1. Advertiser content that’s a poor fit with a publisher’s brand

  • “15 Crazy Dance Crazes” on a financial news and commentary site
  • “Men Only: The Case Against Exercising” and “2 Metabolism-Destroying Foods to Avoid at All Costs” on a high-end real estate site
  • “Rare plant may increase muscle growth 700% — but is it an unfair advantage?” on a state capital news site

If it makes the editorial staff cringe or quake, it’s NOT native advertising.

The problem for the publisher’s brand is an issue of both relevance and content quality. Many publishers have tolerated low quality content that’s a poor brand fit when it was just links on their site. But when the content actually *appears* on their site, the potential for brand damage and alienating readers is much greater.

Ensuring the brand fit that makes the advertising native can’t be managed by an algorithm, it requires editorial judgment.

2. Link to advertiser’s site that takes you off the publisher’s site

If you leave the publisher’s site to engage with the content on the advertiser’s site, you’re off the reservation. Literally. The key to *native* advertising is the value of the publisher’s BRAND, and the value to the advertiser’s brand of appearing in the *context* where the publisher’s editorial content appears.

The value of the publisher’s brand and the editorial context is lost if you leave the publisher’s site.

Brands understandably want to build their own destination sites, and there are plenty of effective ways to buy traffic with links. But that’s NOT native advertising.

3. Advertiser content that isn’t in the publisher’s CMS

Delivering native ad content with javascript onto a publisher’s site, like a display ad, is likely to be the simplest option for many publishers. But if the content only appears to be on the publisher’s site, then it’s not really native. It may fool consumers, and that may be sufficient in many cases.

But there’s a reason why publishers like BuzzFeed and Forbes, who are leading the charge on native advertising, have given advertisers direct access to their CMS on the backend. These publishers want to give advertisers access to the same content tools used by their editorial staff.

Only by publishing the content IN the publisher’s CMS, just like the editorial content, can ad content be truly native. Native advertising doesn’t need to simulate the publisher’s template and styling if it’s in the publisher’s CMS alongside the editorial content.

For a native advertising platform, the ideal integration with a publisher’s site, where possible, is on the backend, directly into the CMS. The larger, more sophisticated publishers, and advertisers, will ultimately demand this approach.

4. Fixed position above or below the content stream

Native advertising headlines need to appear dynamically WITHIN the editorial content stream. That’s what makes, for example, Twitter’s Promoted Tweets so native — they are IN the stream.

A fixed position above or below the content stream is just a display ad position that happens to have content in it (which has been around for a long time). It may be advertiser content, but it’s not *native* advertising.

5. Advertiser content that’s not in a feed

When publishers and editors talk about the flow of editorial content, they talk about FEEDS. Feeds are fundamental to news, and they are fundamental to mobile, where the optimal user experience for content is a feed, i.e. a stream.

If advertiser content must be added to a native ad platform as separate, disconnected items, then it’s not a FEED , and therefore it’s not managed in the same way as the editorial content. If  advertiser content is not in a feed, then it’s not a continuous flow of value, like a publisher delivers — it’s just a one-off ad, like a display ad.

Native advertising isn’t flighted, it flows continuously. It’s iterative. It tells a story over time.

Truly native advertising requires “feed management”, whereby feeds of advertiser content are integrated with feeds of editorial content to create a seamless user experience.  That’s how brands can achieve the continuous engagement that they want from native advertising.

For brands to truly go native, and for native advertising to scale, advertisers must manage and distribute their content via feeds, just like publishers.

Scaling Native Advertising

How will native advertising scale?

That’s the question on the mind of every brand advertiser, ad agency, and publisher.

Native advertising has emerged as a great hope for the future of advertising, to capture the billions of brand ad dollars expected to shift from TV, where mass audiences are finally collapsing, and from online display advertising, where already rock bottom prices, consumer attention, and effectiveness continue to plummet.  Native advertising is also a great hope for monetizing mobile, where display ads aren’t just dying but DOA and digital dimes have turned into pennies at best.

The hope for native advertising is based on its potential to create immense value for everyone involved:

Value for Consumers

At its best, native advertising gives consumers content that is genuinely interesting, engaging, and useful.  As BuzzFeed has pioneered, the best native ad content can be so engaging that consumers share it with their friends.

Native advertising is a stark contrast to the interruptive advertising model and to display ads that are so uninteresting, useless, and value destroying that “banner blindness” is now universal.

Native advertising truly is NATIVE when consumers can value the content the same way they value editorial content.

Value for Brands

Brands buy display ads because they know they have to follow consumers online, but they have always been skeptical of the value for branding (e.g. advertiser obsession with clicks when the campaign goal is supposed to be branding).

Brands want to be the center of attention, to command consumer engagement. Brands don’t want to be stuck in the sidebar.  And even when the display ad takes over the page, smart brands know that this kind of hostile action doesn’t create positive brand associations.

Pissing off consumers is not how you build brands.

Native advertising enables brands to effectively leverage the consumer attention that publishers still command, with content that can engage those consumers as much as (or, holy grail, even more than) the publisher’s own editorial content.  That’s the kind of value-creating engagement that builds brands.

Value for Publishers

Native advertising gives publishers a golden opportunity to correct the true “original sin” of online publishing — display advertising.

Native advertising has such huge potential for publishers precisely because, unlike display advertising, it can create real value for consumers and advertisers.  When value is aligned for consumers and advertisers, publishers win.

But native advertising can also enable publishers to overcome the most destructive aspect of online display advertising, which is that display ad networks can target a publisher’s premium audience via cookies when that audience goes elsewhere (i.e. when they visit less expensive sites).  The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal explored this problem in great depth, and sums it up like this:

“Now you can buy the audience without the publication.”

With native advertising, the value shifts back to the *publication* itself, to the premium native *context* that publishers create and which can’t be reproduced and sold at lower cost elsewhere.  Native ad content can only be *native* to a publication, and get the lift from the publisher’s brand, on the publisher’s own site.

Native advertising could also solve the huge problem publishers have with mobile, which is that they would go out of business tomorrow if their audience went 100% mobile, due to the abjectly poor monetization.  Twitter’s native ad format, Promoted Tweets, has shown exceptional performance in mobile. Native ads in mobile could be the perfect alignment of value for consumers, brands, and publisher.

For newspapers, there’s an additional opportunity — run native ads in print. Magazines have been doing it for years with advertorials and have made it kosher with proper labeling. Newspapers can’t afford to overlook an opportunity to generate more revenue from print, given the fixed cost, if it can be done in a way that creates real value for consumers.

So much potential, and yet…

To be valuable to brand advertisers, native advertising must SCALE.  Brand advertising needs *reach*, and without scale, there’s no reach.

Native advertising faces two huge barriers to scale:

1. Scaling Content Creation

Madison Avenue is structured to produce “creative”, not content in the editorial sense, which is required for native advertising to be effective.

BuzzFeed is at the forefront of creating a scalable model for native ad content creation. They aren’t just creating content for brands that is similar to their editorial content — it’s literally the same.  That’s what makes it truly NATIVE.

The BuzzFeed team that creates native ad content for advertisers is not some watered down version of the editorial team appended to some marketing department.  It’s fully equivalent.  They create content that is indistinguishable from BuzzFeed’s editorial content in terms of quality, consumer engagement and social distribution.  It just happens to be paid for by a brand.

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Paretti is the first to admit that creating great content that will actually engage consumers does not scale in the traditional Silicon Valley sense.  But BuzzFeed is taking a fundamentally human process and optimizing it for scale. One key is training agencies to use BuzzFeed’s content creation platform, which could transform agencies into a scalable network of native ad content creators.

Who Employs the Ad Content Creators?

The irony is that the advantage in scaling native ad content creation will go to whoever employs the most journalists.   PR firms are very well positioned — they have been hiring journalists for years. They could pivot their niche digital content and microsite business into scalable content machines.

Of course, news organizations are arguably best positioned. Instead of laying off journalists and sending them to off to PR firms, they could re-employ them to create native ad content.  Dallas Morning News, for example, created Speakeasy, a joint venture with a local agency, that creates content for local businesses, which could be used to scale native advertising for local.  Forbes hired a team of writers and editors to help brands produce content for their BrandVoice native ad platform.

The advantage will likely go to whoever can combine the best content creators with the best content creation platform technology.

2. Scaling Content Distribution

The second barrier to native advertising scale is distribution — achieving the “reach” that  brand advertising demands.  No individual publisher will be able to deliver this kind of reach alone.  That’s why BuzzFeed is building a native ad network. It’s why Google launched AdSense once they perfected AdWords on their own property. Given the inherent fragmentation of the web, you need a network to scale distribution.

As Buzzfeed President Jon Steinberg explains it:

“We always wanted the business not to be limited by the scale of our site,” Mr. Steinberg said. “That means figuring out places to what we do other than on Buzzfeed.com.”

Algorithms are Too Risky

Everyone is assuming that native advertising will scale distribution the same way that search and display advertising did — through algorithms and automation.  But native ads can’t scale that way because of the risk of damaging both the advertiser’s and publisher’s brand is so high.

The brank risk for advertisers can be overcome to some degree by giving them control over which publications their ads appear in.  Since a native ad is the primary content on a page, inappropriate content adjacency is not as significant a concern.  If brands have a feed of content (e.g. from a blog), they will also need to control what content is made available as a native ad, since all content in a given feed might not be appropriate.

The brand risk for publishers, however, is much more difficult to overcome.  After the Scientology debacle, which has become a cautionary tale for the risk that native advertising poses to publishers, The Atlantic said that “native ads will go through a two-part review.” This was a rational response, given the need to protect their high value brand.

But such a review process is a huge barrier to scale.

Existing Display Ad Tech Won’t Work

And that’s why existing ad tech won’t work for native advertising.  Ad tech designed to scale based on semantic targeting and automated placements would create huge brand risk.  There’s a lot more at risk when a poorly targeted ad appears in the main content stream than when it appears off to the side where consumers ignore it anyway.

For example, a Pepsi-sponsored video of Beyonce’s new dance routine, while high quality and valuable content, is not a brand fit with BoingBoing.  Cleaning tips from Cottonelle is not a brand fit with a business news site.

What makes ad content “native” is much more than just making it appear like editorial content on a site — that’s just a superficial styling trick, which is commodity technology.  What makes the ad native is how well the topic, voice, and substance fit with the publisher’s brand, so that it flows with the editorial content, not sticks out like a sore thumb.  To achieve that kind of brand fit and relevancy requires human editorial judgment.

Native Ad Platform Must Scale Editorial Judgement

To scale distribution, native advertising needs an ad platform that can scale human editorial judgement and provide an efficient interface for publishers and brands to control the flow of native ad content.

Brands need to be able to choose the publications and curate content best suited to appear natively on those sites.

Publishers, then, need to be able to curate the native ad content available from those advertisers. Publishers need to apply editorial standards, which only human judgment can do, and optimize content selection for relevance and brand fit.  A native ad platform needs to enable publishers and editors to do what they do best — create the best content package for consumers.

That’s the kind of deep content integration, beyond superficial styling, that native advertising needs to succeed and create real value at scale, and an algorithm can’t do it. But technology-enabled editors can do it, at scale.

A native ad platform could achieve even greater scale through network effects, by sharing editorial judgment across the network.  Brands should be able to see which publishers and editors are publishing their content, and publishers should be able to share judgments about which native ad content is highest quality and most trustworthy.   Platforms ranging from Digg to Twitter have shown that network effects are the key to scaling editorial judgment.

Google’s AdWords/AdSense brilliantly combined relevancy, as determined principally by an ad’s clickthrough rate, with the cost-per-click bid.  A native ad platform needs to similarly combine  human quality judgment with a cost bid to create a liquid marketplace.

Native Ad Platform Must Be a CONTENT Platform

Lastly, a scalable native ad platform needs to be designed to handle content.  Native ad content needs to be optimized so that it appears native in each publication, to give advertiser the full brand lift of the publication’s brand.

A truly native advertising network can’t be a “link economy,” it needs to optimize the user experience by publishing the brand’s content directly into the publication, natively, right alongside the publication’s editorial content. Especially in mobile, it’s a essential to create a continuous content experience that seamlessly combines editorial and native ad content, without bouncing users out of the app or responsive site. Quartz has done a great job creating that kind of optimized mobile experience for native ads. On the other end of the platform spectrum, imagine flowing native ad content into a print editorial system.

But all that heavy duty content optimization and integrated publishing is not what display ad tech was designed to do. A platform for native advertising must be, at its core, a content platform.

AdWords + AdSense Equivalent for Native Ads

It’s instructive to remember that Google actually copied the pay-per-click search advertising model from Overture, but Google ultimately won because they first achieved scale for AdWords on their own search property. This gave them a pivotal advantage over Overture’s pure ad network model, because Google grew a much larger base of advertisers and ads via AdWords, which they were able to scale across the AdSense network.

Publishers like BuzzFeed, Forbes, Quartz, and Yahoo have the advantage of using their own sites to perfect their content creation platforms for native advertising.  Whoever perfects that native advertising equivalent of AdWords will then need the platform equivalent of Applied Semantics, the company Google acquired to create AdSense.  The Applied Semantics of native advertising will be the platform that makes editorial judgment scalable for distribution.

Success in native advertising will be about technology-enabling human editorial work, on both the supply side and the demand side, at network scale.

The allocation of ad budgets to native advertising will likely be dramatic and disruptive. The question is, when the money flows, which content creation and distribution platforms for native advertising can scale to capture those dollars?

Legacy Newspaper Editorial Systems Really Are Killing the Industry

The newspaper industry has staked its future on failed legacy newspaper editorial systems that require “tremendous effort and patience“. GateHouse Media could not implement this old desktop software masquerading in the “cloud” because it required too much bandwidth. Seriously! What is this, 1996?

This legacy print CMS software is so ineffective, so destructive to digital innovation (not to mention legacy cost reduction), that newspaper executives are ready to take drastic measures — cut it off like a rotting limb. That’s what John Paton, CEO of Digital First media, is contemplating:

“[Digital has] got to move faster. I think it has to be more independent. It’s my job to figure out the encumbrances between the print assets and the digital assets. It’s my job to ensure that digital, if it’s going to be our future, is well funded and has as fast a path to success as possible.

I’m beginning to think that the very best way I can do that is to have it stand alone separate so that it can — unencumbered from the print piece — be able to do things we think it should do as a content company and as a sales company in the digital space.”

Paton isn’t talking about the print product itself that’s holding back digital. He’s talking about the software used to produce the print product, the same legacy print editorial system, which is putting DFM’s digital ambition and future at risk of failure.

Obsolete software and failed system architecture is one of the newspaper industry’s greatest “encumbrances,” a barrier to innovation, and ultimately a barrier to survival.

It’s not at all surprising that legacy print editorial systems in the “cloud” are failing, systemically, at every major news organization that has rolled them out. It’s not what they were designed to do.

And yet GateHouse is sticking with their legacy vendor. Why? Because they have invested millions of dollars and years (years!). But more significantly, they probably don’t know that there is an alternative.

But there is. A whole new paradigm for newsroom technology.

Forget the CMS. Stop searching for the grand unified CMS that does everything. It’s a unicorn. CMSs are designed to do one thing, e.g. produce a newspaper, a website, a blog, etc.

Publish2’s platform is a technology layer ABOVE the CMS. Publish2 commoditizes the CMS, and overcomes all of its limitations. Publish2 connects a newspaper’s old and new CMSs to work dynamically as if they were one.

Above all, Publish2 liberates newspapers from the CMSs that are holding them back, so they can create news digital products that drive new revenue while producing the print product more cost effectively.

True digital-first workflow, new sites, new apps, new revenue-driving products — it’s easy, not hard.

Ready for total CMS freedom? Get in touch.

Old Dogs New Tricks and Crappy Editorial Systems

​”You can’t fix what you won’t admit is wrong.” says Digital First Media CEO John Paton of the newspaper industry. That much needed tough love applies to the newspaper industry’s struggle with legacy editorial systems. (The title of this post is inspired by the title of of a recent talk by Paton.)

Newspaper executives have been sold on content hub solutions by the “old dogs” of news industry technology — the print editorial system vendors — whose “new tricks” are failing because they are implementing clouds solutions with desktop software architecture.

​Executives at news companies are beginning to realize, to their dismay, that although these print editorial system vendors have slick brochures, their cloud content hub solutions are mostly “smoke and mirrors” (to quote an executive).

News executives bought into these print-CMSs-in-cloud-clothing because neither they nor their IT executives have little basis to understand why the desktop editorial software they have used for so many years can’t simply be put into the cloud. Creating a dynamic network across newsrooms requires an entirely different software architecture, which legacy editorial system vendors could only create by completely rewriting their software from scratch… which none of them has done.

​The first step for news executives to admitting that they have a serious technology problem is understanding why the technology they have is wrong. News executives previously didn’t have to understand much about technology, but as Silicon Valley has driven the convergence of media and technology at an accelerating rate, all media companies must be as savvy about technology as they are about content.

​A simple way to understand why legacy editorial system vendors can’t deliver cloud content solutions is to draw an analogy to office productivity software. Imagine if Microsoft took the desktop version of Office — Word, Excel, PowerPoint — and put it on server. Would that be the equivalent of Google Apps, a web application designed from the core to enable collaboration in the cloud?

Of course not. In fact, Microsoft, with its massive development resources, only released a cloud version of Office last year — that’s how hard it is and how long it takes to re-architect desktop software for the cloud. Yet legacy print CMS vendors have been selling cloud content hubs for years — how much re-architecting do you think they did?

Based on what we’ve heard about the struggles that news companies have had with these legacy print CMS content hubs — even just keeping them from crashing constantly — not very much re-architecting at all.

Content management in the cloud, connecting disparate systems, workflows, content formats and types, is a complex problem — one that is too often beyond software not originally designed to solve it.

To make matters worse, implementing a single CMS that promises to do everything has proven to be a disastrous decision. But the alternative — a network that connects legacy and new systems with a flexible cloud-native architecture — was not a solution the old dogs could deliver.

As Paton said, “I meant what I said earlier when I used the word struggle.”

News companies have invested millions of dollars in “crappy” hacked technology with fundamentally bad architecture. How hard do you think it is for news executive to admit that they have a fundamental problem?


But to quote Paton again:

“We ignore this at the risk of killing our business but worse we ignore it when the solution to our future is sitting under our noses if… we would only let go of the past and embrace the future.”

Couldn’t have said it better. The news industry needs Paton-like truth telling about their core content technology. And the solutions are right under the industry’s nose — content platforms architected from the ground up to bring the news industry into the cloud, to create dynamic networks that turn siloed newsrooms into a fully integrated news operation.

Unfortunately, the politics of bad technology decisions have left some of the largest news company scrambling to overcome the failings of “smoke and mirrors” products. But even these problems can be overcome with properly architected technology — not by abandoning failed platforms, but by filling in the gaps.

The news industry is beginning to embrace Jon Paton’s tough message about what’s broken and how to fix it. Hopefully, they will soon begin to embrace his message as it applies to broken content management technology.

Legacy Editorial Systems and CMSs Are Killing the News Industry’s Digital Transformation

The news industry’s digital transformation is being thwarted and outright threatened by legacy editorial and content management systems that were not designed to build a bridge from old to new.  Here are seven ways that legacy CMSs are hurting the news industry:

1. Creating content in a print editorial system is NOT digital-first
Many print editorial system vendors have convinced newsrooms that creating content in a front-end system and then “sending” it to the web counts as digital-first. These same newsrooms have used web-native blog software like WordPress to create true-digital first workflows where reporters publish on the web first and continuously update stories.  Excellent workflow tools (e.g. Edit Flow, NYT’s Integrated Content Editor) have been developed for platforms like WordPress that make it truly viable to publish everything digital-first by using a blog or web CMS as the newsroom’s primary CMS.

But this web-first content has no way to make it back into the editorial system for the print workflow… other than copying and pasting, or forcing reporters and editors to recreate these stories. That’s a huge disincentive to being digital-first! It’s telling that most newsrooms still think of this as “reverse publishing” — you can imagine the gears of the legacy editorial system grinding as you try to force it into reverse, but it gets stuck in neutral!

Newsrooms that create content in a print editorial system remain anchored to print-first workflows, and that puts digital products and digital revenue last.

2. No way to efficiently share content or create integrated workflows across newsrooms
Legacy editorial systems, which were designed as siloed desktop software that runs in each newsroom, have hacked an ostensible “content hub” layer on top of their outdated software architecture and sold it to news companies on the promise of internal content sharing.  These print editorial systems masquerading as hub solutions have not only proven notoriously unstable (see 7 below), they have failed to enable any kind of viable workflow for sharing content across newsrooms.

Giving every newsroom access to every other newsroom’s content via a shared database is not a workflow!  Imagine an individual newsroom, or a national desk, rooting through piles of local content to find stories of broader interest.  It’s like stealing from your sibling’s room — it’s a recipe for strife and frustration.

News companies are all focused on transforming from holding companies for local news orgs into fully integrated media companies that can leverage all of their content in new digital products.  Given the strategic importance of integrating newsroom operations, the failure of these print editorial system pseudo-hubs is particularly distressing.

3. Can’t create distinctive apps and mobile products when powered by a web CMS
There is a huge opportunity for news orgs to create apps that are highly differentiated from their websites, to support both a subscription model and premium advertising.  But how is that possible when all that news orgs have to power apps are the feeds from their website?  If content doesn’t go into the web CMS, then it doesn’t go into the app. Forget creating a content package distinct from the website, or curating content from new local and national sources.

For years, news orgs were criticized for “shoveling” print content onto the web. Now legacy CMSs are forcing them to re-shovel content into apps and mobile.

4. Can’t curate new content sources outside the newsroom
Apps like Flipboard and Pulse are seeing huge consumer adoption by aggregating content from top news sources and presenting it in innovative tablet user interfaces. Can news orgs compete? Not if their app is powered by their web CMS!

Outside of commodity wire content, news orgs have no way to aggregate content from new local and national sources because they have no way to get it into their CMS, and so no way to get it into their apps. Local news brands could create compelling new products by combining their original local content with a network of local and national content partners. In fact, they could use new content sources to enhance their print product in parallel.

Unfortunately, their editorial systems assumed that all they would ever use is commodity wire content. FAIL.

5. Downsized newsrooms are drowning in inefficient workflows (copy/paste/email/reformat)
Everyday, we hear about workflows based on copying and pasting from one legacy editorial system or CMS to another, or emailing content from one newsroom to another.  How can you ask newsrooms to do more with less and then ask them to spend hours a day hacking their way around deficiencies in their legacy content management systems? Newsrooms are so beaten down with these hacked workflows that it never even occurs to them that there could be a better way, that content management technology can actually create efficiencies instead of headaches.

6. Can’t integrate with partners and distribution channels
Want to share content with regional partners. Open up that legacy CMS, copy, paste, email. Want to use content from regional partners. Open up your inbox, open the email, copy, paste. Lather, rinse, repeat. Want to distribute content to a new channel or platform? Create an IT project to produce a custom feed — if you’re lucky! With a legacy editorial system, connecting with external partners is as efficient as a game of phone tag.

7. Content hubs built with legacy print editorial systems have been a disaster
Can you imagine in an age of agile cloud software an implementation plan that is slated to take 12-18 months?  That’s how long most news companies have had to budget to roll out print editorial system pseudo-hubs.  It’s desktop software, so if you have 50 newsrooms with thousands of people, that’s a lot of installations!  Hard to imagine in the age of the cloud.  Also hard to imagine that news companies should be in the business of maintaining servers that are more reliable than Amazon Web Services, or maintaining software code that has been hacked to do something it was never designed to do.

So it’s no surprise that these print CMS pseudo-hub implementations have produced notorious failures.  We know of implementations at some of the largest news companies that constantly crash, have horrible 15-year-old Windows desktop user interfaces, and rather than create efficiencies have turned into black hole time sinks.

We Feel Your Pain — There’s a Better Way!
We designed Publish2 for newsrooms to overcome all of these limitations and more, without actually changing any of these legacy editorial systems or spending a dime on upgrading them. When we implement Publish2, we ask the newsroom to imagine their dream digital-first workflows, what would be optimally efficient, and what they never thought possible with their legacy CMS. And then we make it happen, like magic.

Publish2 can:

  1. Deliver digital-first content into print CMS wire queues — the newsroom can go digital-first by turning digital content into an internal wire service for print. Newsrooms are free to adopt any blog or web CMS without worrying about integrating with legacy editorial system.
  2. Enable seamless sharing of content across newsrooms (including newspapers and broadcast TV) by connecting legacy editorial systems.  No need to purchase expensivee upgrades or spend 12-18 months consolidating on a legacy system that won’t deliver any efficiencies.
  3. Power apps and mobile sites that are highly differentiated from desktop websites, with distinct original content and content curated from a network of partners.
  4. Enable local and national content partnerships, to create new local products with curated content that engages consumers better than the best Silicon Valley news aggregator startups.
  5. Eliminate all copy/pasting/emailing/reformatting from newsroom workflows. Enough is enough!
  6. Enable seamless content sharing and distribution. No need to create an API and deploy development resources that you don’t have. With Publish2, you can connect with any partner or platform — it just works.
  7. Provide a reliable, scalable, efficient software-as-a-service to enable news orgs’ digital transformation.  That’s all we do.  And that’s why we’re really good at it.

The Real Cost of Newsroom Inefficiency

How many times today did someone in your newsroom copy and paste content from one system to another? Or move content by logging into multiple systems or emailing files around to editors?

How much time did your newsroom staff waste today overcoming the inefficiencies of your internal systems, redoing work that had already been done, or chasing after content from partner or sister newsrooms?

Think about the real cost of inefficiency in your newsroom. If you added up all those wasted hours every day, across a year, what would they amount to? What could your newsroom afford if it wasn’t paying for that inefficiency? Depending on the size and number of newsrooms, that wasted time could add up to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars per year.

With the staff reductions of recent years, newsrooms simply can’t afford to waste time. It’s a top of mind issue across all the newsrooms we talk to.

Everyday we hear stories of workflows accomplished through tedious copying and pasting. Reporters enter breaking news stories into the web CMS, where they create headlines, subheads, breakouts, and info boxes, and then editors have to start all over from scratch in the print editorial system. Or web producers labor to manually recreate on the web what editors have already spent hours of the day creating for print.

Every newsroom has to update their website throughout the day, publish content into new tablet apps, engage with their community in social media, and still put out the paper. The problem is that these workflows are fundamentally separate, rather than being an integrated daily news operation.

We also hear over and over that partner and sister newsrooms are emailing content back and forth, calling each other up to chase after copy. There are so many high value content sources that editors can tap into outside of the newsroom, but it costs them hours to go out and fetch it, rather than have the content come to them as the traditional newswire has always done.

These are hours that reporters and editors could be spending on creating original content. How much more content could your newsroom have produced today if editors and reports hadn’t wasted so much time with inefficient workflows?

The newsroom has always prided itself on efficiency, because nothing less than the most efficient operation could get a newspaper to press everyday. But the staff reductions, the demands of the web and other digital platforms, and the ad hoc nature of new content partnerships have taken a huge toll on newsroom efficiency.

That’s why Publish2 has been focused on solving newsroom inefficiency by addressing one of the key root causes: disconnected systems.

Simply by syncing a newsroom’s existing print editorial system and web CMS, we can save newsrooms hours a day in lost productivity. By connecting the newsroom’s publishing systems, then, to those of sister newsroomscontent sharing partners, and alternative news sources, we eliminate emailing content back and forth, more rounds of copying and pasting, ad hoc phone calls in search of content and permission, and yet more copying and pasting from third-party websites.

With all publishing systems connected through Publish2, all content gets created once and is then synced across all systems, within your newsroom and across newsrooms.

Suddenly the time savings starts to be measured in FTEs.

Think about how your newsroom could redeploy that staff time. What new products could your newsroom create? What new revenue opportunities would you be better positioned to pursue, especially if the gains in efficiency come from an integrated content workflow?

Every newsrooms should make it a top priority to remove all copy and pasting and emailing from their workflow and enable content, both internal and external, to flow efficiently across all platforms. That’s a critical step in transforming the newsroom into an agile organization positioned for growth.