PR learns to go native

About the author

Ann is a co-founder of PR Academy. Her special areas of interest are internal communication, change management and project communication. MSc, Dip CAM, MCIPR

Off we went to the CIPR Greater London group recently for their event on “new advertorials”. Having cut my communication teeth on a free newspaper, this is something that interests me from a journalistic and PR perspective.

It was a great line up: Samantha Cope from Trinity Mirror Solutions, Tiffanie Darke from News UK and Jon Tickner from Time Inc.

If you are new to this field, then we need a quick explanation of advertorials. Traditionally they were space in a print publication that was paid for but looked like editorial – although clearly marked as advertorial or sometimes promotion. Now, we can hear this referred to as “native advertising” and the advent of social media means it extends beyond words and pictures on the printed on a page.

When Chris Tucker – our CIPR PR Diploma and CIPR Crisis Comms course leader blogged about this nearly two years ago now, it was clear that the rules were still emerging. I use the word rules because back in my newspaper days, advertorial couldn’t even be in the same typeface as the rest of the paper and to be honest, those of us in the newsroom were a bit sniffy about having to write them. In fact as one of the CIPR event panel put it they “looked a bit sh*t” (excuse the language but it is true!).

Well, things have changed. Publishing groups have got some of their top people working on this as evidenced by the line-up at the event. And there is some great work being done for clients.

I went along feeling a little uneasy about the whole thing. Is it an erosion of journalism? Is it deceiving the reader? But the panel started to change my view. Tiffanie Darke claimed that people don’t mind where the content comes from as long as it is good content.  Fair point. Sam and other panel members also stressed that they must maintain the integrity of the media – they couldn’t afford to undermine reader trust. Tiffanie gave an example of brand being turned away because it conflicted with an editorial stance that the paper was taking.

What really struck me though was the emphasis being put on targeting and evaluation, really intelligent evaluation. Tiffanie talked in terms of “engagement not reach”, for example measuring shares over views. However, these guys have access to a wonderful resource – their reader panels. These have several thousand members and are used to test out campaigns, during and after implementation.

There is a lot that PR practitioners can benefit from  – and learn from – here in terms of targeting,  setting objectives and evaluation.  Plenty of value too in developing a good working relationship, acting as the bridge between client and media which the panel advocated. But I did just wonder, could we see a time when these native advertising teams begin to take on client PR?