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The 5-minute guide to buying sponsored content from publishers

By Jerrid Grimm, co-founder and ceo, Pressboard

Sponsored content is seeing a massive surge in popularity among advertisers, ad agencies, and PR teams alike — but just like any other growing industry, it can be a bit like the Wild West out there. I know from experience.

Before Pressboard, I worked at an ad agency, and it was clear that brands were falling in love with sponsored content, defined here as brand content that’s posted on publishers’ sites. However, the process of finding the right publishers, negotiating the deal, creating a story, and finally measuring the results was labor intensive and expensive.

That’s why we created this five-step guide based on our own experiences building a sponsored content platform. From ideation to execution, the information below will help take your sponsored content campaign from idea to reality.

1. Picking a publisher

Publishers have spent years building trust with their audience, and that influence and authenticity can be leveraged by advertisers.

To choose the right publisher, make sure they align with your goals — consider content fit, location, audience demographics and social following.

Diana Walters, group director for digital media at OMD Canada, told me that she starts with the publishers’ social following. “I don’t just look at their numbers either. What do their followers look like? Unfortunately, I often have to do it (gather information) manually. It’s a resource intensive, time-consuming process.”

You can use tools like ComScore and SimilarWeb to help with your research, or you can easily discover and compare publishers and their sponsored content packages using Pressboard.

2. Negotiating a rate

Sponsored content is about paying to align your brand with a publisher’s authority and audience. Since most audiences discover content on social media, we’ve found that the most effective sponsored content product is also the simplest: placement of your brand article or video on the publisher’s site along with a social share, all while disclosing your brand’s involvement.

Anna Fertel, associate director, The Media Kitchen explains, “You’re paying for the partnership and deserve to have maximum transparency around all elements of it — where/how your content will be distributed, how many people you can expect to see it, what metrics you’ll receive afterwards, etc. Know your dealbreakers — if the partnership isn’t right, don’t force it.”

3. Creating the content

There are two ways to create sponsored content: by repurposing existing brand content, or by starting from scratch.

If you’re repurposing, analyze your content’s engagement levels. Consider your owned content as a testing ground for which stories might work well as sponsored content.

If you’re starting from scratch, there are a lot of free resources that can help you along the way with things like coming up with a story idea, crafting a headline, or creating a video.

Finding a balance between your brand’s messaging and the publisher’s tone is a blend of art and science. Resist overselling your brand too early or frequently in the story, because data shows that it negatively affects engagement.

4. Promoting the content

Without a distribution plan, even the greatest sponsored content can languish unseen. It’s essential to understand the distribution options available and select what’s right for your content based on its format, your target audience, and your budget.

Distribution options fall under three categories: owned, earned and paid. Organic (owned) reach is dwindling with Facebook’s recently announced newsfeed changes, so you should always budget for paid promotion. While there are hundreds of display networks and recommendation widgets available, we’ve found that paid social distribution is by far the best way to get sponsored content in front of quality audiences.

5. Monitoring your content

Measuring the success of your sponsored content is the final piece of the puzzle, but make sure you’re tracking the right metrics. Advertising metrics focus on impressions and clicks, but good content metrics highlight what happens after the click. To do a proper comparison between sponsored content placed on different publishers, use a standardized analytics tool that also accurately measures content metrics like Active Reading Time.

Here are a few of the metrics we track on every piece of sponsored content.

  • Active Reading Time
  • Average Scrolled
  • Completion Rate
  • Conversions

Even distilled into these five short sections, buying sponsored content is not a simple job. It takes media buyers and content marketers years of experience to perfect the art. That said, once you complete this journey, your sponsored content can change how people feel and think about your brand.