The Canadian Press thinks about sponsored content backwards. Instead of acting as a distribution platform for sponsored content, its offering brands a way to use their owned platforms to publish third party news and entertainment content. The thinking is that by publishing stories, infographics and videos from CP, Fast Company, CafeMom and other big-name publishers, brands can broadcast their values and boost their credibility with readers.
Last fall, CP teamed up with a U.S. content syndication platform called NewsCred to introduce brands to the content syndication model familiar to news organizations. Brands can tap into the NewsCred platform to access and publish content from over 5,000 publishers across the U.S. and Canada. Need quality, relevant content to fill your new microsite? That’s what NewsCred is for.
The partnership made CP the exclusive re-seller representative of NewsCred’s platform in Canada. Brands that sign up for the platform, through CP, will work with a team of editorial specialists from CP and NewsCred to find a package of publishers that suits their needs. Brands pay for the service on an annual subscription, based on which publishers they want to work with.
CP director of marketing Thuy Anh Nguyen said though some marketers are looking to build content around their brand, others are looking to build a community by curating content their audience finds relevant. She gave the example of Huggies sharing articles from Health Day about new parents’ health issues. Even though the content itself doesn’t mention the brand or product category, it helps define what the brand’s values are and build its audience’s identity.
She said it usually helps for the brand to explain why it posted a particular piece of content. “[As a consumer] I like that because I’m getting the best of both worlds — I’m getting reliable third-party content from Health Day that I know wasn’t influenced by Huggies, but I’m also getting an intro or sidebar from Huggies making sense of why they’re sharing it with me.”
Using independent content is one way to avoid the creep factor consumers feel with native ads, said Andrew Lundy, CP’s VP of digital (pictured above). Consumers don’t like being pitched to — and even mentioning a brand can make sponsored content read like a veiled pitch. It’s why top-performing native content, like the New York Times‘ feature on women inmates sponsored by Orange is the New Black, barely mention the sponsor in the actual content (though the sponsor is still highly visible through surrounding ads).
“That authenticity matters to people,” Lundy said. “If we start torquing that content to represent a brand or sell a particular product, people are going to sniff that out.”
CP, like the Associated Press in the U.S., is known for its high ethical standards and journalistic integrity. Lundy said in the early days of the NewsCred deal, journalists at CP expressed concern the lines between content and advertising might blur. But CP does not actually create custom content for brands, and brands can’t influence story creation.* Brands also can’t edit or add to stories they’ve published through NewsCred (something news organizations typically do with syndicated CP content).
Lundy said for certain brands, publishing content from an independent, credible source can boost consumer trust in both the brand and publisher. Take TripAdvisor, which has long provided a platform for user reviews — content that consumers see as more honest and credible than stories created by the brand about destinations. As another example, consumers are typically more willing to trust independent news content about the environment or corporate social responsibility than the brand’s own content.
In a presentation last week, Lundy provided some more advice for brands that are looking into creating and publishing content.
5 tips for thinking like a publisher
1. Know your audience
Pay attention to the content that your audience consumes, and produce content that aligns with their interests — even if it’s not directly related to your vertical. To learn about your audience you can use data, or better yet, just ask them — spark conversations with your audience about what they’re into, and use the feedback to inform your publishing choices.
2. Gather a team of storytellers
Producing editorial and entertainment content requires a different skillset than writing press releases, and it’s best to work with people who have experience as journalists or content creators. If your content is coming from a third party, make sure it’s someone your audience knows and trusts.
3. Latch on to a news hook
News hooks don’t have to be real-time events — they can relate to ongoing issues and conversations, or pose future-looking questions. Know when events important to your audience are going to happen, and use your resources to make sure they get good coverage. As news organizations well know, random events only make up a fraction of the news cycle — things like elections, TV seasons and The Superbowl are pretty predictable.
Being a brand doesn’t mean you don’t have to do the same diligence to confirm your stories as news publishers. Your audience will trust your brand more if it has a history of getting the facts right — and they’ll distrust brands that post or repost stories that turn out to be false.
5. Be authentic
Today’s consumers are incredibly media savvy, and they will catch on quick to fake authenticity. They’ll even question whether you’re being authentic when you really are. Try to post things that you and your brand actually do feel strongly about, and when you’re curating someone else’s perspective, make it clear whether you’re endorsing it or not.
*Clarification: CP does have a division called CP Images that creates custom images and video for brands. It is not part of the CP newsroom.