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Hearst Goes Native

Add Hearst to the growing list of publishers creating advertising content for marketers.

While Hearst continues to push its programmatic efforts forward, it’s also realizing there is significant opportunity in the advertising content realm. On Tuesday, the 126-year-old media company released five new ad units that lets brands run their content inside of Hearst editorial content. This is being done across devices and platforms, giving scale to custom content. Brands also have the option of running these units on non-Hearst properties.

These ad units were developed to help advertisers reach Hearst audiences in social, mobile and video. These are key focus areas for the media company, as well as advertisers. Here are the descriptions of the units:

•       Developing Story – A page that features evolving stories on a specific theme and can live on multiple sites across the network.  Contextual content from an advertiser is paired with a specific developing story.

•       Trend Collage – A brand-specific photo grid around a topic, which may be “curated” by editors or built with advertiser images.

•       Video Playgroup – Aggregates ultra-short form, themed video — like Vine — content into a single page, and includes videos developed by or for advertisers

•       Social Live Stream – This scroll integrates selected tweets, Pinterest pins and social media posts onto a sponsored page around a theme. Brands can also integrate social media posts from their experts.

•       Mobile Flipbook – An image-based mobile ad unit that highlights the top content on the site.  Marketers receive placement in this unit, which drives traffic to a sponsored flipbook.

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“It would be irresponsible of us to not pay attention to the fact that all sorts of media consumption is happening on phones and social,” said Grant Whitmore, vice president, Hearst Magazines Digital Media. “To deliver a product suite and to not have these didn’t make sense. As a media company, to not figure out how we’re addressing social and mobile, that would be a horrible idea.”

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These units attempt to tap into the growing amount of eyeballs visiting Hearst properties through social and mobile. According to Comscore, Hearst properties see 18.6 million uniques per month on desktop, 7.8 million on mobile. Hearst will charge advertisers on a CPM basis, unlike a bundled package like Buzzfeed does, which sells four or five advertising content posts for $100,000. Hearst wouldn’t divulge how much it will charge.

One of the major differences of these units is that Hearst will tap editorial to create some of the content. For example, Women’s Day, which often does holiday gift guides, may ask its editorial team to pick their favorite holiday gift ideas from an advertiser, say Macy’s. This is anathema to what the rest of the industry is doing on the ‘native’ front. Think of this more as a porous separation of advertising church and editorial state and less like a Chinese wall.

“It’s important to know that we’d be presenting it as ‘in partnership’ or ‘promoted by’ Macy’s,” Whitmore said, using Macy’s as a hypothetical example. “We’re not trying to hide the fact this is paid for in each of these instances.”

Whitmore did point to this being a case-by-case scenario and offered up that advertisers or marketers will often do the heavy lifting of creating content.

These new units aren’t Hearst’s first foray into ‘native’ content. The company has some kind of product for the last two years, sponsored posts being the most prevalent. Late last year and early this year, however, Hearst explored how to offer a non-standard, yet editorially-driven ad unit, one that comes from either it or a marketer.

Hearst put together a cross-disciplinary team of folks from editorial, ad tech and creative services to brainstorm 40 or 50 new products it could potentially take to market. Once it hit that number, the team whittled it down to five. The main directives were to find those just right Goldilocks units that would be scalable across Hearst publications, that worked in a responsive format, that the ease of implementation would be consistent and to make sure the units would be able to fit in the sites.

But noticing how the ‘native’ craze was sweeping the industry and perhaps more importantly how the company saw missteps from competitors, Hearst went into overdrive.

“The fact it became a huge amount of advertiser interest in the category meant we went against it harder than we initially planned to,” Whitmore said. “And the timing on that is just reflected in our delivery in a broader suite of packages than just iteratively.”

Legacy media companies, like Time Inc., have been exploring different ways to pair advertiser content with editorial content. Time Inc. recently rolled out a social unit on the heels of its mobile and Web units. With ad tech putting downward pressure on CPMs, media companies are trying to find creative and more lucrative ways of advertising in digital. Hearst believes these new units will do the job.

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.

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