Brands

The Charlotte Observer Takes Native Advertising Local

The Charlotte Observer is just the latest publication to jump on the native advertising bandwagon. But what differentiates this paper from the likes of The New York Times and the Washington Post is its focus on local businesses.

Ted Williams, director of digital audience and revenue for the Observer, explained to The Content Strategist how Charlotte’s bestselling publication is experimenting with helping local advertisers become great storytellers—and how the publication can reap the rewards.

Ted Williams

Which companies have you partnered with for native advertising? How did you get them on board?

We have two clients so far: Wells Fargo Championship Golf Tournament and OrthoCarolina, which is an orthopedic practice, a large healthcare provider in the state. And we’ve been basically going out and selling sets of stories. We sell two stories in four story packages, and the overall premise is we’ll co-create content for you, and we’ll have a tile for your story that will live for 24 hours on the homepage. The content will live on the site for three months. So if someone uses Google for OrthoCarolina CrossFit, our article will show up.

How did the Charlotte Observer first decide to tackle native ads?

We talked to the newsroom about three months ago. The newsroom understands the business imperative to try to better monetize our current audience. They are open to how can we deliver advertising that is straightforward for users and works with our local advertisers. Their major concern is to make sure users know this is advertising content, not newsroom content.

How is the brand–publication relationship unfolding?

Our clients so far are very innovative in the content marketing world. OrthoCarolina—they get a lot of value from this type of advertising and believe in a marketing strategy of relative content and having their website be a focal point for finding content. They view us as a way to distribute some of their stories and co-create some interesting content using knowledge that they have, their doctors have, and we have.

In general, their stories have performed well on our site. It’s interesting coming from a local market—not a New York or a West Coast fancy hub for native ads and content marketing. Local agencies and local brands are trying to figure out this content marketing world. They’re still figuring out “What budget does that come from?” and “How do we produce this and how can we measure it?”

Most of the advertisers we approach aren’t familiar with native advertising or sponsored content, and they’re largely using the advertorial lens. So it’s been fascinating to transition and see how interested brands are in this and how eager they are to find ways to buy digital media that really preforms.

Why is advertorial such a dirty word?

I try to not use that word—advertorial. The way we talk about it to advertisers out there is by asking, “What are some really interesting stories that you can tell about Charlotte that meet your brand’s goals?” So it’s more along the lines of, “What can you share with Charlotte that will also meet your marketing objectives as brands, rather than write an advertorial on how you have to try this new product X, Y, Z?”

We’ve seen people have a mixed reception to that. It’s easier to track an advertorial. Pitching brand advertising is always more difficult, especially on local level where you’re dealing with a lot of business owners and this new kind of marketing. People totally get it, but they’re not sure what those stories are or how they should be telling them or how much a viewer of that story is worth, and how they can go to create more and more of it. It’s still something we’re figuring out.

What’s the advantage of content, then? How do you go about creating it?

We want to develop content that can be the engine of a marketing campaign. And we can co-create content with the brands.

It’s made by myself and a small team. A lot of clients already have really good content, and we just help them craft it to add more quotes, structure, or format. They know we help them tell it in a better way for today’s web reader.

But our ultimate goal is, as this market grows, to develop that content studio here. While that exists on a national level, I’ve only seen a few places on a local level that really have developed the content studio, mostly with local agencies. But I think that’s something where the market hasn’t completely caught up yet.

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