local media insider
Case study

Inside the Washington Post's BrandConnect program

How the nation's high prestige newspaper utilizes native

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Four universities pooled resources for the WP Brand Studio to produce a native guide to post-graduate education.

Company: The Washington Post

Initiataive: BrandConnect

Key Executive: Ethan Selzer, VP of Retail and Regional Advertising

Challenge: Creating a native advertising program for the award-winning national newspaper, the Washington Post, located in the nation's capital.

Strategy: The Washington Post calls their native advertising program BrandConnect,  and their content creation division The WP Brand Studio, where a team develops campaigns aimed at driving brand messages for a variety of national and regional companies from car dealers to political advocacy groups. Some of the content can be client assets that have been edited and repurposed, and some is created from scratch at the Studio. So far 24 campaigns have run, an addition of five in the month of September, with a wide range of investment and a value of $50,000 being fairly typical.

Native runs in-stream on the home page and other areas

Native ads are promoted on the left rail of the home page, in-stream next to the Washington Post's award-winning editorial, as well as on other site areas. Here's a look at the format:

Like other newspaper sites, the right rail of the Washington Post is reserved for all other kinds of advertising (including the advertorial program, "sponsored posts" which are self-serve and advertiser written).

Article pages

Clicking through to a native post, such as "How the U.S. Ranks in corporate income taxes", sponsored by Fair Reform for Growth, an anti-corporate tax group, takes the reader to a large format magazine-style image:

All of the native ads have this "big beautiful image" format. The content itself, however, can be articles, videos, slide shows, quizzes or other interactive web  features. The Brand Studio recommends the format based on how best to tell the story; in the case of Fair Taxes for Growth, an infographic was selected as the best way to compare U.S. corporate tax rates with those of other countries:

Recommended brand content on the right rail

Instead of running ads on the right rail of the article page, these units typically show "related content" - other native articles - in the same campaign:

Recommended content on the right rail of the article provides more opportunities for readers already interested in the subject matter to continue to engage with the brand.

Key advertisers

Because of the D.C. location, some native advertisers are advocacy groups like Fair Reform For Growth and the U.S. Dairy Council. However, there are also CVS Caremark, Emirates Airlines, IBM, a group of local universities and and a nearby county tourism division.

"An ideal client is one that wants to communicate valuable information that the newsroom will not cover," Selzer sums up.

The campaign for Montgomery County's Economic Development Group, provides seasonal information about tourist activities, geared to encourage people in the local area to visit the county for dining and entertainment activities.

Headlines include big events like "Montgomery County Hosts World Class Documentary Festival" to useful reminders, such as "Summer is for biking in Montgomery County"  featuring links to maps of the area's bike trails:

The money comes from the County's budget to encourage tourism.

In another campaign, sponsored by four universities, articles educate the public on the value proposition of getting a graduate degree in a variety of fields such as business, information technology and health.

Labeled, the "Guide to Graduate Education 2014", a series of articles give information on  financing high education and other relavent topics. The package starts with a wide magazine format image:

The introduction tells the reader about all the reports in the package, and the right rail promotes the other articles in the "Guide": 

"Because this is native, we (are very) involved in the content generation and the presentation. We have a collaborative session to brainstorm what the stories will be so we can do a great job of legitimately covering stories," Selzer said.

"These are not sell-pieces, but rather real information that the audience gets real use value from. Native takes advantage of the nice gap where our newsroom is not going to cover something but there is a valuable hole in the news that the advertiser has an ability to influence."

Where content is hosted

All the articles for each advertiser are housed on a dedicated blog, and all of the blogs live in an indexed "BrandConnect" area on the site, which few readers see, but is useful as an historical listing of all campaigns.  

Pricing and packaging

The Washington Post primarily sells sponsorship packages priced at around $50,000.

"It doesn't work for anyone if advertisers can split up the packages and cherry pick what they do and don't want," said Ethan Selzer, such as content creation, which is controlled by the Post's native editorial team.

Packages are priced based on the length of distribution, and amount of promotion on media owned properties and advertising of the content on other networks.

Campaigns with different content stay on the home page for at least a month, while the content changes as new articles are published. Sometimes several are published on the same day, so that a reader can find and open a second or third article.

In addition to selling the value of high traffic pages, The Washington Post brings special value to native advertising because of the national prestige of the brand.

"Advertisers care more about their ability to be published in the Post as a tool to promote themselves," Selzer says. "CPM is available for all packages sold although it is rarely the most important metric to advertisers for whom native makes sense."

"They care about page views, too. But the number one factor is prestige. There are always a lot of ways to go and buy traffic. This is unique."

Metrics

The Washington Post measures all metrics related to campaigns incluing scroll depth, social shares, time on site and click throughts to the client site.

CTR's are least important because that is typically not the reason for the campaign.

"We offer a suite of metrics to BrandConnect advertisers," Selzer says. In spite of the influence of the Washington Post on key leaders and influencers around the country, "the value of WP BrandConnect is not only prestige - this type of advertising actually works and can deliver real measurable results." 

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