When I started in the world of sponsorship over 30 years ago, the traditional media (newspaper, television, radio, and magazines) looked at sponsorship as the Ugly Sister. It was this little supplemental stream of revenue that was treated like a second-class citizen. There was truly a separation of church and state, or in the media world, editorial/news and sales/advertising. The high and mighty newsroom folks and editors viewed sponsorship as something dirty and impure compared to their viewpoints and responsibilities of covering the news. When a salesperson approached the newsroom concerning a possibly newsworthy story about one of their sponsorship or advertising clients, the newsroom folk and editors would treat the opportunity like the plague! Even if it was truly a news story, they would not cover it because they were too pure to cover a story about an advertiser. Then often, the rest of the media outlets would pick up the story and our newsroom would be left without a headline—a story it could have scooped and had direct access to.
Well, the world has changed, and I am not just talking about the Covid 19 affect. The arrogance of these newsrooms and editors has come back to haunt them. I love watching those newsies and editors now trying to survive both in their news and editorial roles, as well as media. Today, sponsored content and product integration by sponsors represent a huge revenue channel for those media outlets that want to live in the black rather than the red side of the profit and loss statement. It is big dollars.
Huffington Post, which started its “partnership program” with ten people back in 2014, now employs over 100 staff working solely on clients’ content projects. Sponsored content has allowed the Washington Post and New York Times to offset much of their lost traditional advertising dollars. In fact, revenue generated from sponsored content comprises 19% of advertising revenue and is expected soon to exceed 33%! Three quarters of The Atlantic’s digital revenue is sponsored content, and for outlets like BuzzFeed, it accounts for almost 100%. Radio has learned to integrate sponsors and sponsored content into sport broadcasts, morning shows, and weekend 30- and 60-minute programming. Television has done the same. Watch any morning show and check out the product placement in those shows and news coverage of sponsors.
Sponsorship, sponsored content, native advertising—no matter what you call it, it is a major part of the traditional media outlets that have survived. On the digital side, it is king! Those who fail to understand this will become extinct. Even as recently as four months ago, I was speaking with a magazine publication. They wanted media access to an event. They wanted to be a sponsor and ride on the coattails of the event. But they said they could not do an article because the editor-in-chief made those decisions and it could not be built into the sponsorship agreement. The ironic piece was that the editor had asked that event and its leadership folks to be in an article three of the past four years. When this was brought up, the answer was still “No, we cannot commit to an article.” That archaic organization still separated church and state. Perhaps Charles Darwin said it best: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
God help those media outlets that cannot adapt to change.
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