Editor’s note: Let’s trust each other to get real about sponsored content

Editor’s note: Let’s trust each other to get real about sponsored content
Editor’s note 

You will see more sponsored content on The Media Leader as we continue to grow.  But our editorial ethos does not change.

Regular readers of this title should hopefully know by now that The Media Leader aspires to be a provocative and values-driven publication.

That means we aim to tackle difficult topics and we are prepared to be critical of forces that, in our view, are harmful to the longer-term prosperity of media and advertising.

From the start of my tenure as editor, we launched core brand values: The Media Leader champions disruption, inclusion, courage and excellence in media.

That means all of our content, whether it’s on our website, newsletter, podcast or YouTube channel, should be judged by those standards. We expect our readers to tell us if we fall short — in fact, we depend on honest feedback.

This also applies to our sponsored content, which I’m pleased to say is growing considerably as The Media Leader‘s audience and impact have grown since launching the new branding two years ago.

Yeah, so?

We will not run any paid-for content that goes against our editorial principles. We don’t allow companies to self-publish, as many trade publications do, nor do we run pay-to-play editorial schemes that purport to be valuable for readers but, in reality, are more like a mafia-style shakedown.

I feel confident saying this because we’ve said this the whole time I’ve been editor. Our event sponsors and publication advertisers don’t just buy access to our audience; they buy a piece of our editorial offer, which we believe to be extremely valuable.

I’m writing this because of two sponsored projects that I’ve been personally involved in and am excited about.

One is our podcast series with Bloomberg Media, which has just published its final of four episodes. While Bloomberg paid us to run a sponsored series and gave us an outline of what it wanted to talk about, it had no other editorial demands.

The next is a webinar with Salesforce on Wednesday where we are calling on the industry to “stop leaving money on the table”. Again, we are clear that Salesforce is sponsoring this conversation, in which we bring together sales leaders from Reach and The Guardian and a transformation expert at WPP’s GroupM.

Like Bloomberg, Salesforce has given us a broad brief of what it wants to talk about (it wants to share insights about how to break down silos from its extensive network as a global CRM provider).

But, other than that, Salesforce has left it to us to put together the conversation. You can sign up for free for the talk on Wednesday (11am BST) and you can tell me in real time via the webinar if you don’t like what is being asked!

Where ‘the line’ is

In general, if you ever see a journalist’s byline attached to any piece of work we do, the content is editorially produced without oversight from a sponsor or advertiser.

If an advertiser has “approved” content, we will tell you the piece is by The Media Leader Staff and label the piece as being “partner content”.

I should stress that there hasn’t been a complaint, nor has there been any concern. And, of course, there’s often no way to neatly determine how much influence a sponsor has on editorial.

That’s why brand values are important. A note like this, if you care to read it, is important because it speaks to trust. I trust our readers to be sophisticated enough to understand the difference. In an age when all media face trust issues, the very least you should expect is some guidance from the editor on what sponsored versus editorial content means in practice.

We are not a charity; we are a for-profit business. And we don’t always get it right. But we’re clear about how we want to make money: we are a values-driven business publication that aspires to make media and advertising better, and part of a company that is in the process of applying for B-Corp status.

What’s next

If that appeals to you, I’m happy to have a conversation about how to place sponsored content with us. It might not always be an easy conversation, but I guarantee the end result will be a lot more powerful.

But don’t just take my word for it.

As the wise strategy chief at Starcom UK, Dan Plant, says on this week’s podcast episode: “I go to media owners and I say: what would you love to be making but you can’t afford to make right now ? Media owners are the best people to deliver me insights about consumers because day in, day out, they’re making a new product every single day that those consumers are going to watch and engage with. So they really understand those people.”

Please contact me any time if you’d like to have a conversation about working with us editorially or commercially. If you value what our publication does, then you should value the advertisers and sponsors that make what we do possible too.

Tune in on Wednesday for our conversation with Salesforce, The Guardian, Reach and GroupM (or at least watch it back on catch-up!)

Omar Oakes is editor-in-chief of The Media Leader


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