How PR agencies can take control of native

Francis Turner, managing director at native advertising platform Adyoulike, blogs for Influence on how public relations can lead the way with new content.

Native advertising, if you don’t already know, is the current big thing in digital advertising. Rather than the banners, boxes and pop-ups that we’ve all learned to ignore, native ads appear in-feed and match the editorial style of the website, although they’re labelled as ‘sponsored by’, ‘advertised by’ or similar – think the sponsored stories on Buzzfeed, sponsored posts on Facebook or promoted tweets.

Most importantly, they provide richer, more creative, more immersive content than will ever be found in a 300×250 banner ad. That content could be anything from Netflix’s analysis of changing TV habits with Wired to Dolce & Gabbana discussing the impact of the Minions on global fashion.

Great, think PRs, but what does that all mean for me?

Well, quite a lot actually. We surveyed the top 75 PR agencies in the UK for their opinions on native advertising; their responses reveal that they understand the potential native holds and how it could be an important way of securing additional budget.

Nine out of ten PR agencies in the UK said they see native as an opportunity for the sector and 75% believe the PR industry is the best choice for creating and distributing native advertising content for brands.

But while the potential is there, nine out of ten practitioners also think the industry could be doing more to seize new content marketing budget (within which native advertising sits) from their clients.

So, what can PR agencies be doing to take the lead with native?

Firstly, you need to understand how native fits within PR. PRs are under the cosh like never before to secure coverage – but it’s getting harder and harder to do so as the media landscape becomes more and more fragmented. You might do a great thought leadership piece, but if it only remains as a blog on a single site, is that going to make your clients as happy as they could be?

Native is a great way of making those great thought pieces work harder and getting them out to a much wider (but still targeted) audience. We found that agencies currently tend to focus on social media platforms to extend reach with their content, with 94 percent and 88 percent using organic reach on Twitter and Facebook respectively. The same number (63 percent) use paid campaigns on those two platforms to boost views of their media coverage, but less than half (44 percent) currently use native – so there’s still a lot more PR agencies can do.

Secondly, you need to show off your content skills to you clients. Native is, at its heart, about content. Brands are ramping up their content marketing budgets and everyone is trying to get a bigger piece of the action – PR, advertising, media and creative agencies are all fighting a turf war for that money. But the thing is, PRs are actually at an advantage over their peers when it comes to content – their whole model is already about creating eye-catching headlines, enticing prose, engaging videos and the like.

This puts you, as a PR practitioner, in a very strong position to provide brands with creative content, provided you can demonstrate how you use and understand it already. Native gives you that foot in the door – you’ve already handled magazine advertorials for decades and native ads now offer a similar opportunity.

In essence, native allows PR agencies to extend their reach and take their ideas further. The good thing is you’re doing so while simultaneously working around the ‘creativity gap’ currently stifling the world of digital display advertising: banner blindness is already prevalent, there’s considerable growth in ad blocking software and advertisers simply cannot be that creative with the limited space available in a banner ad.

So what are you waiting for?

We know that 50% of the agencies we spoke to offer native advertising, and 19% plan to do so in the future. However, from our research we found that only 38% of senior PR people feel ‘very confident’ that they can clearly explain native advertising to their clients, while two-thirds are concerned by the transparency of the paid element of native campaigns and 40% worry that using native devalues traditional media coverage.

However, with complete transparency and understanding, PR agencies can use native to strengthen their client relationships, make their hard-earned media coverage stretch even further and even gain access to previously-untapped content budgets – which is there for the taking.

As we’ve seen PR agencies embed social media into their offering over the past few years, native should become the next logical step. Because if PR industry can demonstrate that it is still the undisputed content expert, then it can truly lead the way in native advertising.

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