"I'm just a storyteller".
These are the words of Danny Pellicer. Veteran journalist who, some six months ago, made a drastic change from the newsroom to the marketing department of Nordlys, the largest newspaper in the northern part of Norway.
Danny Pellicer is now the project manager of content marketing at Nordlys. Together with his staff, he won an award for best sponsored content at the Norwegian marketing awards. It was their first ever sponsored content and in the following interview he explains the creative process that won them the award (you can take a look at the article by clicking right here).
We caught up with Danny Pellicer and asked what it felt like to join the marketing department, what good sponsored content looks like and how to develop those great ideas for an article. Danny Pellicer is the project manager for content marketing at the Norwegian newspaper Nordlys.
When and how did you start working with native advertising?
In November 2014. I have always been a journalist and an editor so it has been a big transition for me because in my head I still feel like a journalist. But now, I use that journalistic skill set to tell stories on behalf of our customers.
Before November 2014 I was also the development editor at our newspaper and I realized we had to do something with sponsored content. The logical solution was that I quit the newsroom and made the change to the marketing department. I am the project manager for a group of three people that work with sponsored content.
How did you feel about making that jump from the newsroom to the marketing department?
From a principle standpoint I don't have any problem with sponsored content as long as we do it with honesty and make sure that our readers understand the difference between journalism and advertisement. I have been in the news media for such a long time that I see our newspaper as a whole. I know that we need to make money to finance the good journalism that we do.
Did you know anything about native advertising before you became project manager of content marketing?
Not really. I had read about it with great interest and I could see that many of the nationwide Norwegian newspapers and big international newspapers had content marketing departments. So that inspired us. But I don't have any formal training in how to make sponsored content. I'm just a storyteller.
From your newspaper's perspective, what characterises good sponsored content?
The most important thing is that it works for the paying customer. That is the main thing. If it doesn't work for the customer, it is not a success.
But there is a kind of dilemma here. Many customers want to sell their products very quickly. I try to tell them that sponsored content can help achieve that goal, but the real strength of sponsored content is to build your name and brand and relationship with your audience. There can certainly be an immediate payoff with sponsored content, but I try to tell our customers that sponsored content is also an investment in the long run.
So you tell your customers that sponsored content is less about selling products right now and more about establishing their brand for the future?
We try to achieve both of those objectives with our sponsored content. And we kind of have to. We are in a market far up in the northern part of Norway, and we don't have really big companies to work with. Our type of customers and potential customers need to know that native advertising actually works. That it moves products from the shelf, so to speak. We believe that sponsored content is a great investment for the long run, but realistically it needs to help sell products right now for our customers. We understand that.
So we try to achieve both objectives. For example, we did this sponsored article for a Norwegian grocery shop that is located up here in northern Norway and specialises in food products from the region. The sponsored article was basically a recipe for this famous Norwegian Christmas dish with a little twist to it so we replaced one of the standard ingredients with a new ingredient. This sponsored article became really popular so the grocery shop sold out the meat product, which was part of the recipe, very quickly. But at the same time, the sponsored article included sections that explained the grocery shop's philosophy and emphasis on north Norwegian food culture with fresh products from the region. We think that was a sponsored article that achieved short term goals and hopefully long term goals as well.
The award winning sponsored article that Danny Pellicer and his staff put together for a Norwegian grocery shop.
How did you come up with the idea for that article?
It was actually the first piece of sponsored content that we ever did. We needed a good pilot brand and this grocery shop is almost an institution in our region with their focus on local food products and independence from large grocery chains.
At the time, it was almost Christmas so we decided that we were going to do an article about food that related to the holiday. From that point on, we developed the idea by thinking like regular journalists. We asked ourselves what the angle was, and why people should care. Everybody makes this dish for Christmas so why would people suddenly care about the recipe for a dish they already know? So we came up with a "secret recipe" with slightly different ingredients than traditional ones. That became our angle.
I have noticed that you have a specific website for sponsored content. Does your sponsored content ever appear on your your editorial websites?
We do have a specific website for our sponsored content, but we distribute our sponsored content from the front page of our editorial website. We create the sponsored article like any other story with a headline and a picture. Of course it is labelled as sponsored content. Then if you click on the sponsored article, you are directed to our website for sponsored content. We have enormous distribution power from our website's front page. We reach 120,000 people a day from our front page, so that is part of the distribution that our customers buy.
How much traffic does sponsored content generate compared to editorial content?
Well, it depends. Some sponsored content performs better than editorial articles and some of it performs worse. It's difficult to generalize.
Are you able to identify any similarities between the sponsored content that users engage with the most?
Not really, actually. But just like any editorial article it needs to be content that people can relate to. The timing is very important; that you write about a subject in the very moment that people care about that same subject. Just like standard journalism. You try to find a good angle.
Have you received any complaints from readers or the public in general because of your sponsored content?
Some but much less than I expected. I expected a lot of negative reactions but it has only been very little. I also thought that journalists on our own editorial staff would be negative but they haven't. I think in general that people, readers and colleagues in the media included, understand why we are doing it.
We can't just sit on our asses and wait for the paper readers to come back. We have to look into new ways of financing ourselves. As long as we keep church and state separated, I think people understand our reasoning.
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