Do You Serve Your Readers … or Your Advertisers? The Glory of Paid Content Models

When you sell online ads directly to sponsors, increasingly these days they expect to control the editorial their ad appears next to. “My competitors

When you sell online ads directly to sponsors, increasingly these days they expect to control the editorial their ad appears next to.”My competitors won’t be mentioned in any editorial on pages where my ad appears, will they?” is a question that honest-to-god I’ve heard several times this week alone.  It’s gotten so bad that some PR people refuse to pitch stories or provide interview access unless you promise them the story won’t be on a page with any competitor ads on it! (That’s right, they don’t want any ads competing with their free publicity, oh and by the way, they require you link to their site as well.)Now, in the past there were always slutty B2B trade magazines who threw non-biased editorial out the window. They were controlled circulation (ie. free for “qualified” readers) and editorial was a mix of advertorial (glowing pieces about sponsors), free columnists (sponsor execs or consultants hoping to land clients), and barely rewritten press releases. The content was mainly there to fill enough pages so you could qualify for serial publication postage discounts, and to stroke sponsor egos. And it was cheap to create. You could run a trade rag with one experienced editor and a few underpaid kids just out of their first job at the community newspaper down the street. (The former stayed on staff until death; the latter fled to “the dark side” around their 30th birthday to make double their salary as a PR exec on a sponsor’s payroll.)But, in most trade markets, there was usually room for at least one upscale “quality” pub.  Unfortunately now in b2b publishing – and trade shows – the advertiser doesn’t give a flying fig anymore about editorial non-bias, or editorial quality. They just want to know how many thousands of their prospects eyeballs will be there and how totally can the advertiser control the content being fed to those eyeballs.They don’t grasp the fact that if the content is crap (aka advertorial), in many markets those high-quality eyeballs will cease to come. Short-term, you got a few ad dollars, long-term you have a dying publication.Why should advertisers care? They own their own media these days — their own email newsletter, their own user conference, their own webinars, their own Twitter feed, etc — so your publication is no longer critical for them to use to reach prospects.You are now just an nice-but-not-critical tool to reach prospects near the top of the sales funnel. (PPC ads for prospects in the act of researching options are more critical. B2B sponsors will cut “brand” ads in hard times but keep PPC.) After that, the sponsor largely expects their own in-house content to take over the prospect relationship, nurturing the best leads down the funnel to the end sale.As a b2b publisher, if you decide on the quality content route, it will be tough to make sponsors care.  So, you have to go, to some degree, the paid content route.  So, your reader is your customer.

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