4 Steps for PR Pros to Get Started With Sponsored Articles
As a PR professional, I doubt I’m alone in thinking that paid media feels counterintuitive. Historically, PR professionals have dealt largely in earned media – that is, not paying for coverage or awareness. But there’s no denying that native advertising has arrived, and PR pros need to understand how to navigate this new landscape of paid media.
Of the many tactics under the umbrella of native advertising, sponsored articles are the form of paid media that seem to spark the most discourse within the PR industry. And while you could find any number of debates on the subject – usually surrounding ethics – you’ll find that the conversations lack guidance for those of us implementing sponsored articles as part of our overall strategy.
So, when the debate is over and your strategy is in place, how exactly do you sponsor an article?
Step 1: Create a budget.
Your budget will greatly impact where you place your content, and even the type of content you create. Before you start dreaming of all that could be, you need to know how much money you have to work with.
Determining the amount of money in your budget can be a difficult decision to make. While it will depend mostly on internal factors, there is a new way you can help decide how much to ask for.
DigitalRelevance just published the 2015 Media Buyer’s Guide to Sponsored (Editorial) Content. This guide looked at 550 publishers – from niche bloggers to major industry publications – and tracked sponsored content prices against explicit data factors (Domain Authority, Page Authority, AlexaReach, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest followings) to find correlations that help provide clarity and justification for pricing.
In other words, there’s finally some data to help you figure out a reasonable spend for sponsored content. There are even a couple of plug-and-chug formulas you can use:
Blog Sponsored Post Pricing Formula:
Price = -60.5 + 5.97(Domain Authority) + 0.978(thousand Facebook fans) + 15.1(PageRank) – 0.000007(AlexaRank)
Publications Sponsored Article Pricing Formula:
Price = -37000 + 314(Domain Authority) + 20.9(thousand Facebook fans) + 5152 (PageRank) – 46.6(thousand Pinterest followers)
The guide defines a publication as an outlet that already utilizes traditional advertising (e.g. banner ads) and where content is created by five or more contributors, writers or columnists. For the purposes of this research, outlets that don’t meet both criteria are considered blogs.
While the formulas are an excellent way to determine a fair price for each outlet you’re considering, math probably isn’t the favorite subject of every PR pro. If that’s the case, you can also budget based on this generalization: Sponsored blog posts will typically cost less than $1,500 and sponsored articles on publications will likely run more.
Step 2: Identify the best opportunity.
Sure, you’re able to sponsor an article on any number of blogs and online publications, but that doesn’t mean you should. Just like you’d prepare a targeted media list before you start pitching, you should know exactly which sites reach the audiences you’re targeting with your content.
Consider the popular publishers in your industry, and start making a list of all of the best places for your content. After you know where you could be, you need to think about all of the specific criteria that determine where you should be.
First, think about your audience. You must know exactly whom you want to reach with your content, and which of these outlets will reach them. For example, if you’re targeting the C-level, it won’t be the best fit to sponsor a blog post on a tactical site that is geared toward entry-level contributors in your industry.
You can also compare the overall performance of the sites. Tools like Buzzsumo’s Domain Comparison Report let you look at two sites side-by-side and compare the total number of social shares on the site. It even breaks down the average shares per article, by social network and by content type.
Once you have your short list of outlets, reach out to the sites directly to find out what specific sponsorship opportunities they offer. Each publisher is different, so it’s important to collect as much information as possible from each one before you make a decision.
Are you looking for just a one-off posting opportunity? Or will an ongoing publishing relationship better support your needs? You can almost always sponsor just one post on a blog, but most publications are more likely to sell packages that include multiple sponsored articles as well as other perks, like social shares, for a higher cost. Know exactly what you need for the budget you have before making a decision.
Step 3: Craft compelling content.
It’s not enough to guarantee your content will live on a site – just because it’s there doesn’t mean people have to read it. You must create something your audience is compelled to read (and hopefully share) in order to take full advantage of the opportunity.
There are several key factors to consider when writing sponsored content. First, you need to ensure you’re incorporating all of the necessary messages and calls to action. You’re sponsoring this post for a reason – be sure you’re getting that message across. But, make sure you’re not too pushy with your brand or sales language – that’s a sure turnoff for readers.
Also, remember that you’re writing content for that specific publisher. Take time to understand their tone, writing style and audience. You want your article to fit in as seamlessly as possible so that it captures the attention of their every day reader.
A great way to do this is to perform a brief assessment of the site’s most popular content. Social Crawlytics is a free tool that gives you a breakdown of the most popular content from any domain. Consider using it to look for commonalities among the topics, headlines and format of the publisher’s best-performing articles. Then, aim to have your content fit within those same guidelines.
Step 4: Measure your results.
You should always know what metrics you want to measure before your article goes live. These metrics will vary depending on your overall goals, which you should identify when choosing your publishing opportunity and writing your content.
Are you most concerned with a high number of social shares for the article, or does the click through rate to an included link matter more? Remember, comments can be an important determination of engagement as well.
Be sure you know what the publisher is willing and able to provide to you. For example, will they give you any insights into their own analytics to tell you the average time on page for your article?
In short, know your goals and what metrics will help you determine whether or not they were achieved. Most importantly, learn from the experience of this first piece of sponsored content and put your findings into action for future content. As you go on, you’ll have consistently high performing content that meets, or even exceeds, your expectations.
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