How to work with your marketing partners to build more effective sponsored articles.

By Gretchen Kast

In today’s busy world, it’s become easier than ever for people to tune out traditional advertising. To combat this disengagement, we have created comprehensive, multi-platform programs that connect with readers and association members in multiple different ways and times. Sponsored content has become an increasingly valuable part of that puzzle. More than just a standard “advertorial” or sales pitch, these stories help readers understand the sponsored company better by offering unique insight or advice on a popular industry topic. When developing these sponsored stories, you will need to strike a careful balance between promoting the company specifically and delivering the type of information that will grab your reader’s attention and deliver real value.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you put together a sponsored content piece:
What is the underlying story you’re trying to tell?

Before you start to draft the actual sponsored content piece, you should first pin down what the underlying story is going to be. This is different than the article’s topic; this is what the marketing partner is hoping to communicate to your audience. Are they looking to promote a new product? Explain why their services are better than their competitors? Or maybe they just want to position themselves as true leaders in their category? This idea should be the driving force behind the story and the clear take-away from reading it.

What kind of story do you want this to be?

No matter what the underlying story is, there are always different ways to communicate that message. The form and structure of your article is often just as important as the actual content. Great ideas can easily get lost in a meandering or confusing outline. To avoid such fate, it can be helpful to pick a common story template:

  • A “How To” story will take the reader, step by step, through a process.
  • A “Top List” will succinctly outline the best, most popular or interesting examples of a strategy, technique or even the top reasons why a type of product is useful.
  • An “Explainer” dives deeper on a particular topic to explain it in simple, easy-to-read terms.

Of course, none of these story structures are set fully in stone; each one can be adapted and reimagined to better suit the needs of your message. 

What are your readers looking for?

Remember that, as a website or publication, the biggest value you can offer a marketing partner is access to your audience. But simply presenting a story to your readers doesn’t mean that they’re going to engage with it. Think about why your audience comes to your resources: what is it they’re hoping to learn from you? The best kind of sponsored content is helpful,  informative and interesting—while also feeling organic to your site. 

Consider the latest industry news.

Is there a new product trend everyone is already talking about? Maybe a new regulatory action that is going to impact the way companies run their businesses? These kinds of topical stories can help attract more eyeballs, because people are most likely already searching for information on the subject. When opting for this type of sponsored content, you still have to be careful about the structure. It shouldn’t be written like a traditional news story with an extra marketing blurb tacked on the end. If your outlet does write organic news updates already, make this one something a little different. Dig deeper into the history of the subject or walk through potential outcomes—then connect the issue back to the advertiser’s expertise. Do they offer solutions to problems caused by a new regulation? Model this story more off the Op-Ed section of a newspaper, rather than an AP News Alert.

Make sure there is an obvious connection between topic and company.

You know the feeling of watching a really deep, artsy, emotional commercial—only to get to the end and realize it’s for light beer or paper towels? Sometimes that kind of twist can work in traditional consumer advertising, but rarely will that pay off in the association category. The best sort of sponsored content pieces are those that have a clear and logical link between the story and the sponsoring company.

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