Cross-platform publishing at a crossroads

Multi-platform strategies that use all touchpoints are a challenge for New Zealand publishers. Graham Medcalf surveys the local landscape.

Known as cross-platform or multi-platform publishing, posting content on several channels in order to reach the greatest number of people has come to the fore with the recent content-sharing agreements between tech giants Google, Yahoo and Facebook, and publishers including NZ Herald, Stuff, School Road and others. This has highlighted the importance marketers place on maximising their content exposure, though there do appear to be concern over native content crossing over into mainstream publishing, with the quality and reputation of publishers at stake.

In August 2020, news organisation Stuff announced a content-partnership agreement with online magazine Capsule, advising that Stuff would publish the magazine’s content across its platforms. A curated collection of “smart reads and reliable rants”, Capsule was set up by former print-magazine editors Kelly Bertrand, Emma Clifton, Alice O’Connell and Nicky Dewe shortly after the closure of Bauer’s New Zealand business in April 2020, during the Covid-19 crisis. Its partnership with Stuff encompasses both editorial and advertorial content. This means Stuff republishes Capsule’s editorial stories in exchange for revenue sharing, while also working with them in the commercial space to offer advertisers and marketers a unique package that provides the creation of a well-crafted, niche and focused piece of sponsored content that’s then also published on Stuff. Kelly says this is “niche and mass in the same package, which is incredibly valuable and efficient for marketers.” 

Most stories have at least a couple of angles that may work better for different audiences, and content sharing means messages can be tailored to these audiences, doing justice to both the subject and the reader. Everyone gets more value.

Stuff has always maintained that they’re committed to clearly identifying stories that have been produced on the strength of an advertising deal because they know their readers trust them to report on stories independently and without outside influence. “We don’t allow advertiser considerations to influence our news reporting” is their mantra and that of other mainstream publishers.

On the flip side, advertisers want to present their message in a way that mirrors the editorial content of the host publication. Editor-in-Chief of Verticals at Stuff Geoff Collett clarified the situation, saying, “Editorial content-sharing partnerships support a healthy media environment and make our audience reach accessible to others, both to ensure that their content gains maximum exposure and to help their brand recognition.” 

The shift from display advertising towards storytelling is part of a movement consumers have made away from being sold to and towards information sourcing. Consumers demand value when it comes to what content they consume and native content (aka sponsored content) is an effective way to meet that demand. Old-school PR doesn’t cut it anymore and an integrated, considered and more thoughtful approach will always intrigue a reader more. 

“It’s a more authentic way for a marketer or an advertiser to tell the story behind the brand and product,” says Kelly. “We won’t work with any brand we don’t believe in and our readers and followers know that, so it’s also a way to inherently build trust. 

Storytelling is the oldest way of selling – it’s an artform as much as it is a vital human experience. When you can harness that in a way that offers value to every party involved, you have your gold.”

“Obviously, we welcome the audience interest particular pieces of partner content can drive,” says Geoff. “[It offers a] resulting boost to overall audience and related revenue opportunities, and we see that as good for both parties.” 

Geoff Collett.

Such new partnerships are not purely a numbers game. Some of Stuff’s partners are small and quite specialised. “They may focus on niches or specialist projects that we may not have the staff or bandwidth for, so their content enriches our broader offering,” says Geoff. “We hope hosting their content on Stuff will demonstrate to our audience that we see ourselves as an inclusive platform that welcomes the contributions of many others, and so broadens the appeal and strength of Stuff as a locally owned, trustworthy, large-scale and collaborative presence in the media landscape. We see the opportunities with editorial partners as having commercial potential beyond content- and revenue- sharing deals. We work with appropriate partners on shared advertising campaigns and pitches, for example, particularly around sponsored content.”

Although maximising exposure can be difficult to measure, the exposure to a wider audience has real benefits for brand equity. The trick is to pick like-minded channels in which the audiences complement each other. Print and digital work extremely well because in most cases there’s little reader crossover, so there’s a tremendous opportunity to make a piece of content work a lot harder.

In 2017, the Press Council ruled against both the Stuff and NZ Herald websites, ruling, “some sponsored stories from overseas carried by New Zealand’s two biggest news websites were deliberately designed to deceive and breached professional standards. As reported by RNZ’s Mediawatch, the stories came from offshore online company Outbrain, which provides links to articles and videos based on a reader’s location and previous online browsing. Both media companies argued the content was advertising – not news – and it was not under the control of its editorial staff, but the Council concluded the publishers of New Zealand news websites are accountable for promoted links offered to readers.”

In response, the publishers of the Stuff and NZ Herald websites said they would do more to distinguish this content from genuine news online. 

Outbrain’s New Zealand Country Manager Andy Hammond feels positive about the way publishers are increasingly partnering with platforms to increase scale, open up a revenue stream and become more effective channels for their advertisers. “This reflects a growing maturity among New Zealand audiences who demand more than just traditional banners and want to be engaged at the moment they’re interested in a topic, wherever they are on the internet. With the increasingly sophisticated use of data-driven insights and correspondingly relevant content, readers, publishers and advertisers are all enjoying the benefits: higher engagement, meaningful content and subsequently increased sales.” 

Meanwhile, we can see a movement towards publishers starting to concentrate on the collection of first-party data. This ensures that their premium audience maintains its value even when scaled, and with the demise of cookie-based advertising, these audiences are set to grow even more in value. 

Today, publishers have a lot more in common than they do dividing them, and audiences are no longer limited or hard to find. There’s more than enough attention to go around. 

“If 2020 showed us one thing, it’s that demand for trusted news has never been higher, or harder to service,” says Andy. “It’s not the case that these tech giants stole news audiences, but users go there willingly because they’re offering what the people want – an entertaining and personalised feed, unobstructed by advertising.”

In March, Outbrain launched their Content Coalition platform in New Zealand and Australia, which enables Coalition members to grow their audiences through a new channel by utilising Outbrain’s Smartfeed technology to exchange links across different sites. This solution allows publishers to have full control over which sites they share links with, and set audience exchange rules and policies around the type of content to be recommended. The exchange will be facilitated using the Smartfeed platform, which uses AI to recommend appropriate content for readers. This recommendation creates a more direct link with audiences for publishers while giving them access to new audience groups.

As print and distribution company Ovato’s New Zealand Managing Director Paul Gardiner highlights, “A multi-platform approach is essential, as readers primarily consume content on their platform of choice. To have a digital- or print-only strategy limits maximum audience potential.”

It’s important that marketers place their content in a trusted environment that reflects well on the brand and product, which is why Capsule’s so happy to have a content partnership with Stuff, who Kelly says now shares many of the same values, ensuring content is placed in an environment that’s not detrimental.

Native advertising follows the natural form and function of its environment. There’s usually some sign that you’re looking at sponsored content, but most people don’t mind because it fits naturally into the experience they’re already engaging with, making it less obstructive or irrelevant.

There are many reasons why native is growing in popularity, and although many local marketers still view it as a mid-funnel solution to drive traffic to sites or to a piece of branded content, in reality it’s much more than that. Former Sales Director at Yahoo Arnaud Calonne explains: “For one, advanced creative formats have allowed brands to deliver the efficiency, scale and performance of ‘traditional’ native in a visual, impactful and compelling way. And through immersive platforms, native can also launch a uniquely captivating media experience that transports audiences into stimulating brand interactions.” 

Native advertising helps publishers put the right content in front of the right people when it matters, so when it comes to assisting some of the world’s largest publishers, Yahoo ad products play a big role in how they connect their advertisers to their audiences in an authentic way. “As a publisher ourselves, we use our proprietary native solution across all of our editorial brands, including Yahoo News, Yahoo Sport, Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Lifestyle,” says Arnaud. “Our market-leading tech has helped contribute to double-digit audience growth.” 

These solutions are available to all publishers, and Yahoo currently works with a number of premium publishers locally in New Zealand and in a global capacity to monetise their platforms, among them MSN, Apple News and Samsung. 

Arnaud is at pains to stress the importance of personalisation. “What used to be a novel experience is now the standard expectation for online audiences. In today’s increasingly competitive marketplace, delivering contextual customer experiences is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it’s an expectation. Customers today are gravitating toward brands that feel like they listen to them, understand them, and pay attention to their specific wants and needs. That’s where personalisation comes in. It’s a way for brands to contextualise the messages, offers and experiences they deliver according to each visitor’s unique profile.”

Arnaud Calonne.

It’s estimated that by 2022, 75 percent of advertising impressions will be ‘ID-less’ due to blocking of cookie-based identifiers or users opting out altogether, in the case of Apple iOS14.5. This poses significant challenges to online marketers and publishers in kind. To that end, Yahoo has created next-generation audiences to address key challenges such as audience targeting, frequency capping and monetisation of ad impressions. Next-Gen combines unique first-party data and ‘prebid’ signals, such as location, device type or weather, within a machine learning algorithm. This algorithm, called AdLearn, accurately predicts an audience’s age, gender and interests. It’s self-teaching, independent of third-party cookies and very privacy-friendly. 

Yahoo also verifies the accuracy of these Next-Gen audiences against its logged-in members, as well as with Nielsen and Comscore. They’re turned on now for iOS14.5 and will soon roll out to the web. 

“Marketers need to use a mix of solutions, from offline awareness to online exposure with social, search and programmatic,” says Arnaud. “With an omni-channel DSP [digital signal processor], they can activate a full-funnel campaign, from awareness to consideration to purchase intent and everything in between. For example, someone seeing a DOOH [digital out-of-home] ad on their commute may also hear it in their car via streaming audio and at home via a more personalised message on catch-up TV. We see brands using omni-channel campaigns to reach and measure offline and online together, and drive awareness, consideration and in-store or online actions to greater effectiveness.” 

Yahoo’s platform appears to be achieving phenomenal results for marketers. Its Brand Metrics Indicator, a response-tracking tool for campaigns, shows native campaigns over-deliver on prompted awareness +93 percent, campaign recognition +74 percent and new customer intent +81 percent. 

In the meantime, Google’s gearing up to launch a news-curation service in New Zealand, whereby publications, such as the NZ Herald, will be paid to provide stories. The arrangement appears to be at the behest of Minister for Broadcasting & Media Kris Faafoi, who met with Google to encourage them to have commercial discussions with traditional media and is similar to the deal Google has with a number of major Australian news websites, such as Reuters, the Guardian and the Canberra Times. According to Google, the aim is to support and pay publishers to curate their journalism. 

As reported in the NZ Herald, a spokesperson for the newspaper’s owner NZME said the company’s news teams enjoy “a constructive and ongoing relationship with Google” and it has recently joined the Google News Initiative APAC Data Labs programme aimed at supporting news organisations to make the best use of the data available to journalists and editors. “We have been watching with interest developments in Australia and other countries in terms of the relationships between local news organisations and global social media and tech companies, and look forward to working on this issue with all parties in New Zealand, including Google, Facebook, the New Zealand Government and our industry partners.” 

There’s much international interest in the New Zealand market. The LADbible Group recently announced the launch of LADbible New Zealand, with the aim of becoming the number-one publisher in the territory within a year. One of the world’s largest publishers, it has already become the biggest in Australia less than 18 months after its launch. 

With a focus on Gen Z, LADbible Group content receives more than three billion views on social every month. It already reaches 2.4 million people every month in the Asia Pacific region across LADbible Group’s established editorial platforms, and sees this expansion as a natural step that ultimately enables the team to hone in on creating and sharing content that specifically reflects the country’s distinctive humour and attitude to relevant social issues. 

LADbible New Zealand celebrated the launch in a user-generated-content-style video championing the beauty of New Zealand in its first-ever post on its Instagram channel. General Manager of LADbible Group APAC Joseph Summers says, “We want to produce local relevant content for our young Kiwi community, as well as add value to society by putting our weight behind what’s important to them. We firmly believe that we have a unique offering for commercial partners looking to reach mass audiences too.” 

There’s no doubt that cross-platform publishing is a content-management strategy that increases the value of content by making it useful in multiple distribution channels. Rather than focusing on the negative side of content being ‘stolen’ by the likes of Google and Facebook, New Zealand publishers appear to be waking up to the undoubted opportunities and advantages offered by content being made available across a number of platforms. 

This article was originally published in the June/July 2021 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

Graham Medcalf

About Graham Medcalf

Graham Medcalf is former Editor of NZ Marketing and regular contributor.

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