Part 3: The Struggle Is Real - Retaining clients is harder than attracting new ones

As brands and agencies continue to dip their toes into branded content, attracting first-time clients is less of a concern for premium publishers. However, branded content campaign renewal rates are far lower than publisher expectations.

When researching our latest customer-exclusive whitepaper, The Business of Branded Content, we interviewed over 30 premium publisher chief revenue officers and executives, examining how they run, manage, and sell their branded content programs.

Graphic: Average Client Renewal Rates

Polar’s research shows publishers experiencing weak client renewal rates across the board.

  • Nearly 40 percent of clients are not renewing for additional branded content programs.
  • The majority of publishers see renewal rates in the 25 to 50 percent range.

Most publishers say renewal decisions are often decided before a program even launches, based on how aligned the client and publisher are on campaign objectives whether they be engagement, views, or other metrics.

Brands are having a lot of one night stands, creating meaningful connections and then abandoning them. One-off campaigns can be very successful, but content as an always-on strategy will create far more value.
— John Schneider, President of Sales, Funny Or Die
  • Larger deals with a sponsorship price of $200,000 or more had much stronger renewal rates – generally 75% or more, largely due to higher budgets equating to higher quality content production and strengthened distribution.
  • These larger budget programs generally run over longer time periods of six months or more. This allows publishers the time to “course-correct” along the way, tweaking content or enhancing distribution.
  • Smaller deals with average sponsorship below $50,000 had much weaker renewal rates hovering around the 25 percent range.

GRAPHIC: Factors Influencing Renewal Rates

Client experience has become a critical part of the renewal equation for branded content programs. When asked what has the biggest influence on renewals, there is a fairly even split between client experience, campaign metrics and content quality.

The most interesting discovery is perhaps a throwback to the Mad Men era: a third of publishers believe client experience is the number one driving force behind renewals. Although campaign metrics are examined by every client, most publishers feel they are not the primary influence on renewals.

[It’s] harder to keep a client than win one. If the experience is strong, we will get another shot even if metrics are fair or the final product is a 9 out of 10. May not happen if it was the other way around.
— Jordan Hyman, Custom Content Sales, Wall Street Journal
  • Branded content’s elevated price tags come with high expectations from the client side. Publishers must invest accordingly in content creation, distribution, and talent.
  • Ensure sales kits contain a clear brand engagement process.
  • Case studies must support the publisher’s ability to deliver a great experience, as well as an engaging final product.

Need more insight into how global premium publishers are evolving their content strategy? Get The Business of Branded Content, the latest in Polar Academy’s thought leadership series.