Claire Robinson - Forbes
Forbes’s BrandVoice is industry standard bearer for native advertising, laying the foundation on which modern sponsored content programs are built. Claire Robinson speaks with us on how BrandVoice started, how they approach industry problems, and what new challenges they’ll face in 2015.
What’s your story? How did you end up at this role at Forbes and with BrandVoice?
I’ve been managing Forbes BrandVoice for two years. I previously served on the product development team at Forbes. Before joining Forbes, I worked at AOL for 11 years in an editorial capacity. In both of those jobs, I did a lot of sales liaison work, so it naturally helped me to gain an understanding of the different sides. Then when Forbes expanded its BrandVoice program, I made the leap to the business side of the house, helping grow the program.
What can you tell us about the very beginning of the BrandVoice program?
The program was introduced here at Forbes in 2010 when the company acquired a startup called True/Slant and brought over its team of people. The team, led by Chief Product Officer Lewis D’Vorkin, helped create a social journalism platform that lets staff writers and expert contributors publish content directly to Forbes.com. Among those experts are marketers who publish under Forbes BrandVoice where the content is clearly and transparently labeled as marketer-sourced.
In November 2010, Forbes BrandVoice featured its first magazine partner as well as its first digital partner, which is still running on the platform. BrandVoice today has the same philosophy that it did then: Brands have valuable information to share, and audience members will engage with content that is relevant to them.
WORKING WITH ADVERTISERS
Could you describe the current dynamic between marketers/advertisers and Brand Perspectives? Is there anything you’d change to smooth or speed up the process?
We’ve seen a huge explosion in brand marketing and native advertising within the last couple of years. We’ve worked with over 50 BrandVoice partners across print and digital, and they come to the program with varying degrees of content marketing experience, expertise and resources. We adapt our strategic support for each partner depending upon its needs.
Let’s say you’re talking to an advertiser or first time marketer, what’s their first question when they’re beginning a campaign with BrandVoice?
The questions are always unique to the partner, but usually brands ask for strategic advice: what should their content be, how does content they’ve already created stack up, how can we help content production and how does it all work?
They like to know the role of our team here and how we can help them both day-to-day and long-term. They also ask about analytics — what we provide and how we help them analyze the information.
DISCLOSURE AND PAID AMPLIFICATION
What do you feel constitutes the right amount of disclosure when displaying native advertising? How did BrandVoice reach consensus on how you approach disclosure?
Since day one, all Forbes parties have been in agreement on clear disclosure. That’s important out of respect to the visitor, and to protect the integrity of the marketer and the Forbes brand itself.
BrandVoice content clearly features brand labeling at the top of the page, as in NetAppVoice. A note at the top of each page also gives a definition of the platform under the heading “Connecting marketers to the Forbes audience. What is this?”and provides a dropdown that features a more in-depth description. Bylines showcase the company name. The BrandVoice label also travels before headlines across the site and within Forbes social feeds.
Externally, we closely monitor the activity of key industry groups such as the FTC and IAB. Mark Howard, our Chief Revenue Officer, is on the IAB’s Native Advertising Task Force. Internally, the business team collaborates with the product development team and legal counsel for all product-related decisions.
How do you approach paid amplification at Forbes? What do you perceive as its value, do you think it’s essential to the program or is it more a nice-to-have?
Paid amplification is a valuable tool to help drive additional eyeballs to the content. It complements the organic discovery on Forbes.com, search and social that our platform supports. Traffic resulting from paid distribution is always interest-based, because people opt into the content based on the headlines and labeled sourcing. It’s also a useful tool in content strategy to help indicate what kinds of stories and headlines are resonating across the web.
We report on paid versus organic traffic because we believe in giving partners a clear view of their content metrics.
Are there specific challenges that the team at BrandVoice is focused on solving?
The question that the BrandVoice team constantly asks is: What’s emerging and evolving? There’s a lot emerging in the digital space, like more multimedia and more digitalization.
We’re focused on taking brands to the next level of publishing, beyond just publishing content, but rather programming different elements into their BrandVoice home pages, and providing different rich content experiences. In October, we launched new BrandVoice homepages that will allow BrandVoice marketers to scale their digital presence by republishing on Forbes.com brand content from other publishers. Marketers must have the rights to republish the content, which may carry labeling from the original publisher.
On the new homepages, BrandVoice partners will also have more control over how their content is arranged and displayed. Partners will be able to organize their content under category tabs, highlight specific posts, include visuals and video, and embed social media feeds from Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Google Plus.
Who is the unsung hero of sponsored content at BrandVoice?
The partners. My team gets kudos for working collaboratively with our partners to guide and support their programs. And the platform’s creators should be recognized for their innovation. But, ultimately, the partners hold the reins. Partner “wins” are very exciting for all of us in all of their forms: engagement, a tweet from a key audience member, an invitation to speak or consult based on BrandVoice exposure, a piece being referenced as useful and trusted information. It’s also fantastic to see partners develop their content marketing expertise over time based on their learnings and work through our program.