Mavericks | Lindsay Nelson Slate | Native Ads Best Practices


Lindsay Nelson - SlateCustom

Lindsay Nelson heads up SlateCustom – a sponsored content studio focused on helping brands create and distribute compelling stories across different digital platforms and mediums.




How did you end up in this role at SlateCustom?

I initially helped produce a number of different existing programs company and was eventually tasked with looking at untapped non-standard revenue opportunities. We couldn’t ignore the rising attention that native (yet to be defined as such in 2012) was receiving.

We already had a proven track record producing compelling content on behalf of brands; now it was time to deepen those creative capabilities while building an ad product that could efficiently put that great content in front of Slate readers in the smartest way possible.

Was there a defining moment Slate realized they needed to evolve their native advertising efforts, and build SlateCustom?

Most publishers have some integrated marketing solution, and often times content creation is included within that strategy. I felt it was important to build out an experienced studio team that could produce content more quickly, efficiently and to a higher production or editorial value.

But the creative services side is only have of the business model. Designing and executing a suite of native products, and everything that entails, is the vehicle in which you distribute and scale that great content. Ultimately you are monetizing the reach and engagement, not the existence of the content itself.


Could you describe the current dynamic between marketers/advertisers and SlateCustom? Is there anything you’d change to smooth or speed up the process?

If a brand or agency is working with SlateCustom, it’s because they’ve come to us for our expertise and proven track record of producing award winning content driven programs. I suppose there is a reason that this niché of content creative development has risen within the publisher marketplace.

If I could give advice for brands or marketers, I would suggest that they let go of the reins a bit and trust the publisher. Pick your partners wisely, but when you do trust their credibility and authority.

What are marketers and advertisers number one question when initiating their first potential native ad campaign?

For many brands this is the first time or first quarter they are testing a native advertising strategy or even a content marketing campaign. They’re nervous. If it’s a new dimension of your marketing efforts and you’ve never done it before, you don’t necessarily know what your objectives are, what the process looks like, or how to properly measure success. They may be stepping outside their traditional voice – and I think that can be a little bit scary.

How do you feel about paid amplification? What methods do you use? What would you say is its value?

I think we try to balance scale with quality traffic and engagement, as a result our paid distribution strategy isn’t one size fits all – and not every campaign necessarily has a paid distribution component. As most people in the industry know, there’s no standardized KPI (key-performance-indicators) for native advertising.

Some brands look for mass reach, some look for qualified reach, some look for time spent, some look for social engagement. Depending on what the goals of the campaign are, we design a paid distribution strategy that achieves those objectives specifically.


Some brands look for mass reach, some look for qualified reach, some look for time spent, some look for social engagement … You simply design a paid distribution strategy to reach those objectives.

Who is the unsung hero of sponsored content at SlateCustom?

Our project managers have to learn every facet of the business. Digital publishing is a very siloed entity: You have sales, planning, marketing, ad operations and then across the aisle you have editorial. Our project managers have to understand how to analyze data and optimize for efficiency to ensure a program is achieving the desired traffic goals. They have to understand client service because they represent Slate with the agency or client.

They also have to understand the development and the product side because most of these campaigns are original executions. They’re project managing new websites, and they’re project managing interactive infographics and web video series. Our project managers truly quarterback these programs from start to finish, from client services all the way through to launch date.


What is the biggest challenge for scaling your program? The biggest pain point?

The very nature of our business is that these are custom executions, there’s nothing off the shelf. It becomes easy to reinvent the wheel over and over. When you close a program it may be completely uncharted territory because advertisers want that originality – the classic never been done before ask. The upside is that you continue to be innovative, leading with ideas rather than products or packages.

I think Slate puts our money where our mouth is on that front. That being said, if you aren’t selling standardized packaged listicles you can’t necessarily build a factory of people who pump out that single thing. Our approach isn’t necessarily easier (for us), but I think it’s a longer game strategy.

What is SlateCustom’s next challenge?

We’re in 2.0 mode. For the past couple of years we’ve focused on being a great creative studio. That’s my background and that’s where it made sense at that time for me to expend energy – developing a roster of incredible creative and editorial talent. Going forward my focus is on data and using that data to drive our product offering and our ideation.

I’m committed to marrying ideas and the distribution of those ideas so that you can reach the target audience the best way possible. You can’t do this without the insights and ability to react in real time, which for us has been a game changer.

The very nature of our business is that [native ads] are custom executions, there’s nothing off the shelf.