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The Challenges of Writing Sponsored Content

It is clear that many different publications and websites are now including various forms of sponsored content as a significant portion of their page count. Some might call them “advertorials,” though the two are slightly different. Glance through nearly any print magazine and one will notice them, especially if one pays some attention.

Why has sponsored content been on the uptick over the past several years? There are numerous reasons, but mostly it boils down to the fact that people (readers/viewers) are becoming more and more aware and averse to outright advertisements and sales pitches. On my TV at home we have the option of having our system automatically fast-forward over all commercials. That is great for me, but bad for the TV networks and also the companies which need to find a way to build brand awareness, create a stir, and sell products and services.

One of the best ways for most companies to circumvent the blatant advertisement is a soft-sell, informational piece which tangentially advocates for the general topic or product that a company is engaged in. This is sponsored content, and I have worked with several publications on different “sponsored” projects over the past two to three years. What I have noticed, and struggled a bit with, is that this type of writing is different than other forms of writing, advertising, or journalism. It is a combination of all three, and the truth is that each sponsoring client will have different expectations and their own thought processes.

There is the constant fine line of getting close to the advertisement/promotion angle but never actually crossing that line. The more the piece reads like a sales pitch, the more likely the reader will stop reading and disengage (and potentially be turned off).

Another related concern, for a writer or journalist, is that there can be topics and facts which one cannot include in the article because it would portray the sponsor in a negative fashion.  For the most part, that is a non-starter and will be frowned upon. It can be hard when you know it would make a more well-balanced article, but certain sides cannot be expounded upon.

I have had several times where I was to give an overview of a specific niche part of construction or a building material, but I was not able to even list the major competitors, because the sponsor company did not want the reader to see their names and research their offerings instead of the associated sponsor.

The draft and back-and-forth process of a sponsored article can be bit more tedious than normal, because there is a balancing act between the writer, the publication company, the eventual reader, and the article sponsor. As a writer, I want the content to be interesting and informative; I am putting my name on it. However, whether one is a freelance writer or part of one organization, there is a practical and financial aspect of what is written and how it is edited. I need to satisfy whomever I am working for; if not, the other concerns I might have will become irrelevant.

Sponsored content is here to stay; it is a prudent means for publication companies to earn revenue, and a real way for companies to connect with potential customers in a less threatening manner. Writers will need to navigate these waters on a more regular basis to keep up with changing markets and mentalities.

Ken Lambert

Author

Ken works in new business development for Red Thread's Architectural Products department. Some of his writings have been featured in ARCHITECT magazine, constructiondive.com, and for U.S. Building News.

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