The media-marketing merge

Can good content come from pay-to-play relationships?

I ran across a program Forbes is running called BrandVoice that gives marketers a place on Forbes’ digital platform. During a brief audio interview with TheMediaBriefing, Forbes European managing director Charles Yardley explained how BrandVoice works:

“It’s quite simply a tenancy fee. A licensing fee that the marketer pays every single month. It’s based on a minimum of a six-month commitment. There’s two different tiers, a $50,000-per-month level and a$75,000-per-month level.” [Discussed at the 4:12 mark.]

Take a look at some of the views BrandVoice companies are getting. You can see why marketers would be interested.

An arrangement like this always leads to big questions: Does pay-to-play content erode trust? Is this a short-term gain that undermines long-term editorial value?

Those are reasonable things to ask, but I have a different take. When I look at BrandVoice posts like this and this, I’m indifferent toward the whole thing — the posts, the partnerships, all of it.

In my mind, these posts don’t reveal a gaping crack in The Foundation of Journalism. Nor do I have an issue with Forbes opening up new revenue streams through its digital platform. Rather, this is just more content vying for attention. It’s material that’s absorbed into the white noise of online engagement.

Now, if a piece of content earns attention — if it has real novelty or insight — that would change my view (I’m using the word “would” because this is all theoretical). I’d still need to know the source and be able to trust the information, and see clear and obvious warnings when content is published outside of traditional edit norms. But if all of those must-haves are present, is there anything wrong with interesting content that comes through a pay-to-play channel?

Heck, TV advertisers pay to spread messages through broadcast platforms, and from time to time those ads are entertaining and maybe even a little useful. Is that any different?

I’ve been neck-deep in media and marketing for years, and it’s possible my perspective is obscured by saturation. That’s why I’d like to hear other viewpoints on these media-marketing arrangements. Please chime in through the comments if you have an opinion.

Disclosure: O’Reilly Media has a blog on Forbes. It’s not part of the BrandVoices program, and there’s no financial arrangement.

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• stephanie

Interesting…your right content that earns attention is timeless content..good review and thoughts to ponder and look into further.
Stephanie@stephanieZ.com

• TimeStarvd

Mac, my vote is no!

“if all of those must-haves are present, is there anything wrong with interesting content that comes through a pay-to-play channel?

I appreciate an opportunity to learn, or be truly entertained, no matter the source of the content.

• Great views. Very interesting.
Margraffix.com

• The most direct source of the money is going to have the most direct determination on the quality and argument of the content. If Coke is paying for an article, it’s probably going to be less in favor of the sugary drink ban than if Coke were not paying. If O’Reilly is paying for an article, it’s probably going to say that O’Reilly books (as well as movements/memes, perhaps to Morozov’s dismay) are important.

But it’s not only the influence/disclosure of the money that matters, but also the ability of the audience to *parse* that influence. An audience that’s not skeptical enough may not be able to read between the lines and understand what’s really going on in a piece. For example, this recent Oracle “article” about Southwest Airlines (http://www.forbes.com/sites/oracle/2013/03/26/getting-on-board-with-customer-experience/) never once mentions that Southwest is an Oracle customer! What’s essentially happened here is that Oracle has paid Forbes to publish one of its customer case studies as some form of “journalism” (ha!). And Southwest probably even (perhaps indirectly) paid Oracle to do *that*! The mind reels.

I’ve actually had self-proclaimed “savvy” businesspeople send me these types of Forbes pieces (not necessarily from BrandVoice, but other sponsored blogs on Forbes) as proof of industry trends, seemingly totally oblivious to the element of self-interest. Guess what, of COURSE the owner of a cloud-based monkey feed management system (or whatever) is going to tell you that cloud-based monkey feed management is the future of technology (and furthermore that their company is the leader of that industry)! What you need is a reasoned perspective from someone *without* that vested interest… someone like a journalist, perhaps?

Anyway, this may sound harsh, but I’ve really found that many of the Forbes blogs (O’Reilly’s excluded, I hope, though I haven’t read it often), BrandVoice or not, publish notably awful, shallow, and transparently self-promotional content. I’ve been pretty disappointed with them, and it’s made me trust Forbes content a lot less (not at all) in general.