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CBS' Tony Hallett on maintaining user trust & brands bypassing traditional media

Tony Hallett
Tony Hallett, B2B Publishing Director at CBS Interactive will feature at AOP’s next event, ‘Maintaining editorial integrity and making partnerships pay’ next week, on Thursday 17 February.

Tony is responsible for CBS Interactive UK's B2B media brands ZDNet UK, silicon.com and BNET UK.

He joins speakers from Aol, Dunhill, Starcom, TopGear.com & the newly launched Bauer Access at this event, which looks at the effect of advertising moving towards content, and how can publishers reap the benefits without compromising user trust.

Find out more about the event. Attendance at AOP Forums is now free for Publisher (Board and Affiliate) Members, full details below.

1. Do you think that editorial content is becoming more commercially driven across the publishing sector as a whole?

Across the sector as a whole – yes. But there’s a lot of variation and experimentation that is tied to the type of content and business models each outlet specialises in.

2. What approach is CBS Interactive in particular adopting?

Even here there is variation. We’re both a consumer and business publisher. In Consumer, we’ve made leaps in areas such as events and sentiment tracking that more closely put together editors or editorial content with commercial initiatives.

I’m the B2B Publisher and most of my time is on our business technology brands, where advertisers are often quite savvy about areas such as events or social media - we’re increasingly finding ways of tying an advertiser’s social media expertise and leaders with what we would lead from the editorial team and audience side. There’s a lot of trial and error in this space now and I’m not sure I see many perfect solutions as yet in the market.

3. What impact do you think that more commercialised content will have on publishers' credibility as independent trustworthy information providers down the line?

Trust is critical. CBS Interactive still takes the view that a lot of what’s called commercialised content should be clearly identifiable as such. This could be custom content like text or video, or even a tweet from a sponsor.

My take is that all types of audiences will continue to value independent, expert information. There will increasingly be other options, but expectations around a free press are a given for me. In B2B, the quality of our audience and our relationship with them is everything, and “commercialised content” should not get to a place where it can hurt that.

But this isn’t just led by publishers – most clients are tuned in enough to get it, and other parties are taking a dim view on some sponsored content. You even see the ASA grappling with short formats such as sponsored tweets.

4. Have audiences actually noticed a shift and how are they responding?

They have. It ranges from occasionally voiced disapproval – which is why we have to be confident in and clear about what we’re doing, and always respond – to full engagement.

For example we might offer an initiative like a group blog that sees the involvement of audience, sponsor and professional journalists, both in-house and hired guns.

5. As brands move towards content creation themselves, what impact is this having on their relationship with publishers?

The web has always allowed brands to bypass traditional media. These days we might think of their presence on a Facebook or a Twitter but the moment they had customer-facing websites their options exploded.

At CBS Interactive we work with them – it’s in our interests to know what content an advertiser already has or plans to use on the web, over their own channels or with our competitors – and often they’re eager to share this content with our users, again clearly marked as such.

But I think we’re moving to the next stage now, where publishers like us have to sell our overall online expertise and work with them, for example to optimise a campaign that not only runs with us and competitors but with an appropriate channel such as LinkedIn or Facebook. It’s more competitive than ever, so in some cases we might lose business but in others we’re definitely winning much more.

6. Is the relationship between publisher and brand ultimately sustainable and if so, how can it best be achieved?

There is a sustainable relationship but both sides are now also open about ‘seeing other people’.

Some major global brands undeniably have a huge online footprint, largely outside traditional publishing channels, and are doing interesting work that helps their bottom line. We have to acknowledge that’s happening.

But by the same token publishers will increasingly look to user-pays revenue streams - from premium content, to events, to research and other areas that can be strong in B2B. And over the long-term we will continue to work on ways of marrying what we do with brands’ other activities, especially online.

Tony is speaking at ‘Maintaining editorial integrity and making partnerships pay’ on Thursday 17 February.

Find out more about this event.

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