Time Inc. has created an eight-person unit to focus on native advertising at the publishing company, led by a staffer from the editorial side, Sports Illustrated Group Creative Director Chris Hercik, and another from the business side, Senior VP-Marketing and Sales Development Priya Narang.
Mr. Hercik continues his role at Sports Illustrated. Ms. Narang joined Time Inc. a few weeks ago from Cannondale, where she was VP-global marketing.
Where individual magazine brands have been selling and creating native ads at the company, the new Time Inc. Native Group will work with advertisers, brand editors and publishers to develop and implement native programs and strategies across the company's 25-title portfolio, according to Mark Ford, exec VP-global ad sales. In addition to Sports Illustrated, Time Inc. brands include People, Fortune, Time, InStyle, Entertainment Weekly, Essence, Travel & Leisure and Food & Wine.
"This is about leveraging our corporate strength," Mr. Ford said.
Mr. Ford began looking to build a team to guide the company on native ads upon his appointment to his current role in February, he added, calling it "one of our key initiatives."
Native ads, which are designed to attract readers' attention by more or less mimicking the editorial content on a website, have become increasingly important to the magazine world, where prices for standard display ads online are under pressure.
Publishers and advertisers argue that readers are often just as happy to consume content in this form whether it comes from brands or editors. "One thing that's agnostic is creativity," Mr. Hercik said. "It doesn't matter if it's an editorial product or an advertising product."
Native ads are relatively labor-intensive, however, because they are particular to the one site where they are designed to appear. The new group seems designed to alleviate that problem.
Ms. Narang described a possible native campaign involving Money magazine's well-known yearly feature, "10 Best Places to Live." Rather than confine the deal to Money, Ms. Narang said, the group could extend the "10 Best Places to Live" concept to as many as 15 Time Inc. titles. "Food & Wine was able to come up with Best Places for Foodies, Real Simple had the Most Convenient Places to Live, Sports Illustrated was Best College Sports Towns," Ms. Narang said.
Some editors, at Time Inc. and elsewhere, have expressed concern about the risk of misleading readers and undermining their trust. Conde Nast, where the Digital Media Group is responsible for pursuing and assessing multi-brand native ad opportunities, this spring asked editors to review a 4,000-word document laying out how the company will handle and label native advertising online.
Time Inc. Exec VP and Chief Content Officer Norm Pearlstine has said he is wary of portfolio-wide native advertising best practices, saying he would prefer to see native advertising as something that was implemented on a "case by case basis," but he retains the power to strike down any possible deals he feels are inappropriate.
"Norm still does hold the final veto," Mr. Hercik said. "We do have checks and balances to oversee this group."
The new group is not Time Inc.'s first foray into custom content; Time Inc. Content Solutions has been offering those services for ten years, and Time Inc.'s Branded Solutions Group, which combines corporate sales and marketing with digital sales, has been around since 2011. But those operations have focused on branded content that may often as not appear outside of Time Inc. properties, such as marketers' own websites.