New York Times CEO Mark Thompson intends to restore growth to the company's digital advertising revenue next year after recent declines, he told a meeting of investors Tuesday.
To spur growth, the Times is introducing branded content solutions for advertisers, according to Mr. Thompson, who spoke at UBS's media and communications conference taking place in New York City.
"There's no in principle reason why giving advertisers an opportunity to get long and sophisticated messages to users can't happen in the context of The New York Times," he said.
Such ad products, which a Times executives has also referred to as native advertising, have faced scrutiny from various corners of the media world. Last week, the Federal Trade Commission hosted a workshop where publishers and advertisers discussed native ads, which more or less mimic the editorial content that surrounds it, ahead of possible government oversight.
But Mr. Thompson promised "utter clarity" and "zero confusion" between what is advertising and what is journalism. "We will be developing solutions that meet those pretty testing targets," he said.
The statement called to mind the sentiments of Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson, who earlier this year said she worried about such confusion and said a priority for the Times is ensuring there is no confusion in the minds of readers.
The introduction of native ads comes as the Times' has watched its digital advertising revenue slow. Digital ad revenue at the Times fell 3% in the third quarter, a sharper decrease than print ad revenue, which declined 2%.
The Times has actively sought to restore growth, according to Mr. Thompson. In July, the company poached Meredith Kopit Levien from Forbes to be its exec-VP advertising. She has helped develop the native-ad platform, which she said last month will roll out in the next two or three months.
The Times is also developing "more scalable" solutions around programmatic buying, Mr. Thompson said. And he said the comopany is staffing up its ad sales department to transition, as Ms. Kopit Levien has put it, from "farming to hunting."
"We've got an ad department that has performed brilliantly well both in print and digital, often on both platforms facing considerable secular headwinds," Mr. Thompson said. "But what we're trying to do is firstly, find new talent to further strengthen the ad department." That search includes people skilled in both digital and traditional advertising as well as ad tech, he added.