New York Times Ad Chief: Branded Content Units Coming Soon

Redesigned Times Website Will Include New Ad Units

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The New York Times is planning to step off the sidelines and into the world of native advertising online, where a growing list of traditional publishers have thrown their arms around sponsored or branded content.

Meredith Kopit Levien is exec VP-advertising at The New York Times
Meredith Kopit Levien is exec VP-advertising at The New York Times

Meredith Kopit Levien, exec VP-advertising, said the Times is planning to introduce branded content units into its redesigned website, scheduled to rollout in the first quarter of 2014.

"As part of our redesign, there will be new ad products … and at least one unit will be branded content," she said.

"We believe that marketers have stories to tell and they're looking for atomized ways to tell those stories and ways to amplify their messages," Ms. Kopit Levien said. The ad placements will allow advertisers to share these stories, she added, declining to elaborate further on how they will appear on the site.

Branded or sponsored content on many websites has increasingly mimicked the editorial content that surrounds it, all the better to catch readers' eyes and combat the tendency to ignore ads in more common formats. These "native" ad units usually appear among a website's stream of editorial stories. But the Times is approaching branded content in its own way, Ms. Kopit Levien said in a follow-up conversation by email: "A way that will never confuse the reader as to what is advertising and what is content from our newsroom, but still allows the advertiser to tell their own brand stories, using our platforms."

The Times has experimented with a form of native advertising by including a link to Citi Bikes in its Scoop smartphone app, the company has said. When it comes to sponsored content, however, the Times and The Wall Street Journal are among the most prominent traditional outlets to still lack such a product. The Associated Press, The Washington Post and The New Yorker -- to name just a few -- have introduced sponsored content units on their sites.

But top editors at the Times and Journal have cast doubts on the practice. Gerard Baker, the Journal's managing editor, has referred to native advertising as a "Faustian pact," while Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson has said she worries about confusing the reader about what is editorial and what is advertising content.

(Ms. Abramson was traveling and could not make herself available for an interview, a spokeswoman for the Times said.)

The Times, which has suffered 11 straight quarters of declining ad sales, is looking for new ways to make money as it continues to weather the economic storm affecting newspapers. It has increased its production of web video, which commands higher ad rates than text articles online. And it is planning to introduce new subscription products next year.

This past spring, Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger and CEO Mark Thompson held a series of meetings with senior sales and editorial staff to discuss bigger sponsorship opportunities for advertisers, Bloomberg reported. Jonah Peretti, co-founder and CEO of BuzzFeed, appeared as a guest on the subject of native ads, according to the Bloomberg report.

In July, the Times poached Ms. Kopit Levien from Forbes, where she oversaw the company's BrandVoice sponsored content program. Since joining the Times, Ms. Kopit Levien has hired 11 new people. "We're definitely in hiring mode," she said.

She said people from across departments are looking at how the Times will present branded content. That includes newsroom staff, she said.

"We are focused in the advertising area of the organization on developing new ad products," she said. "Those will always get blessed by areas of the organization."

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