How Thought Catalog Uses A Native-First Strategy To Build A Modern Media Brand

on The Future Of Publishing

As publishers today navigate new native monetization strategies, they're looking for solutions to help them boost the efficiency of their in-house resources while delivering corresponding increases in revenue. New opportunities with native ad units and content creation need to be blended in with traditional approaches to advertising, leaving publishers with a plethora of new possibilities to consider.

To get a sense of how these factors are impacting publishers we spoke to Cristina Calderin (pictured below), Director of Accounts and Ad Operations for Thought Catalog, and discussed how the site is currently managing their native advertising efforts and adapting to new market trends.


How do you guys formulate your ad strategy?

We take a few factors into consideration. First we consider the client's needs, and what we can realistically deliver in a successful way. Secondly, we look at user impact. Ultimately, we want to preserve and grow our user base, so we need to assess the impact ad executions will have on our users. Next we think about profitability and margins. Is a larger, more complex buildout worth the cost? Lastly, we look at our peers. We learn a lot from what others are doing, what’s working and what’s not and we’re always on the lookout for beautifully executed campaigns to help inspire us.

How long has native been a part of that ad strategy?

Thought Catalog is in a unique position where we can always offer native ad solutions as part of our strategy. Our content is written and curated by millennials, with every article meant to give a voice to this generation. Our staff writers all have their own unique style and resonate with different types of audiences. We're also unique in that we have a community that submits writing to be published on Thought Catalog. We'll include this millennial participation in many of our native offerings to provide a more genuine connection with our audience. Our native solution offers buyers a chance to connect with these users in a very organic way. Because of this, native has always been a key component to our ad strategy.

Ultimately, we want to preserve and grow our user base, so we need to assess the impact ad executions will have on our users.

What are some of the biggest challenges of implementing a native strategy?

The biggest challenge in implementing native is crafting a truly authentic product that works seamlessly with the site. Users are smart and they can detect phony content almost immediately. They are likely to bounce off the page quickly if they sniff out a fake article. Most of our clients are really understanding of this and value our opinion when it comes to creating sponsored content, but it can still be a difficult balancing act.

What does your native ad product look like today?

Our most successful native product is our sponsored content, written by our own staff writers or by dipping into our pool of submissions. We offer sponsored articles that are distributed through a variety of channels: (1) homepage placement, (2) our social channels, and (3) our newest distribution channel Quote Catalog (we build "Quote Macros" - beautiful pictures with inspiring or meaningful quotes from the article - that direct users to a client's sponsored content).

How do you package native with other ad offerings?

We package our native product with standard banner ads and high impact media. For example, we surround our sponsored posts with the client's banners, and gain reach through targeted content, placing their banners on page categories that resonate with the brand's message.

High impact units include native banner placements that match Thought Catalog's look and feel, interstitials that we've created in house, as well as some out-stream video units that expand as the user scrolls down through the content.

Is programmatic advertising part of your monetization strategy?

Yes. Like most publishers, any inventory not directly sold gets sold through our programmatic channels, which we optimize for higher yield on a daily basis. We also offer native units programmatically using Sharethrough's native ad formats and demand. The units are styled with the look and feel of our site and fit seamlessly alongside our content.

Alongside this, we offer programmatic direct and private marketplace solutions for buyers who are interested in targeting specific users.

How difficult was it to integrate your native strategy across multiple site titles?

Shop Catalog is our other proprietary site. It's a market for quirky products, curated by social influencers. We've included some unique ways users can interact with the products. For example, for every product, we include a unique poll for users to weigh in.

We've had to change up our native strategy completely for Thought Catalog. Instead of an article, we'll sell either the client's product or allow them to sponsor a product. We're able to include any sort of polling data they want to collect, so they can understand how users are reacting to and engaging with the product. It's definitely been a fun site to work with.

Users are smart and they can detect phony content almost immediately and are likely to bounce off the page quickly if they sniff out a fake article.

How do your native placements perform in comparison to your other ad formats?

We run native units in strategic slots on our pages for both desktop and mobile platforms, where they receive the best viewability and engagement rates. Because they tend to outperform standard banners both in terms of CPM and engagement rates, they're our top call partner for those placements. We also offer these formats to our direct clients since engagement rates are so high.

How do you expect your native strategy to grow and evolve in 2016 and 2017?

With the majority of digital ad spend going through programmatic channels, where it's so easy for buyers to simply plug into exchanges and deliver ads to whoever they want to target, we feel that now more than ever it's important for us to stand out to advertisers. Native advertising is the most ideal way for us to accomplish this. Now equipped with a stronger revenue team, we plan on continuing to improve our native products so we are one of the go-to publishers advertisers look at when they want to reach millennials.