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Working with advertisers 

Image by Joe Yates

Brand safety, engaged reader communities, transparency and privacy – just some of the unique selling points of independent news providers when it comes to advertising.

As part of the PINF summer 2020 Professional Development Programme, we brought together three experts in the relationship between news publishers and advertisers to discuss the shift towards quality, ethical advertising practices, and how independent news publishers can make the best of their USPs.

  • Harriet Kingaby, Co-Chair, Conscious Advertising Network, a voluntary coalition of 70+ organisations set up 'to ensure that industry ethics catches up with the technology of modern advertising'.

  • Damon Reeve, CEO of the Ozone Project, a 'high-attention digital advertising environment' which offers a 'privacy by design' platform built for transparency, brand safety and ease of access.

  • Michael York, Director of Ethical Media Sales and Marketing (EMSM), a media sales agency which has been operating for 10 years, working with the ethical market, charities and small organisations and media-buying agencies.


Trends in the ad market:

  • Global ad spend is enormous: in 2019, digital ad spending worldwide rose by 17.6% to $333.25 billion (eMarketer, 2019). So there’s more than enough to go around.

  • Some negative trends: advertising is increasingly appearing alongside fake news and hate speech, ad fraud is funding organised crime, and given the brands' and agencies' use of block lists, advertising is optimised for a largely straight, white audience. 

  • However, things are changing: advertisers are starting to see media spend as an investment in the online world that they want to see. They are also starting to understand that power comes with responsibility. They need to decide what they do and don’t want to fund.

  • There has been an important shift. Page views are no longer the honey pot for advertisers they used to be. With advertisers battling to find brand safety, the challenge for publishers now is about being able to demonstrate the quality and strength of their audience. The drop in advertising in the mainstream press throughout Covid-19 has only served to reinforce this shift.


Independent news providers have distinct USPs:

  • Independent publishers have the potential of offering a unique and very attractive opportunity for advertisers. The key values independent publishers can provide include: brand safety, engaged readers communities, transparency and privacy.

  • What is the key to tapping into this revenue potential? Figuring out how to demonstrate these USPs in your pitch to advertisers.

Local relationships are key for local publishers:

  • While new innovative ads solutions can be attractive, publishers at local publications emphasise the value of building relationships with local advertisers to grow authentic advertising revenue.

  • There’s an argument to say that when local businesses advertise in local publications, all concerned benefit; readers included, as they gain information about local products, services and amenities. 

  • Often, smaller local publishers find the simple process of talking to local businesses directly and then manually placing ads on site the most effective.

Attracting ads as a ‘community of interest’ publication can be difficult:

  • For many niche publishers with a ‘community of interest’ producing social affairs journalism, rather than local, regional or national news, getting business onboard can be tricky.

  • The ethical dimension of advertising remains very challenging; striking the balance between accepting ads from ethical companies that speak to your audience and generating enough income to pay for a member of staff to source those ads, all the while making accepting ads worthwhile, is very challenging.

  • This said, as we witness a gentle shift towards quality, ethical advertising practices, there’s optimism amongst publishers that striking that delicate balance will become easier in the near future.

Questions? Comments? Contributions? If you'd like to share your views or experience on this topic with the PINF team, get in touch.

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