There were two elephants in the room on Tuesday, during the future-of-native-advertising session at INMA World Congress 2017.

The first was native advertising itself, about which many traditional publishers have been ambivalent because of the resources it demands and the editorial ethics it challenges. However, the TimesCenter auditorium’s 400 seats were packed with international media leaders, aware that native is becoming increasingly dominant as display advertising continues to contract.

The second was Google. One of its senior executives was taking the stage — just after her company had been roundly bashed by a loudly applauded morning keynote speaker, who characterised Google (along with Facebook) as an unfair industry-killing duopoly.

Nathalie Sajous, director of U.S. news and publishing for Google’s Global Partnerships, took that on quietly but directly as soon as she stepped up to the mic.

“I think I should start off by addressing some of the thought-provoking conversations that happened in the past two days,” she said. “The first part being, we really are here to partner. I was invited on this stage to talk about native. But for context, Google is really committed to partnering with publishers, especially in this deep-challenging time for journalism, in growing a sustainable business together.” 

Nathalie Sajous of Google says that they are here to partner with news media.
Nathalie Sajous of Google says that they are here to partner with news media.

Sajous moved into her planned presentation, outlining the tools and platforms that Google is starting to provide to publishers to help them scale up their native ad workflows.

Yet when questioned later in the programme about the touchy subject of revenue-sharing with publishers, she addressed it again. “I think you have a sub-question there, and I do want to address it because it’s been a theme in the conference for some time. It’s use of the term ‘duopoly.’ I think it’s a bit of a misnomer.”

Sajous continued: “There are two companies that are in the headlines. But I think we heard yesterday as well, there are all these amazing technologies and companies out there — whether it’s the ones who’ve grown quickly, the Snapchats of the world, or the other ones where the government has recently allowed them to have presence.”

She noted that there are more distributed ways for advertisers to invest in today, whether that is with Verizon, AOL, and Yahoo; or with various technology platforms that have become available.

“It’s a growing business,” Sajous said in summarising her point. “We are incentivised to help the publishing industry succeed. Our core value has been to organise the world’s information, and also to make it available and useful. The only way about that is to actually grow the pie.”

As for the native elephant in the room, Sajous and her fellow speakers on the all-woman panel (a detail noted by several Twitter followers) delivered a clear slate of advice and some solid examples.

“When you’re building and telling stories in this space, every day and every month there’s new technology that comes available,” said Amy Marks Kramer, global head of marketing for Bloomberg Media. “The one thing that we’ve found is: Stay true to what your story is, and then figure out the best platform and technology to tell that story.”

Kramer also emphasised “knowing your audience” and “being a true partner” with clients.

Amy Marks Kramer of Bloomberg Media talks to the audience about staying true to your story.
Amy Marks Kramer of Bloomberg Media talks to the audience about staying true to your story.

“We have found that actually being a true partner — and understanding what our clients’ needs are and the problems they are trying to solve — has really helped us,” she said.

Hayley Romer, vice president and publisher of The Atlantic, advised a careful blending of the creative and technical.

“What we’ve learned for sure is that our programmes that are heavily art directed, when we spend a lot of time thinking about the look and feel of a programme, perform well. They pull audiences in and deeply engage them,” said Romer. “But it’s not just about the art. For us, it’s very much about the combination of art and science.”

She added: “Our approach to native is that it’s about a sensibility, not a format. Our approach is absolutely audience first.”

Hayley Romer of The Atlantic says their approach is absolutely audience first.
Hayley Romer of The Atlantic says their approach is absolutely audience first.

From a technical perspective, Sajous focused on the organisation and resources needed to make native work well.

“Native brings the power back to publishers,” she said. “The controls are there in terms of designing the ad into the environment that fits best on your site. And with that comes a responsibility of ensuring the same care that goes into the editorial side, also goes into the ad side.”

The challenge is that the team usually responsible for the native programmatic side is the ad ops team. “The challenge is they often don’t have the creative background. And even if they have the chops to do it, it’s hard to scale.”

Sajous said that one of the best practices found in chatting with publishers at Google is to work cross-functionally.

“The knowledge that’s in designing the editorial is shared with the team that designs the templates for native,” she concluded. “And that helps really deliver performance.”