The What, Why, When and How of Sponsored Content

An overview of sponsored content, editorial content and brand content, with a focus on the key issues (and solutions) with sponsored content marketing.

Sponsored content has to hold sufficient value to the consumer to be deemed content marketing. Too many organisations try to pass off sales literature disguised as an article which, as we will see, won't hold up for the consumer or be worthwhile for the organisation or the publisher.

But sponsored content, even though it brings with it a number of issues, can be hugely effective for the marketer. 70% of individuals want to learn about products through content rather than through traditional advertising. There are, at times, confusion as to what sponsored content actually is.


Sponsored content is a form of native advertising and comes from organisations looking to publish their own content on external channels, usually via publishers and other media outlets, that are not owned by themselves.

It’s considered a hybrid of branded content by those organisations and editorial content (or native advertising that accompanies that content) by the publishers.


Due to the surplus amounts of content on the internet, branded content is becoming increasingly harder to be seen. Audiences are harder to come by as more and more content is created on the internet for those audiences.

Sponsored content helps to tackle this problem. It takes the form of editorial content that looks like it’s supposed to be there and it more likely to be considered authoritative as it sits on a website that is deemed more independent than content on an organisation's website.

Organisations generally value this because this association with a publication and exposure to its audience as it helps position that organisation as also being authoritative. In the process, a sponsored campaign as such can boost awareness, referral traffic (find out more on referral marketing software) and leads.


The principal objective for an organisation is not to promote your glass vial, clinical supply service or tablet coating. You want your writers to become an essential resource to your customers (and potential customers) by providing value, perhaps guiding that customer with some key information about the features of the product(s) in question. We're looking to produce educational, and therefore, independent content here.

Think of the journalists at the pharmaceutical media brands you most respect, whether they write for a trade journal, industry association or blog, would you keep reading if their content was predominantly focused on selling you a subscription?

Look at your products and services. Discover a topic or subject that has the ability to educate and inform, rather than promote and sell.


Now we have established what sponsored content is, let's look at some of the complexities that arise from a content marketing strategy that involves two different organisations.

This list of seven issues also includes tips to overcome these common issues:


Approach a sales representative from a number of publications (without knowing that representative or publication) and it is possible that due to various pricing and commitment models, as well as data, you will be more confused with the options than before you first set out on a sponsored campaign.

Know your target audience as well as the publication's audiences. Spend time researching the market of possible publishing opportunities to ensure that you are able to give your sponsored content campaign the best possible chance of succeeding. There are hundreds of publishing options and without prior knowledge, extensive research should be conducted.


Native advertising has received its share of criticism over the years, and sponsored content is no different. This is mainly due to the fact that some publishers will try as hard as possible (based on the client’s demands) to present sponsored content like editorial content. The chart below, by Contently, captures this issue.


Therefore, contrary to marketers' common beliefs, it's critical that the sponsored content is clearly signposted as being sponsored or it will never achieve the desired results. Communicate to the publisher that the content should be clearly tagged. It's in your interest to make it look organic, but readers and subscribers will know the difference almost instantly.


Sponsored content will be distributed by the publisher, as driving traffic to the content will mainly be their responsibility. They will use a number of methods to achieve this, namely email marketing and social media. So, take a look at the publisher’s social channels to gauge reach and engagement.

But this doesn’t mean your organisation can’t promote it too. Think about how you intend to distribute your content when it’s done. It’s one thing creating the article in the first place, but you need a method of distributing it to your target audience - this goes for any content marketing campaign. Social media is the perfect channel for distribution to ensure you keep growing your LinkedIn and Twitter audiences.


The focus is very much on marketing measurement when it comes to any campaign that comes with an investment. Sponsored content requires this investment and therefore a conversation metric should be put in place, usually in the form of a download.

The exchange of a consumer’s personal information in return for downloadable educational content which helps the user in their professional capacity should be as reasonable as possible, otherwise, they won’t be interested in future exchanges. Do not ask for too much data; this isn't your website.


Data management has become more of an issue now than it ever was. As there is potentially an exchange of data involved, organisations and the publishers both need to be on the same page when it comes to the handling and the transfer of data. Determine early on how the data is handled. Do both parties keep the data?

The publisher should have all the necessary GDPR measures in place for compliance and it should be clear to the reader that a data transaction between the three parties is in progress. Even though you are paying for the content, be aware that any potential data capture will go via the publisher first, who will more than likely want to keep that data too.


Resource can often be a struggle when committing to a content marketing strategy, after all, the distribution of blogs, whitepapers, infographics and other vehicles your sponsored content plan includes must be regular and consistent. And we are all very busy marketers and it's difficult to maintain quality and consistency.

Choose the most appropriate content to promote and focus. Don't overwhelm yourself if you are writing the content yourself. If you have budget, consider help. Most leading science and technical B2B media providers have a content department solely focused on creating sponsored content which mirrors their editorial house style. They can create this content from technical documents and brief telephone interviews on your behalf.


Any content marketing campaign, just like sponsored content, requires a follow-up/nurturing campaign (usually by email) that follows the initial content creation and distribution. The process entails warming up those who have downloaded the content, who before the nurturing are considered "cold" leads.

However, when developing those leads via a sponsored content campaign, often the nurturing phase is either hampered by the transfer of data between parties. The email communications are sometimes delayed or its effectiveness hampered by mixed communications from both parties. Both the marketer and the publisher need to agree on the email workflow/sequence that will follow the download. Always have a lead nurturing/email workflow plan in place.


Leading media publishers and brands will provide lead nurturing/native advertising solutions but only provide access to their own audience, when the international pharmaceutical industry is much larger.

The main aim of undertaking a sponsored content campaign is to reach new audiences. And yes, it does very much achieve this, but it is limited to a publisher's audience and segment. Explore a number of publishers in the sectors and regions you operate within and consider using multiple providers for maximum coverage.

But if conversions are the objective, rather than impressions for example, then it might take some time to get the sponsored campaigns right. If so, take your time. It also may be worth exploring other native advertising solutions - some publishers will have a range of native advertising opportunities.


If you’re committed to investing your time and budget into sponsored content as part of a larger inbound marketing strategy, it’s worth investing in marketing automation software which enables you to attract qualified prospects and turn them into leads and ultimately customers yourself.

Working with the publisher with your own systems, if permitted to, can address the nurturing and data complexities mentioned above.

Of course, sponsored content and inbound marketing are two different methodologies and can work together or against each other. But they can work together well. Keep an eye on that paid media spend and do not consume your budget on your first few campaigns if you are starting out.

If you would prefer to focus on independent content which can be disseminated via different platforms, publishers and media brands, a good pharmaceutical marketing agency that understands your needs can help. Organisations in the science and technology sectors need to work with these publishers as they are highly authoritative and have access to target audiences. In what capacity, though, is open for discussion.