Native Advertising Part 3: Life Science Q&A With GEN’s Bill Levine

A number of mainstream media outlets — including the New York Times and Fortune — have been early adopters of native advertising. But what about trade publications? And more specifically, does native advertising have a place in life science publishing?

Bill Levine, director of digital media for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN), provides valuable insight into this discussion. He has personal experience navigating the new world of native advertising, orchestrating the launch GEN’s BioPerspectives native ad content portal in 2013. He continues to work with companies in the life science industry that are exploring native opportunities for the first time, and he recently sat down with us to share his knowledge.

Chempetitive Group: GEN was among the first publications in the life science industry to start a native advertising program. What kind of planning went into the creation of BioPerspectives?

Levine: GEN decided to approach native advertising comprehensively by taking the time to invest in it and follow IAB’s native advertising guidelines. It would have been simpler to have no strategy and just start putting sponsored content into the editorial stream, rather than inside a designated content area. But in the long term, that’s not the best approach. Before you bring a native advertising program to market, you need to figure out how to do it best for your success and advertisers’ success. This involves investing in the front-end and collaborating with clients to set an objective that they can build themes around. From there, we can decide how to best execute.

Chempetitive Group: Can you explain how BioPerspectives works?

Levine: Native ads run for two consecutive two-week periods and include four unique articles that GEN pushes out. On each client’s BioPerspectives page, you will find the main article with an associated bylined article, along with a banner ad and an area to promote additional supporting content such as white papers, technical notes and video. The content doesn’t have to stop at text.

In terms of promotion, GEN pushes BioPerspectives content to all areas of our website, including our home page as well as our other platforms such as our newsletter, mobile app and social media channels. We also provide the HTML code so that clients can promote their BioPerspectives page to their own channels.

Chempetitive Group: Have you encountered any hurdles along the way, especially in terms of educating companies on how to use native advertising?

Levine: Selling native advertising is not like selling a banner ad. Native advertising is not a quick fix. It requires longer-term investment, so education is key. You need to be able to show companies how it plays into the broader trend of content marketing.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is companies not having the resources to produce the content. We find it really helps to have a partner or internal group to support content development.

Gauging success is another hurdle that requires education; you have to make it clear that this is not a one-off proposition. You can’t just have one article and be done. You really need to create a series that tells several stories to build momentum. Unlike a banner ad, you can’t just evaluate success based on page views.

Chempetitive Group: There’s a lot of debate around the credibility factor of native advertising. With your target audience being researchers, do you find that readers are less likely to embrace sponsored content?

Levine: While digital media has blurred the line between “church and state,” research scientists still can immediately distinguish between useful insight and self-promotion. That’s why native content must be useful in nature. The basic principles are really the same as a magazine’s staff-written editorial content. It’s about telling the story.

GEN’s editorial success has been predicated upon providing timely insight on technology trends and applications. While a scientist is skeptical in nature, through research we have learned that they care less about who writes the content. They just want trusted information. If they see it comes from a source they trust, like GEN, it doesn’t really matter who is writing it. It’s quality over quantity. To get readers interested in the content, you want to make sure not to interrupt the experience they’re accustomed to and provide good information in a useful way.

Chempetitive Group: Have life science companies seen success with these campaigns?

Levine: While the measurement aspect is not as direct as it would be with a banner ad, we have seen native campaigns generate as much as or more viewership than a staff-written editorial piece. Moreover, on some native ads, the reader has spent equal or more time on the site compared with traditional editorials.

To learn more about native advertising, explore the first two parts of our series:

—Native Advertising Part 1: What Is It and Why Should I Care?
—Native Advertising Part 2: Both Sides of the Debate

And if you’re still hungry for information and want to learn more about content marketing, Chempetitive Group is happy to answer your questions.