By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: sponsored content

Sponsored content helps drive 10% boost in ad revenues at the Globe, says internal memo

A recent memo from Boston Globe Media’s chief commercial officer paints a rosy picture about advertising at the Globe. According to the memo, from Kayvan Salmanpour, ad revenue will increase by more than 10% in 2021 as compared to 2020. I’d like to see a comparison with 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, but growth is growth.

Much of Salmanpour’s message, provided to me by a trusted source, concerns sponsored content — that is, story-based advertising produced in collaboration with the Globe’s sales staff. Such ads send some media critics reaching for the smelling salts, but they don’t bother me as long as they’re properly labeled. The Globe’s sponsored content comes with multiple disclosures.

I also chuckled at Salmanpour’s reference to the Globe’s advertising partnership with the Red Sox. I’m pretty sure the paper has an in with the Sox; I’ll get back to you if I find out otherwise.

Still, this is good news for the Globe and, thus, good news for readers. Along with its success in digital subscriptions, the paper is growing and hiring. And it recently achieved labor peace as well.

The full text of Salmanpour’s memo follows.

Dear Colleagues,

I’m excited to share some of our year-end advertising highlights and achievements with all of you. Before I dive into the specifics, the most important and meaningful observation I can share is that Boston Globe Media is a truly special media brand. We have a unique ability to tell powerful stories in creative ways, and our clients value the deep connection we bring with the communities that we serve. More and more brands are noticing the work that we’re capable of producing and are proactively reaching out to engage us. Over the last 24 months, the advertising team has witnessed a remarkable turnaround, culminating in a pivotal feat: In 2021, the Globe will grow advertising revenue by more than 10 percent year over year.

Honestly, we’re not sure the last time this happened at the Globe — our memories don’t go back that far. But we do know this success is the product of a herculean effort from the sales team, and the result of a smart strategy that has brought the Globe’s advertising business much closer to top players in the media industry.

As we all know, the advertising marketplace has been radically disrupted.  Amazon, Google and Facebook together take up 64% of all digital advertising spending in the US. Many advertisers have shifted to programmatic buys — an automated auction of internet advertising inventory that’s sold at a steep discount. Add in more and more channels and constantly evolving technology like ad blockers,, and you can understand why advertising revenue has been declining.

The entrepreneurial team in the Globe Sales department found a way to adapt and thrive after doing some intense market analysis, innovative planning, investing in the team, and then deploying bold new strategies.

After a deep analytics audit of our advertising business, we calculated that 42% of our clients accounted for just 4% of revenue. On the other side of the spectrum, 65% of our revenue came from just 12% of our clients.  The lesson? We were spending too much time servicing small deals, and we were spending too little time building resources for larger deals. To tackle this, we reorganized our local, corporate, marketplaces sales teams to a system that is aligned with how much an advertiser was spending.  We invested in new technology and structured our advertising strategy around the following:

Tier 1 – Smaller advertising buys/high-volume: We are deploying an efficient, automated process to serve our smaller advertisers at scale and provide a great user experience at optimum pricing. We’re investing in a self-serve platform that will allow for a seamless transition for these advertisers.

Tier 2 – Mid-dollar advertising buys/mid-level volume: We’ve created compelling and complementary advertising opportunities for clients in danger of leaving their Globe mid-tier print spend for good. We are transitioning many of them to newsletter sponsorships, where revenue has increased by 77% over last year. We rolled out paid social posts as a new product and brought in direct sponsorships for newsroom projects. Our long-standing themed print sections have rebounded through clever print/digital combos.

We have created a system that has proved that we can grow revenue, not just sustain it.

Tier 3 – High-dollar amount/low volume: This is the pricing tier that will ultimately be a big factor in our future success. More media advertising departments are functioning like storytelling agencies with a guaranteed audience (they are serving fewer but larger clients and employ a more consultative approach with clients). Many of our deals in this tier are “bundled” multimedia products, so we’ve invested heavily in supporting the sales team with the resources to put these packages together.

Since implementing this structure and investment, the team has closed a number of impressive deals, including a multi-year deal with Harvard Pilgrim, in partnership with the Red Sox. This was the first of many collaborative deals with the Red Sox, as sponsors/advertisers want to be more than just sponsors,  they want to be mission-driven storytellers like us.

I have seen firsthand how impressed the Red Sox team has been with the work that comes out of the Globe’s creative ad dept, Studio B. Every day, we surprise people with our creative branded storytelling (a huge factor in our continued success); Studio B has grown branded content products  by more than 55% year over year, and is poised to grow even more next year. This will be a large factor in sales success, as sponsored content makes up more than 63% of the revenue for that platform.

Finally, the ad department and the events team are in sync more than ever, as more of our deals become bundled multimedia packages that involve media, branded content, display, event sponsorships, and email. It has not only allowed us to increase our deal sizes, but also showed to the market how we can adapt to a client’s needs. Events has grown from a lower volume, smaller deal size enterprise to an operation in which the programming, sponsor collaboration and revenue has us playing with the majors.

Events revenue grew 81% over last year as previous clients returned to do more with us while 68% of event revenue this year is from new advertisers.

One of the best parts, however, is that 75% of this revenue came from events featuring our journalists — the heart of what we do as a news media company.

You may have noticed what’s not in this memo so far — any mention of the pandemic. Yes, the economic impact of Covid-19 dramatically impacted our print business, as it did across the industry. Our goal for 2022 is to hit our original budgeted number of 2020 (again, growing year over year), and yet the composition of that number will be so much healthier than it was back then.

Ultimately, I am most proud of this department’s mindset shift, especially under intense pressure of the revenue challenges of the local news industry. There are too many people to thank here, but a big credit to the sales executive team who are such exemplary leaders, the sellers who are such a great representation of our department and brand, and the sales support team who work so tirelessly everyday to make sure the train is running ahead of schedule.  

We are, without a doubt, a mission-driven team, and we are driven by the fact that we are contributing, through revenue, to the world-class journalism produced by the Globe newsroom.

Thank you to our editors and newsroom for keeping us inspired to do our work.


Kayvan Salmanpour
Chief Commercial Officer

Major news outlets are running a tobacco company’s ads on their websites

More than two decades after cigarette ads began disappearing from newspapers, major news organizations are running ads on their websites from tobacco giant Philip Morris touting the company’s research into smoke-free tobacco products.

I began reporting this piece after an alert reader called my attention to an ad in The Boston Globe titled “Science leading to a smoke-free future,” which appeared over the weekend and was in rotation as recently as Monday. But in Googling around, it didn’t take long to find that similar Philip Morris ads have been published by The New York Times, The Washington Post and Reuters. No doubt they’ve appeared in many other outlets, too.

These are not ads that were automatically served up to news websites by Google. Rather, they are sponsored content, produced in collaboration with the news organization that publishes them. Such content, also known as “native advertising,” use type and layout that differ from the typical presentation. It’s also accompanied by disclosures that it was paid for by the advertisers and that the news and editorial departments had no involvement in its production.

Regular readers know that I’m a defender of native ads as long as there is sufficient disclosure, and I have no problem with the way these news organizations handle them. But partnering with a major tobacco company on an ad promoting research into tobacco products? Really?

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These ads appear under the byline of Dr. Moira Gilchrist, vice president of strategic and scientific communications at Philip Morris. Some excerpts from the Globe version:

We are now on a path to one day, hopefully soon in many countries in which we operate, completely replace cigarette sales with smoke-free alternatives that are a better choice for the people around the world who smoke today. These are nicotine-containing products that do not burn tobacco, which — while not risk-free — are a much better choice than continuing to smoke….

The fundamental principle that drives our scientific work is the widely accepted fact that nicotine — while addictive and not risk-free — is not the primary cause of smoking-related disease. It’s the burning of tobacco that creates the harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke — which is why from the outset we design our smoke-free products to eliminate burning, thus eliminating smoke while providing an alternative that smokers find acceptable and will actually use.

According to Michael Moore of Australia’s George Institute for Public Health in Australia, and a past president of the World Federation of Public Health Associations, the Philip Morris ads are the latest in a series of tactics by Big Tobacco to win acceptance for e-cigarettes. In an article he wrote last year for the European Journal of Public Health, he identified other tactics employed by the tobacco companies as “use of the term ‘harm reduction,’” social-media attacks on critics, hiring lobbyists, and touting e-cigarettes as a method for quitting smoking. According to a summary of his article:

Tobacco companies face an ever-increasing rate of marginalisation. They use eCigarettes as an opportunity to improve their credibility. In the past it was “just filter it” and “light cigarettes”. More recently, Philip Morris established a “Foundation for a Smoke-free World” pumping millions of dollars into distorting arguments about harm reduction.

And, yes, Moore gives Gilchrist a shoutout: “To enhance arguments, Big Tobacco has deployed public health figures like Dr Derek Yach and Dr Moira Gilchrist.”

When I asked Megan Arendt, a spokeswoman for the anti-tobacco organization Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), about the Philip Morris ads, she told me by email: “In a perfect world, vapes would only be marketed to (and sold to) adult people who smoke. But given their clear history of targeting children, an ad ban should include all tobacco products.”

The Philip Morris ad doesn’t promote smoking or even vaping, which has its own health risks. (On Monday, Juul reached a $40 million settlement with North Carolina over a lawsuit charging that the vaping company marketed to kids. Massachusetts is suing as well.) But the ad does talk about “ensuring our smoke-free products deliver a consistent aerosol” — so the intended user of the products being developed would still be inhaling.

Cigarette advertising is legal in U.S. newspapers. The papers couldn’t be banned from accepting such ads because of First Amendment protections, but the tobacco companies themselves could be prohibited from advertising. In 1970, President Richard Nixon (yes, everything really does go back to Nixon) signed legislation banning cigarette ads from television and radio, but those are regulated media.

The New York Times banned cigarette ads in April 1999, but said the policy didn’t apply to other papers it owned, which at that time included the Globe. That July, the Globe’s then-ombudsman, Jack Thomas, took his bosses to task and called for the Globe to follow the example set by the Times and other papers. He wrote that “publishers are still in conflict, still seduced by the revenue from tobacco ads but also uneasy in the role of a siren luring readers into a deathtrap.”

My research trail went cold after I found the Thomas piece, but at some point the Globe stopped accepting cigarette ads, as did virtually all other newspapers. As ASH’s Arendt says, the Globe — and every media outlet — should take the next step and refuse to accept ads for tobacco products. Claims that the products are only intended for adults who want a safer alternative to smoking are nice, but you know what? They’ll find those products without the complicity of news organizations.

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