[email protected]: Tessa Gould

Contagion’s Tom Bates went to hang with the geeks and soak up the knowledge at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, recently (check out some of the coverage here). And while he was there he caught up with a few expat Kiwis doing big things, like Tessa Gould. 

Name: Tessa Gould
Company & Role: Director of native advertising & HuffPost Partner Studio, The Huffington Post
Born: New Plymouth
Live: Brooklyn, New York

Tell us about your role and why you love it.

I am the director of native advertising at The Huffington Post. I can literally see some of you starting to frown before my very eyes, so let me elaborate. I oversee a team of writers, designers and social media strategists that are dedicated to creating content experiences for brands that don’t suck. By that I mean content that will resonate with the HuffPost audience, drive the social conversation and increase visibility for the relevant brand. HuffPost Partner Studio, as the team is known, is essentially an in-house creative agency for brands that sits within a publisher. We work with brands like Chipotle, Chanel, Verizon, Netflix, American Express, Victoria’s Secret and HBO. If you’re still confused as to what we do, here’s an example of a post we recently created for Chipotle ‘9 Disgusting Things You Didn’t Know You’ve Been Eating Your Whole Life’ (Spoiler alert: three words. Beaver. Anal. Secretions). 

I love the multi-faceted nature of my role. Internally I get to work very closely with our sales, technology, research, analytics and editorial teams. Then externally I obviously work closely with marketers and agencies, but also get to spend a lot of time meeting with all the start-ups that are cropping up in the native/content marketing and adtech space, as well as other publishers and advertising associations/industry bodies. I also love being part of the creative process and seeing how my team is able to work their magic, taking an advertiser’s campaign message and translating it into an editorial message without compromising on the strength of either. 

What’s the most exciting thing about working in the world we live in today?

There is no such thing as a linear career path anymore; a degree doesn’t automatically mean you’ll land a job, nor does working hard in a job you land guarantee a promotion. The notion of working 9-5 for the same company for 35 years before retiring seems extremely antiquated in today’s world. In fact, I read the other day that the average American will have roughly nine jobs between the ages of 18 and 32. Admittedly, I’m only at four currently, but I think the notion that your current role—love it or hate it—is just a stepping stone along a much longer (and likely uncharted) path is a very exciting one.

What’s it like being a young Kiwi doing big things in communications in the US?

Exceptionally exciting and inspiring. In fact, all of the Kiwis I’ve come across in the US, be it in communications or otherwise, are doing ridiculously cool things and killing it in their chosen field, and that’s the kind of stuff that gives me goose bumps. I’ve always been proud to call New Zealand ‘home’ but to see so many kiwis chasing their dreams abroad, particularly in a country like the United States, where work visas aren’t exactly the easiest things in the world to land (unless of course you’re Australian, in which case you can thank George W Bush) bears testament to the drive, determination and talent of New Zealanders. 

Our generation are digital natives and are hard to reach through traditional advertising. If I was trying to cut through to you where would I have to engage you and which media do you personally engage with every day?

Ironically, I’m a huge National Public Radio fan and listen religiously to WNYC’s Morning Edition each day while I’m getting ready for work. Admittedly I don’t have a radio (or a TV for that matter) so I just livestream the programme via the iPhone app. On the train to work I always read TheSkimm and at least a couple of articles in Jason Hirschhorn’s MediaREDEF daily newsletter (if you work in media/tech I thoroughly recommend it). Other than that I read HuffPost (duh!) plus whatever tickles my fancy from my Twitter feed. Time permitting, I’ll also normally take a quick squizz at The Atlantic and NY Mag’s ‘The Cut’

What brands are leading the way in giving customer centric propositions and coming up with great ideas?

Chipotle is doing a phenomenal job in this space. They don’t spend a cent on television advertising, favouring instead less direct and more social marketing tactics that integrate their core company values (‘Food with Integrity’) versus pushing their products directly. HuffPost actually launched a major partnership with them at the end of last year called ‘Food For Thought’, a dedicated section that seeks to create awareness about how food is grown, raised and prepared and the effect this system has on us.

The partnership coincided with the launch of ‘Farmed & Dangerous’, a four-part original web series about the sins of factory farms, Big Agriculture and processed foods. The conversation around our food systems has never been as pivotal as it is today and the section has quickly become the go-to destination for commentary and in-depth discussion of food issues. 

Talk to me about ‘native advertising’ and what it means for brands in 2014.

The banter around native advertising reached fever pitch last year. Publishers scrambled to come up with solutions they could sell, brands and agencies looked to experiment with the new format and a slew of vendors cropped up to help address scalability and distribution concerns. 2014 is shaping up to be another big year for native advertising, in particular native content publishing, but my hope for the year is that more and more brands realise the power of adjacent or thematically aligned native content versus more traditional advertorial that is extremely brand heavy and offers readers little, if any, value (aka ‘shitty’ native advertising).

Should the reader be worried that they don’t know what is journalism and what is paid for?

I’m a firm believer that all native ads should be clearly labelled and disclosed to readers. The Huffington Post and many other industry players are clearly disclosing this, not only for legal reasons, but to maintain the trust of their readers and editorial integrity of their platforms. We have spent years building our audience, so why would we want to throw all that hard work away by violating their trust? Publishers and brands alike should not shy away from transparency. If the content is clearly labelled as sponsored and is good, people are going to consume it like they would any other piece of editorial content. In fact, some of the most shared posts on The Huffington Post in the last few weeks have been sponsored posts created by the Partner Studio team on behalf of brands.

What ways are you looking to measure the success of native advertising beyond reach, impressions and click-through rates?

The No. 1 metric we use to gauge the success of our native advertising is engagement, both on and offsite. Many of the key engagement metrics that we look to are the very same metrics utilised by the editors in our newsroom: social actions, social referrals, page views (seed versus viral), unique visits, comments, retweets or shares by relevant influencers. The best-case scenario is that someone reads the native content in its entirety and then takes multiple social actions from it. We don’t want people to share the content without reading it; this isn’t going to move the needle on key brand metrics such as recall, favourability, and intent to purchase. It is for this reason and the fact that all content isn’t created equal in terms of its appeal (i.e., entertainment-focused content generally has much wider appeal than, say, content on cloud computing or GMOs) that we also look very closely at the relative engagement of each piece of content. That is, what percentage of those that viewed the content also took a social action from it.

How big a role does data and in particular social data play in giving people the right content on the Huffington Post?

For us, data is playing an increasingly important role in ensuring that we give the right [native]content to the right users. In fact, earlier this year we transitioned to an ad-serve model for our native ads, which means we can now utilise the very same delivery logic and targeting capabilities (demo/geo, behaviours, lookalikes, extensions) that we apply to our display ads to our native content ads. For us 2014 will see a continued focus on data and technology to drive increased scale, engagement and more personalised content experiences for readers. AOL (which owns HuffPost) actually just acquired a content personalisation start-up called Gravity, so we’ll be exploring with them ways to apply that to our native offering. For example, using their social interest technology to help marketers know more about the interests, preferences and habits of the audience that consumed the native content and using that to help inform and develop additional content experiences on behalf of the brand. 

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