The Impact of Native Advertising: A Q&A with Melanie Deziel

Native advertising. It’s a hot topic that spans all disciplines of communications, including journalism, advertising, marketing and public relations. At a recent Communications@Syracuse immersion, director of creative strategy at Time Inc. and Newhouse alum Melanie Deziel spoke with students about native advertising and the impact it is having on the industry. We spoke with her after her session to learn more about the subject, as well as her experience at The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

I grew up in Connecticut and I earned my undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut studying journalism. Then I earned my master’s at Newhouse — I graduated in 2013 with an arts journalism master’s degree. From there, I moved to New York City and started out at The Huffington Post where I helped form HuffPost Partners Studio. Then I worked for The New York Times and helped form the T Brand Studio. Now I am at Time Inc. where I work across all 30 of our brands as the director of creative strategy.

How has being a Newhouse alum impacted your career?

The Newhouse network is insane — it’s incredible how tightly connected everyone is. When you go to interview for a job or to any sort of event you are always running into Newhouse alums, which is really great. A lot of times I’ll speak at conferences and I’ll run into folks who are also Newhouse alums. It’s a great way to connect with others and meet new people.  

For example, last week I went to an event celebrating Newhouse’s 50th birthday. I met all of these amazing, accomplished people and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is, “How can I help?” It definitely helps to know that you have an entire community of Newhouse alums on your side. It’s a good group to be among.

If you were to attend Newhouse again, this time online, how would the experience differ?

I think I would probably try to study something different to supplement what I learned in the arts journalism program, maybe something more like advertising or PR. I think online education is great because it would allow me to take more classes that I wouldn’t have a chance to take in person. Plus, right now, it’s not feasible for me to come back to Syracuse, so an online degree would be a great way for me to learn from those professors without being constrained to campus.

At the immersion, you spoke to the students about native advertising. Tell me a little bit about that experience.

I love talking to students. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job. Students generally have the best questions because they aren’t mired in the way things have always been done. When you talk to journalists they are very concerned about the threats against journalism and how journalism has to evolve. When you talk to marketers they are concerned more with the ROI, they are less concerned with the storytelling aspect. Students really open their minds to explore the possibilities and are unafraid to ask what may seem like silly questions. And as a result, they come across better answers.

This week I got some of the best and most pointed questions that I’ve had talking about this topic. It gets me really fired up. I love having these conversations and talking about different solutions. It was great to be able to really dig deep and engage with the issues surrounding native journalism and sponsored content and consider new models for journalism.

How is the industry shifting in response to native advertising?

It’s been really interesting to watch people shift in their approach to native advertising. I think it used to be thought of as a really one-off thing. Now you’re seeing a trend toward longer-termed partnerships, which I think is good for a lot of reasons. Not only because it creates a more stable business model, but it also brings down the learning curve because you’re working with the same partners — and you’re able to iterate and use data to help create better content.

When you have longer partnerships, you’re able to use the inside sell to inform the content. And what you end up with is better for everyone — better for the readers who are enjoying it more, better for the publishers who are able to create these longer-term partnerships, and better for the advertisers to create a wealth of really useful content they can use to reach their audience.

What advice do you have for someone interested in entering the field of advertising?

In the quest to become educated, you can’t forget to keep educating yourself about other topics too. I know you have to pick a concentration or major, but don’t consider it a boundary. Consider it an area of expertise, but not a boundary.

Try to take different classes and seek out as many diverse experiences — internships, volunteering, webinars, etc. ­ — as you can.

As I said in my presentation, “Innovation happens at the intersection — that’s when the best ideas happen.” Truly, when you’re able to connect two disparate things, you’re able to create things that have never been done before. Take, for example, the educator with a passion for music who finds that music can be a way to teach kids with learning disabilities how to retain information.

Whatever your “thing” is — just keep learning and keep growing — I promise you can integrate that into whatever you’re working in to create something amazing and new.

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