Analysis: Why Publishers Are Struggling to Get Renewals on Branded Content

    by Kunal Gupta
    June 24, 2016
    Image by Wikimedia and used here with Creative Commons license.

    The following piece is a cross-posted guest post from Kunal Gupta, CEO, Polar. Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this publication. Read more about MediaShift guest posts here.

    As brands and agencies continue to dip their toes into branded content, attracting first-time clients is less of a concern for premium publishers. However, branded content campaign renewal rates are far lower than publisher expectations.

    When researching our latest whitepaper at Polar, “The Business of Branded Content,” we interviewed over 30 premium publisher chief revenue officers and executives, examining how they run, manage and sell their branded content programs.


    Average Client Renewal Rates

    Polar’s research shows publishers experiencing weak client renewal rates across the board.

    • Nearly 40 percent of clients are not renewing for additional branded content programs.
    • The majority of publishers see renewal rates in the 25 to 50 percent range.

    Most publishers say renewal decisions are often decided before a program even launches, based on how aligned the client and publisher are on campaign objectives whether they be engagement, views or other metrics.

    “Brands are having a lot of one night stands, creating meaningful connections and then abandoning them. One-off campaigns can be very successful, but content as an always-on strategy will create far more value.”

    — John Schneider, President of Sales, Funny Or Die
    • Larger deals with a sponsorship price of $200,000 or more had much stronger renewal rates – generally 75% or more, largely due to higher budgets equating to higher quality content production and strengthened distribution.
    • These larger budget programs generally run over longer time periods of six months or more. This allows publishers the time to “course-correct” along the way, tweaking content or enhancing distribution.
    • Smaller deals with average sponsorship below $50,000 had much weaker renewal rates hovering around the 25 percent range.

    Factors Influencing Renewal Rates

    Client experience has become a critical part of the renewal equation for branded content programs. When asked what has the biggest influence on renewals, there is a fairly even split between client experience, campaign metrics and content quality.


    The most interesting discovery is perhaps a throwback to the Mad Men era: a third of publishers believe client experience is the number one driving force behind renewals. Although campaign metrics are examined by every client, most publishers feel they are not the primary influence on renewals.

    “[It’s] harder to keep a client than win one. If the experience is strong, we will get another shot even if metrics are fair or the final product is a 9 out of 10. May not happen if it was the other way around.”

    — Jordan Hyman, Custom Content Sales, Wall Street Journal
    • Branded content’s elevated price tags come with high expectations from the client side. Publishers must invest accordingly in content creation, distribution, and talent.
    • Ensure sales kits contain a clear brand engagement process.
    • Case studies must support the publisher’s ability to deliver a great experience, as well as an engaging final product.

    Kunal Gupta is the founder & CEO of Polar and a Founding Member of Publisher 2020. Polar provides a technology platform that over 2,000 publisher sites around the world use to strengthen and grow their digital content marketing businesses. Connect with him on LinkedIn Medium or Twitter.

    Tagged: advertising branded content digital ads native ads polar

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