In My Opinion: Scott Douglas: Friends of The Scotsman, three days in

In My Opinion: THE wait is over. Whether you call it advertorial, sponsored content or native advertising, this week we finally got to see how The Scotsman’s is tackling the hottest new trend in ‘medialand’.

With the launch of its new Friends of the Scotsman pages, the newspaper is allowing paid-for articles to appear alongside its main content. Those pieces also get a dedicated slot on the website.

Depending which side of the debate you’re on, this native advertising is either the saviour of struggling news outlets, or the ‘nail in the coffin’ of editorial integrity.

So how did The Scotsman’s toe-dip in these controversial waters go?

Thus far, it seems the newspaper’s friends are determined to be ‘Captain Sensible’ – by which I mean decidedly earnest, terribly well-meaning and mibbes even a tad stuffy.

All of which is a shame, because right now what the paper could do with is a couple of pals who’re a bit more Captain Sensible, as in the beret-wearing, ageing punk with bleached hair and iffy-sounding mates with names like Rat Scabies.

Hopefully, you catch my drift.

Earlier this month, I wrote: “Force-feeding Scotsman readers with content that’s not previously been deemed good or interesting enough would serve no-one. Making those stories accessible, interesting, relevant and useful to a mainstream audience is going to take loads of creativity, effort and resource.”

On the showing of the first few days (the series launched on Monday), the content we’ve seen has been solid, dependable and entirely predictable. Renowned leaders from worthy organisations have penned readable manifestos. However, they could just as easily have sat on the letters page.

I don’t blame The Scotsman. Front and centre, let me say I’m impressed with what editor, Ian Stewart, and his team have dreamt up: a chance to get on the ‘native advertising bus’ long before it becomes a bandwagon, while trying to create a platform for debate.

The trouble is, what everyone needs – the Friends, the readers and The Scotsman – is for this to be something a bit tasty; for the Friends to deliver dazzling polemics, shocking facts or statistics, and utterly compelling, human-interest stories to underline the important points they want to make.

This might sound odd coming from a PR man, but I reckon it’s my peers and colleagues in the public relations and professional comms sector who may have fumbled here. Who is thinking differently?

So far everyone seems to have concentrated on producing 500-750 words to sum up their organisation’s work or goals.

How about someone commissioning a photo essay to illustrate their important subject, then use The Scotsman platform to showcase the best, with links to see the rest online while promoting a hashtag to share?

When you get a guaranteed platform like this, couldn’t it be worth turning your most important issue into an infographic and using the space to deliver it with minimal accompanying copy – again urging readers to share the graphic and find out more online?

Or how about someone tackling their chosen issue by offering a selection of Tweetable facts, quotes, clever bon mots and other relevant observations – and asking the audience to share whichever one speaks to, or touches them, most deeply?

One of the most tried and trusted weapons in the PR arsenal is the survey. Surely one of the Friends has commissioned a belter of a study so that they can frame the results in exactly the way they want – before the rest of the media get their bite at the ‘cherry’?

If that’s too much, I’d settle for the simplest of PR tools, a basic case study. Three days in and none of the Friends have managed to personalise their stories or issues by introducing us to the real people impacted.

This is an exciting opportunity for The Scotsman to create a new revenue stream, while locking in wavering readers and hopefully attracting a new audience.

But it’s also a huge opportunity to Scotland’s PR sector to show the depth, range and imagination of the country’s professional communicators.

So far The Scotsman is delivering on its end of the bargain. The PR folk working on behalf of the Friends still have a lot of work to do.

Scott Douglas is a director of Holyrood PR. He is also the founder of Deadline News Agency and a former reporter with the Daily Record, The Journal and the Edinburgh Evening News.