Why readers and advertisers love Athabasca Advocate’s approach with advertorials

Name: Allendria Brunjes

Title: Publisher, Athabasca Advocate

Tell us about your background

I have a professional background in digital and print journalism and tech startups. In London and Toronto, I worked at ScribbleLive and helped organizations worldwide with their real-time news strategies; I also worked on the Toronto Star’s tablet project. As well, I have an aviation background and a bit of experience in belly dancing and tuba playing (preferably not at the same time).

Tell us a little about your newspaper and community

The Athabasca Advocate is an integral piece of the community. We operate as a community newsletter, government watchdog and general sounding board. We’ve won provincial awards for our work over the past couple of years, including Best Overall Newspaper and Best News Story, as well as national awards for photography and digital projects.

There’s an interesting promotion on your homepage that says “This is our home, too. Like you, we want to see it continue to be the best community in Alberta.” Tell us how that campaign came about? 

I didn’t like the filler ads that our digital department brought to me (“Call our sales team!” or something like that on a pastel background). My favourite house ad campaigns are about reinforcing why people the buy the newspaper and trust our online news more than anyone else in Athabasca — it’s because we’re the best source of information. Hands down. We support our community, and they support us. If the community fails, so do we. We’re not here just to sell ads (though we have to to survive). We’re here to make sure that the community thrives. 

How do you approach social media? Friend or foe or both? 

Both. We’ve had to run two or three stories over the past year correcting false and harmful information spread through social media — from a quick article on “your cell phones didn’t go out because of solar radiation” to a more controversial piece about “why it’s bad to utter threats about Indigenous women on a community Facebook page.” This kind of stuff is destructive.

That said, most of our online traffic does originate from social media, specifically Facebook shares. 

Has your Great West Digital Agency been a success for local advertisers? Any lessons learned you could share?  

There are many pieces to this puzzle, but our advertisers seem to be happiest with the programmatic ad packages that include online Athabasca Advocate ad packages, as well as print packages. We’ve also had a few web design projects, including Mike’s Pizza and the Athabasca Soccer Association Also, advertisers (and readers, actually) love-love-love advertorials. The thing about small towns is that people don’t mind the “advertorial” banner when the story below it is about their neighbour Fred Martin passing the business down to his son and grandson. 

As long as people trust that what we’re doing is in their best interests and not just in ours, they care about everything on every page, and they’ll actually click on the online ads we host. They don’t ignore advertisements, as they might if they don’t trust the news organizations.

This said… Is it always a success? No. We live in a small, spread-out community that isn’t the most digitally literate population in the world. The local trailer rental shop that wants online ads to focus on a very specific geographical area can’t successfully do a digital campaign, because they might actually only be aiming at 50 people who make regular appearances on reddit.com/r/oldpeoplefacebook.

It looks like you create some terrific special sections and speciality publications. Any one you are particularly proud of and why? 

Secrets of Athabasca is my favourite, because it’s a hit with everyone who participates in it. Locals love that it highlights some of the best things in our region. Subjects of the stories love to be highlighted as special. When I assign these stories to reporters, they write carefully and delicately, recognizing that there is a special honour in the work they’re doing. And advertisers love to support an uber-local endeavour that gets a lot of play online. 

Any innovations or interesting experiments that have occurred at your paper or within your company that you’d like to share? 

Well, the Secrets of Athabasca was a good example of an “experiment.” From there, we also did a liveblog of the province admonishing our town council for improper governance, an award-winning piece about rural homelessness … 

Also, another great experiment is our chain-wide hockey pool, that has been running for years.

Chain-wide, I think one of my favourites has been a campaign with videos about fire prevention that were sponsored by local businesses at the Rocky Mountain Outlook.