Breaking down barriers between editorial and advertising in Finland

As far back as 2013 Finland’s popular subscription news site Helsingin Sanomat made headlines for the breakthroughs they were achieving in the field of data journalism. Described at the time as “the new scoop”, the news team used tools such as Datawrapper to create charts and graphs to help readers digest intricate facts and figures in an easy and interactive manner. 

One of the reasons Finland took the lead in creating tools to digest digital data is the open data policy initiated in Helsinki in 2009 – encouraging government departments and civil society to openly share all digital data on an open data service called Helsinki Region Infoshare.

In the past disseminating intricate volumes of data was considered a cumbersome and time-consuming task, as well as confusing to the uninitiated. Yet, according to Pietari Korhonen, product manager at Sanoma Media based in Helsinki, the editorial team not only identified the tools they would need for easy and fast interpretations of data, they also turned vast amounts of information into digestible forkfuls of content the moment they were handed the software by developers. They soon shared government operations and events within society in a way never witnessed before. Just one example is the tool, Timeline JS, which can create interactive timelines in a matter of minutes by merely adding links, captions and dates into a spreadsheet template. 

The team also discovered that unlike text-based stories their data visualisations could not be picked up and quickly ‘churnalised’ by competitors, or in the words of one of the pioneers at the time, journalist Esa Makinen, they were creating “content that cannot be copied”. 

Helsingin Sanomat  ()

With the barriers between editorial and advertising still firmly in place, it took a couple of years for Helsingin Sanomat’s management to recognise its new editorial tools could also serve clients. In September 2015 one advertiser, a large Nordic insurance company, requested a unique content marketing campaign. The advertising department approached their team of seasoned journalists for a solution. Armed with loads of spreadsheets, surveys, PDFs, and other documentation relating to car insurance provided by the insurer, the journalists developed an interactive quiz among other visualisations and articles – based on actual vehicle damage data, allowing the readers to compare their knowledge and assumptions of car accidents to actual data. Readers learned in an interesting, entertaining and interactive way what was actually happening on the roads, how age and sex impacts accidents and in which parts of the country or what time of the year there were more incidents.

The success of the campaign was so staggering that it’s quoted in the 2016 Native Advertising Trends report as one of the most successful native advertising exercises to date. The articles reached 500,000 gross visitors, with 66,000 unique readers interacting with data tools more than 27,000 times.

The most important result of the successful campaign, however, was Helsingen Sanomat’s decision at management level to break down the silos separating editorial and advertising teams realising that 126 years of journalistic storytelling expertise can be utilised to present commercial content in a way that resonates better with their audience.

Sanoma Media now have a content marketing unit for commercial content creation leaning heavily on journalists using their data tools to weigh in not only on strategy but also the production and distribution of data driven content. They have gone from selling blank ad space to proactively creating value for the client, with native advertising content that functions more as a service to readers than a run-of-the-mill advertisement.

Sanoma Media is a FIPP member.

More like this

Five charts that explain the power of great native ad headlines

23 experts share their insights about native advertising in 2017

Native advertising in 2017: what the experts predict

Your first step to joining FIPP's global community of media leaders

Sign up to FIPP World x