Industry Insights
How Narcity Media is Taking On Sponsored Content One City at a Time

chuck-lapointe-mtlblogChuck Lapointe
MTL Blog / Narcity Media



For those of us that aren’t familiar with MTLBlog/Narcity, please tell us a little more about your publication and audience.

MTL Blog and Narcity are official holdings of MTL Blog Inc., Montreal’s leading online publisher of lifestyle, culture, and local events, catering to the millennial demographic. We recently launched the Narcity Media network to incorporate all of our properties and centralize our advertising offerings for our clients. Narcity Media currently reaches 2.6 million Canadians every month (October 2015 – Google Analytics). The goal with is to create a community brand that encourages people living across major metropolices to come together and embrace their passion for, and pride in, their city.


There’s been a lot of hoo-ha about programmatic advertising and real-time bidding over the last few years. Have any of these new technologies affected your business (positively or negatively) in any way?

We have been using programmatic advertising and real-time bidding at Narcity Media for about a year now. Since our business focus was never on display, and always more on Native advertising, I can’t really say it has made a significant impact. However, we are seeing this as a great entry point in discussions with agency media planning teams going forward.


As an online publisher with a local focus, what would you say are your biggest challenges?

Adapting content streams to cater to ever-changing interests and trends, then streamlining these shifts to the local audience.

For example, at MTL Blog we focus on the city of Montreal, but we also recognize the importance of creating content that encompasses the wide range of interests relevant to Montrealers.

The same mentality applies for Narcity Toronto. While Drake is a key point of pride ‘locally’ in Toronto, he also represents a major game-changer in the hip-hop industry as a whole – proving that there is often a ‘global’ relevance to today’s popular culture, no matter where you are. In that vein, while our focus as a brand is on local happenings, we are a global, interconnected society, and we strive to reflect that. Whether you live in Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver, millennials are largely affected by the same things.

National expansion is another challenge. We are quickly discovering there exists subtle variations in culture and subculture from city to city – which just goes to show that our outlook on our immediate environments, neighbouring societies, and the Canadian identity at large is far from homogenous.


Audiences are becoming increasingly fragmented, and distributed across platforms. They interact with a brand/publisher across their website, email, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, etc. How do you address this distributed audience, in the context of advertising?

It might sound clichéd, but we try as much as possible to approach our audience like friends. This allows us to be flexible and unique in our interactions with them. Our advertising offerings incorporates that playfulness, which is why our sponsored content works. Our goal for campaigns is always to reach a maximum visibility (organically), requiring we make sure to distribute the right content on the appropriate platform. That said, whenever we see an opportunity to involve cross-platform discovery, we’ll often integrate as many of our social platforms in combination, at the same time.


From your view as a publisher, what do you think the typical revenue breakout is of a niche publisher, between direct sold ads, and revenue from ad networks/exchanges?

From my experience speaking with similar publishers, they most often have to rely on the ad networks/exchanges to generate most of their revenue, which greatly affects the rate at which they can grow. To avoid this issue, we set up our own in-house sales team last year, which is capable of selling directly to businesses or agencies. This is a risky move that most publishers don’t take, and while it did take quite some time to establish itself, it’s paying off for us now.


What are some of the advantages of advertising direct with a publisher?

Direct contact with a publisher allows clients to form meaningful connections with publishers. These connections include advantages like direct input on the brainstorming and creative processes, and significantly reduce production timelines. We love to create provocative content for our clients, but that requires a certain amount of trust, only made possible by our dedication to these personal relationships. Content in which we have more creative freedom usually results in a much higher organic spread for our readers, and better results for our client. Most importantly, one of the biggest benefits of advertising directly with Narcity Media in particular, is that we have a unified brand across multiple cities. This allows us to easily create nationwide campaigns for clients, since everything is centralized.


What do you think are some of the biggest challenges in the advertising ecosystem today?

Adblockers! That and the growing ad-blindness of Generation Y. This is forcing advertisers to be more ‘creative’ with their advertising, playing around with traditional techniques, or figuring out how to be more provocative.

The more clients turn to online advertising, the better the online advertising ecosystem will become. It’s just a matter of time.


What are some core technologies you use for ad operations, trafficking, audience measurement, analytics, and ad serving?

For our display serving & trafficking, we use DFP & WordPress. A surprisingly effective mix if you customize it the right way.

For our publisher analytics, we use Google Analytics for weekly/monthly audience reports, and Chartbeat for our real-time, day-to-day operations.


Lastly, what do you think is the future of ad buying and selling for niche online publishers?

I honestly think the future of publishers depends on our capacity to evolve and adapt to selling sponsored content more efficiently and creatively. It’s all about bridging the gap between ad buying brands and the medium where the audience lies. Speaking about mediums, publishers also need to be acutely aware of navigating the stronghold powerhouse platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat, occupy on social media. Every day, these platforms are developing ways to allow brands to promote directly, completely bypassing publishers altogether. We need to constantly innovate if we not only want to keep our creative edge, but more importantly, continue to attract clients to the sponsored content format.



Founded in 2012, MTL Blog began as a few hungry photographers eager to cover the coolest events around Montreal and showcase them on our own site. As MTL Blog grew, we addressed the void of English, online popular culture journalism in Montreal. We started thinking of ways we could contribute creatively and uniquely to the industry.

Now, with an expansive network of writers, editors, and media content creators, MTL Blog has become one of Montreal’s leading English, online, media publishing companies. Showcasing interesting things from Montreal and around the world, our viewers are encouraged to interact with their city.

MTL Blog: Look at your city.

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