LONDON: A number of leading online publishers in the UK are embracing branded content to the extent that they are now merging their editorial teams as they adapt to this growth area.

That is according to editors and executives from Hearst, Bleacher Report, the Lad Bible Group and Fandom powered by Wikia, who discussed the subject at a panel organised by The Drum during Advertising Week Europe.

They agreed that the line between branded content and editorial has started to blur, but said this was a positive development as branded content gains in respectability.

"There was a time a while ago when you didn't want to go and do branded content, it was slightly frowned upon," said Victoria White, Commercial Content Director at Hearst UK.

"Whereas recently, we have so many applicants for our [branded content] roles – people from amazing editorial backgrounds and it wasn't difficult to find people to fill our studio," she explained, adding that she saw branded content to be an "exciting growth area" for publishers.

Lee Walker, Managing Editor at Bleacher Report UK, agreed that much of it came down to attitude. He noted that young people have an "inbuilt ad filter", so any failure to create compelling content would show up in reduced readership.

"It shouldn't be second-class content or paid for content – it's content, just make it good," he said.

He confirmed that Bleacher Report’s teams are “very much merged completely” and that the development has not compromised its brand. “It’s very much a good idea is a good idea and if we can assimilate the brand into that then everyone’s a winner," he explained.

Dorth Raphaely, SVP of Content at Fandom powered by Wikia, the entertainment site, echoed this view as he confirmed that the "lines were blurred" in his newsroom.

"Our team is one team, maybe that's a resource thing, but really for us it's about integrity and we feel that you can work with the sales team and figure out what works for them but you know deep down inside whether you're being honest to that content," he said.

Nor is this industry trend limited to specialist online publishers. Last year, two major UK newspapers – the Guardian and City A.M. – announced plans to allow brands more direct access to their websites.

The Guardian launched a Hosted by the Guardian platform, which allows brands to post their own content without having to align it with the newspaper's own content.And City A.M. was perhaps more bold by allowing brands direct access to its content management system.

Data sourced from The Drum; additional content by Warc staff