For the past 25 years, the annual TED conference has brought together people from the worlds of technology, entertainment, and design. With a focus on spreading ideas and making change, TED has worked with such names as Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Philippe Starck, and Bono, to become a world renowned leader in ideas and innovation.

For the past three years, TED has worked with a small group of
marketers to bring their specialized 18-minute TED talks online for free. Last month, they announced they are opening up
their roster of sponsors.

Brands in search of a positive image can’t do much better than TED, with its impressively positive brand recognition and audience target (one in five TED.com members is the CEO, owner or principal of their
company).

We caught up with Ronda Carnegie, TED’s Global Partnership Director, to discuss the benefits and burdens of TED’s good reputation and how a group like TED will factor into the future of creative paid content.

How does TED.com differ from other publishers?
TED.com is the leader in long form video online. Our audience communicates that they have an emotional connection to the content and research also shows that TED visitors pursue an unending quest for knowledge in an effort to better themselves and the world around them. TED.com is instrumental in accomplishing this goal.

The TED.com visitor holds the site in high esteem, and this feeling transfers to things associated with it, including products, companies and organizations.

What does TED offer advertisers?
TED enbodies this incredible place where people come in pursuit of ideas. At the start, the conference and its content were closed to members. When Chris Anderson took over TED, one of the things he wanted to do was open up the content for the world to enjoy for free. There’s an associative value of TED in reaching thought leaders. Our audience is a growing group of influencers and we offer the ability to touch smart thinking and smart storytelling.

We have taken this incredbile oratory tradition and brought it to the forefront. That is coupled with the magic number of 18 (none of our talks go on for more than 18 minutes), which is long enough to engage, but not too long to lose you.

There is this amazing brand halo between people supporting ads on TED.com and the content they are attached to. The products on TED.com have an associative value to them – viewers see
that these are the brands that are bringing this incredible content to
the world to enjoy for free.

What are you looking for in advertisers?
TED works as an amplifier for ideas worth spreading. We want to engage with the advertising community on what goals they have that we can utilize this platform to achieve.

It’s all about finding the right brands. As you can imagine, lots of people want to go on TED, but if I see that their message is washing, we can’t work with them.

How dependant on advertising is TED?
Overall, in terms of the inventory of TED, our near term goal is to sell only 50% of the inventory on TED.com. We don’t want people to attach a message to every talk. We want to put user experience in the forefront.

Could a bad partnership hurt the TED brand?
Yes, I do think that we have to be very vigilant. That’s what makes TED such a pure environment to be on. People know that you have to go through a process. It’s not open for everyone. I’ve thought a lot about whether I would take energy advertising at TED.com. And no, we wouldn’t.

What campaigns have you really enjoyed on TED.com?
GE is a good example of an innovative marketer that created a integrated partnership that included starting a conversation at TED on Eco-Imagination and Smart Grid. They created their own website as well as a media buy on TED.com.

There were digital whiteboards set up at the conference with people responding to GE’s serious questions and thought-starters on improving the efficiency of our nation’s infrastructure in order to better serve environmental improvements.

Has the economy had a negative effect on your advertising plans?
I
think with the current economic conditions, we’ve all really had to
reboot and take a look at the world in a different way. But there is an
amazing contrast between economic condiditions and the opportunity and
innovation going on right now.

In a world of challenge, there is also an opportunity, and now is the
time to seize
it. People around the world are ready to be an active part of world
changing ideas. And with marketers, we are seeing the infusion of
intelligence
campaigns focused on innovation, new ideas into the way the world
literally works — TED is leading that conversation and marketers are
embracing the opportunity.

The whole role of
corporate responsibilty has completely changed. Reaching out to
charities is now a major marketing pillar of any company, and there are
some real stakeholders within companies that are leading that charge.

It’s an advertising downturn, but we’ve been growing advertising. We
see the whole reboot as a great opportunity. The decisions that another
media company might make in a shrinking economy are in contrast to TED,
where we’re going to spend highest dollar on content.