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Think BR: Recapturing media value

Use technology to properly value ads and sell them at the speed media is moving, writes writes Kirk McDonald, president, PubMatic.

Kirk McDonald, president, PubMatic

Kirk McDonald, president, PubMatic

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If you saw the coverage of PwC’s ad spend forecast a few weeks ago, you’ll know that internet advertising in the UK is predicted to be worth £8.75bn by 2016. That’s nearly half the total ad revenue spent online.

While search is still claiming the majority share (58% according to the IAB/PwC 2011 adspend study) and social is gaining ground (driven primarily by Facebook) what is the forecast for display? 

If you speak to media owners, there are major concerns over: how the landscape is changing, increasing complexity that eats into their margins and the challenge of differentiating their premium ads in a glut of available inventory. 

So how did we end up in a place where digital ad spend is growing and yet the leaders in media are not seeing the money? Why is the balance of power so desperately out of kilter between big content and the big money?

All publishers struggle with the challenges of rogue technologies, an explosion of media options and a lack of definition among buyers of the value of quality content. The world of media is changing in ways no company can ever hope to keep up with. 

Publishers have to re-write the book about how to approach content development, distribution and ad sales.

There are those among the digerati who say: "Media buying is stupid and this should all be a London Stock Exchange." That’s just wrong. 

If we have learned anything from the lessons of the recent past, programmatic trading proved a disaster for the global economy and should not be directly applied to the sale of advertising: great content wants to be embraced - not traded.

As a firm believer in the future of publishing, I feel compelled to share a POV on what I feel are essential moves a publisher can make to command highest value for their ads in this world of exploding media options. And yes, it's a 'to do list'.

  1. Understand and embrace what you do best: create content and develop audience relationships. That also means that you're going to have to decide to stop doing what you don’t do well and that is develop your own tech. Partner for technology with those who have the resources and expertise to scale with your business. Technology innovation is an ongoing commitment and it costs lots of money. It's a money pit problem for publishers who will never win if they think they can build it themselves.   
  2. You are in the data business, own it, control it: Media companies used to be data behemoths, as anyone who remembers Time Life Books or Readers Digest knows. If you are a 'premium' content producer you own your elite, hard-earned audience relationships and the data that comes along with it. This is a critical strategic move, so make it soon.
  3. Brands want audiences, sell that way: One of the challenges of digital is to find efficiencies in scaling direct buying, and agencies need to make money on buying in order to increase spend. In a world of thousands of content providers, publishers should mine and append your audience data to your impression data so that you can offer what brands want to buy: a targeted product that produces returns at scale.
  4. Make technology work for you: Most publishers still know much less than advertisers on where ads on their pages are actually viewed, what happens post the view and what audiences are most likely to convert. Use the tools available to help segment your inventory and make sure you are getting the right price for it.
  5. Learn from your lost opportunities: The reality is that some inventory that is direct sold just costs you too much money to do that: sometimes the machine will win out from the person. Use technology to help you figure out where you can get the most money for each impression and liberate your staff to do the creative integrated sponsorships they do best.
  6. Don’t buy superior 'stacks', but superior people: It’s not all machine to machine. Software as a service (SaaS) is just that: experienced and trained people are critical to the service element. Partner with tech companies who work to understand your business and adapt what they are doing to meet your specific needs.
  7. Integrate ops people into the conversation: Many ad operation functions can be outsourced or automated. Your ops people have to have a seat at the table. Media revenue strategists should sit between your sales people and the tech people and help everyone make the right calls on what to sell where, when and how.
  8. Get out of the land of 'acronymity' and algorithms: Forget about DSP, SSP, DMP, ATD… LOL, OMG. Find tech companies that speak in your language and emphasize understandable terms to help you get the greatest value from your assets.  Algorithms power what we do but we don’t need an advanced degree in math to sell ads.
  9. Think holistically about your inventory: Guaranteed v non-guaranteed. Direct sold v RTB. Audience v placement. These are all artificial attempts to segregate your inventory and in the process they fragment your strategy and your execution. For a variety of reasons, I’ve never been a fan of segregation. It doesn't work in media either, so take a unified approach to inventory and digital asset management.
  10. Embrace the future of automated selling. Publishers who wall themselves off operate out of fear, and a lack of control. Find an independent platform partner that has a proven track record of innovation and take control.

Stop, take control and sell the power of your brand, use technology to properly value ads and sell them at the speed media is moving.

It’s an ongoing challenge, but we can keep up with the pace of change and once again recapture the value that great content can and should hold.

Kirk McDonald, president, PubMatic

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