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Lens on the Near-Term Challenge, Long-Term Opportunity

  |  August 9, 2013   |  Comments

By understanding the audience deliberately and specifically a publisher ought to amplify and extend campaigns using programmatic means to help themselves and their marketer partner.

I helped build a large and fast-growing company that, at the core of our mission, advocates for and helps independent and niche publishers accomplish their goals. Chief among those "goals" is revenue. Online publishing and revenue today is inextricably linked to advertising. That's a long-winded way of saying that we built a very large ad-tech company to support our mission of advocating for publishers.

In late 2011 my lens on conversations with marketers changed somewhat when we merged with Federated Media. Whereas before my discussions were decidedly all about data, audience, real-time bidding (RTB), exchanges, supply-side platforms (SSPs), and generally all things "programmatic"; now the aperture opened to include conversational marketing, native advertising, and generally more creative and unique contextual marketing activities meant to address a different piece of the brand-consumer relationship.

For the past 18 months or so I've had a ringside seat to radical disruption in the market. For a period of that time, the two sides of conversational and programmatic played the role of adversaries. What I couldn't totally understand was why.

From a publisher's point of view, the two sides are intertwined. Whether they know it, or whether they like it, is a different story. Ditto for the marketer, the campaign is the campaign, and it's designed from the outset to drive a particular business result. Somewhere along the way the two sides diverge and settle into different camps. Maybe this has to do with how agencies are organized, maybe it has to do with how a publisher's sales team presents their assets, or maybe it's more of a skills gap between old and new ways of tackling campaign objectives. In any case, it presents a near-term problem and a long-term opportunity.

Publishers are hands down the best conveyor of their asset. They, too, are brands that over time develop a particular type of audience and engagement level. Marketers are smart to discover and work with these publisher partners as they represent the "contact patch" with a consumer. I would argue that independent publishers like the ones we work with do this as well or better than anyone. The beautiful and bespoke campaigns that are constructed for our publishers often include highly contextual and perhaps native brand placements where a marketer can align a message that reaches the target audience, and syncs with the publication. But there's more, way more.

That marketing campaign above likely has reach, scale, and perhaps performance objectives as well. It's naïve to assume that a conversational campaign starts and stops with the highly unique and contextual placements. Rather, this is where the two sides of conversational and programmatic meet. By understanding the audience deliberately and specifically a publisher ought to amplify and extend campaigns using programmatic means to help themselves and their marketer partner. It's the audience, after all, that they both covet.

The challenge that publishers face is one part technical and two parts social. The technical piece can be solved with smart and forward-thinking leadership and perhaps a bit of outside help from folks like us. The social part is a tougher solve. It requires the publisher and the marketer to collaborate more holistically across an entire campaign objective. This means perhaps not trying to negotiate the best deal in siloed structures, but rather to look across the whole of the objective and come to an agreement that is attractive to each side. Like I said, this isn't hard conceptually, and increasingly not hard technically.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.



Walter Knapp

Walter Knapp is the chief executive of sovrn Holdings. 

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