As the industry continues to evolve, publishers must adapt to the changing landscape. Here are eight of the biggest challenges publishers are facing right now.
In today's fast-moving world of programmatic buying, publishers are faced with more challenges than ever before. Over the last decade, we have seen publishers carry the heavy burdens of new technology fees, integrations, changing consumer expectations on content, and changing buyer expectations on media costs. These challenges are real and every publisher is in a battle day in and day out to compete for shrinking digital dollars - largely due to Google and Facebook taking the lion's share of the spend. Real-time bidding (RTB) exasperates these challenges by spreading a majority of the remaining dollars over hundreds of thousands of sites, leaving very little for specialty programs or direct publisher spend.
If publishers wish to compete in this environment, they must meet a number of buyer expectations and demands, or else face the possibility of being eliminated from the buying process altogether.
A given, but one that needs to be stated. There is so much bad content on the Internet and big brand marketers are starting to realize that aligning with an audience is great for driving direct response goals. Looking for the right people to build awareness or consideration with the audience is critical, but the environment plays a significant role as well.
Publishers need to be big enough to matter. As more and more private marketplaces are built and marketed to buyers, scale is one of the most important elements in determining who to integrate and how to prioritize media. If you don't move the needle for a buyer, it only makes it more difficult to sell more inventory to them.
There's no question that digital holds itself to a higher standard than any other medium. For TV, billboards, and print, there is no viewability verification measure, but only a panel-based reach/frequency measure. For too long we have focused on what we "can" measure as opposed to what we "should" measure. Let's start looking at results for clients more and the upstream metrics will quickly work themselves out. However, in the meantime, publishers are being asked to guarantee a viewability metric upward of 100 percent or risk not being paid. This is expensive to deploy, dramatically increases the complexity of inventory predictions, and shrinks the size of available viewable inventory. This issue of decreased inventory goes hand-in-hand with the publisher challenge of scaling media (discussed in point two).
Similar to viewability, fraud is a big word in the hallways at the agency these days. A small group of publishers and technologies are responsible for the majority of fraudulent behavior and the long tail buying that happens within open exchanges. Many are moving to private marketplaces in an effort to eliminate fraud. However, publishers need to understand where their traffic comes from and how much of it is robotic or malicious activity. Agencies are now optimizing based on fraud and some platforms (including Xaxis) are establishing fraud free inventory zones that give clients the ultimate protection.
Setting up a sales team for success has always been a challenge. Some publishers have separated traditional sellers and digital sellers, and then fold them together into single groups with specialists. This was a great debate in the early 2000s, until programmatic selling entered the scene and new sales teams were popping up around every turn. But some publishers were taking an integrated approach from the start. What is even more challenging for publishers is the staffing consideration between high-touch multi-million dollar deals where clients are surrounded by support, and lower-touch programmatic selling. The latter can be tough early on, but a few individuals are able to manage hundreds of clients simultaneously. Sounds easy, right? Well consider those RFPs that come in for $50,000 to $100,000 - who manages that part of the business which can still be quite large for some medium to large publishers? You don't want to overstaff here, but the revenue is important and cannot be ignored.
Technology has become a part of everyone's life working within marketing and advertising. Publishers are no different. However, today to have a quality product for consumers and clients alike, every channel, format, and device must be considered, invested in quickly, and work together seamlessly. I want the same quality experience on my phone as on my desktop as on my connected TV. This presents a huge challenge for publishers to be everything to everyone, and a limited technology investment budget is just one more strain on the system.
Big Data is another one of those buzzwords that everyone throws around, but very few are actually doing anything worthwhile with their data. Some publishers have high-quality first-party data that can be leveraged for clients to maximize value, but many are not auctioning data well due to lack of technology investment or connectivity to all of their inventory assets, usually because of limited scale. While audience extension programs can help address the inventory problem, viewability and fraud concerns place these programs at risk. Plus, if you only have a few hundred thousand addressable consumers, you may be better cooperating with your agency partners, sharing data, and allowing for a truly scaled approach. This can be frightening for a publisher but likely the fastest path to success and is easily controlled contractually if working with the right partner.
Lastly, buyers want to work with nice (and bright) people who know the space, can help resolve problems, and respond quickly to requests. When buying programmatically, being a good seller is important but understanding how the pipes work is even more important and cannot be overlooked. If you have the best inventory on the market but the person selling or managing the account doesn't know how to provision a deal or segment the inventory for the buyer's needs, your inventory is useless. We are in a game of inches, and every optimization counts. No matter how automatic the industry becomes, people are still a critical component of running the technology platforms, tools, and relationships seamlessly.
As the advertising space continues to move faster and faster and places increased burdens on all players in the ecosystem, how should we be driving innovation with limited budgets, staff, and time? Publishers must adapt to the evolving landscape to stay relevant and up-to-date with the newest technologies and strategic approaches. These eight points are the main challenges that publishers are facing at the present, but they are sure to change shape and take on new forms as understanding of programmatic buying seeps deeper into the industry. It would be great to see your comments below on how you are dealing with these issues and which are most important to you and your company.
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Larry Allen is SVP, Global Platform Sales for Xaxis. He has responsibility for overseeing solutions for publishers including Xaxis for Publishers, Xaxis Exchange, and Xaxis Marketplace globally.
Larry has extensive experience in digital media, marketing, and business strategy unmatched by most standards. Prior to joining 24/7 Media (which merged with Xaxis in 2014), he held senior management positions at cutting-edge digital media companies such as AOL, Viewpoint, Unicast, Yieldex, Real Media, and TACODA.
Larry also ran his own consulting business where he advised many major media companies such as The New York Times, Meredith, 33Across, and Business Insider. He is a frequent contributor to a number of trade publications, blogs, and industry conferences.
A graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Business Management, Larry is based in Xaxis' headquarters in New York City.
Follow him on Twitter at @lawrenceallen2.
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