New growth strategies for publishers

02 Jul 2019  |  Nick Welch 
New growth strategies for publishers

Publishers must look within themselves to build compelling propositions that will naturally attract more quality advertisers, writes Nick Welch

Is publishing digital’s most exciting medium right now?

Having been arguably the side of the industry most disrupted by digital and the continued rise of Facebook and Google, its online evolution has often been knee-jerk and short term in nature as it strives to remain relevant and read.

Yet in taking this approach, publishers have increasingly ceded control of their most valuable assets – their audiences. But we’re now seeing the beginnings of a new confidence in publishers looking from within to make commercial capital and realising the potential of their unique relationships with their audiences.

That’s in part due to regulations such as GDPR and to changes that the likes of Apple, Facebook and Google are making that are reducing the effectiveness of third-party cookies.

It’s also a realisation that they can’t compete with Google and Facebook on their own terms – their scale is just too vast, their walled gardens all encompassing, but that they can build compelling equally commercial propositions with the right tools and partners in place.

A new study from America’s News Media Alliance reports that Google made some $4.7bn in the US alone from news content in 2018 via search and Google News, though we should note that Google disputes the veracity of those figures. That’s almost as much as the $5.1bn brought in by the US news industry as a whole from digital advertising last year. Proof, if it were needed, of the value of publishers’ content and why they deserve a fairer share of the spoils.

Little wonder that they are taking stock, including taking a good, hard look at the adtech they have in place and the revenues and assets they’ve been sharing. Let’s rewind: ad tech has been added ad hoc as publishers race to improve revenues. Many have ended up onboarding this with limited due diligence, integrating up to (and often more) than 80 client-side integrations, negatively affecting user experience, causing latency and more. Yet of those pixels, what is actually delivering meaningful value for advertisers?

The case for using third-party cookies is disappearing as software and regulatory changes speed up. Third-party data is becoming sparser and less reliable as it’s hard to tell where it has come from, how fresh it is or whether consent for its use has been given.

Yet first party data isn’t as scalable as third party. It means publishers must focus on enriching their first-party data so it becomes more valuable, or building collaborations such as The Ozone Project to achieve greater scale. The savvy publisher could also look at creating collaborations with other like-minded media such as TV or radio.

The benefits of owning the customer profile are clear.  Publishers can take a larger cut of the revenue that flows their way and can align it with other data points they own. It’s no coincidence that the likes of the New York Times, News International, Dennis and Hearst are building new and complementary revenue and data streams from events, ecommerce and subscriptions, for example.

Publishers have the direct consumer relationships that brands desire, and own content with the ‘integrity’ so often lacking or limited on social media platforms or the long-tail that can be found on Google.

Content that compels users to keep on viewing and spending more time on a publisher’s site.  And the longer the time spent, the more you can learn, create and iterate on the fly.

What’s critical is that publishers fully understand the information they have on their audiences and enrich it. By looking at how people are consuming content on their sites, what type of content they are looking at and how, publishers can begin to segment powerful audiences that they can sell to agencies.

They can also use that information to inform and enrich their own editorial and commercial strategies – helping to bake in loyalty and repeat visits. They should employ tools that help them make more of the advertising assets they already have as well as the knowledge to create new ones.

Some brands, for example, are nervous advertising against news because of the threat of negative associations – a travel firm appearing alongside news of an air crash, for instance. Others are automatically blocked by overzealous filtering of certain keywords. Context is key. The next generation of brand safety and content analysis tools can help leverage this.

In such a space the quality of customers’ interactions comes into play, as do emotions and sentiment. How much more valuable is a reader in a positive mindset browsing holiday content in the run-up to pay day? Beyond a base level, do publishers really know the split between the positive and negative stories they run, and consumer reactions and interactions to and with them? They can – and should – be looking at this.

It is – and will remain – an unfair fight between publishers and the scaled tech platforms. The publishers we speak to are understandably frustrated that they are not seeing their fair share of advertising revenues, but they are actually in a really unique and strong position today to start to do so.

It’s time instead for publishers to look from within to build compelling propositions that will naturally attract more quality advertisers looking to spend money in a brand-safe and premium environment. Not only do they have a wealth of untapped data at their fingertips, their relationship with their readers means they are in prime position to ask for more consent-compliant data in return for value-added extras. A true win-win situation.



Nick Welch is UK business development director, ADmantX

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19 Jul 2019 

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