Stop me if you've heard this one before. A premium content publisher learns that the ad network the publisher previously engaged -- but no longer has under contract -- is still using the premium publisher's logo in its presentations to buyers.
How 'bout this one: A buyer vows he will never buy inventory directly from a sales rep at a premium branded site if he thinks he can get ad impressions on that site at a fraction of the cost through an ad network or ad exchange.
OK, last one: Have you ever heard a premium-branded publisher complain about the difficulty in securing face-to-face meetings with digital buyers, as well as the low CPMs buyers demand to see on submitted RFPs in order to be considered for the buy?
In case you haven't heard, these are dire times for premium content publishers, and it's going to get worse as DSPs become more prevalent -- allowing ad agencies to buy heavily targeted impressions at lower prices through ad exchanges and then "double dip" for buying this way (agencies get paid a fee to buy media for clients and agencies are also marking up the impressions they buy through their own DSP -- hence the "double dipping" and moral hazard clients seem unaware of).
The problem premium publishers face is that buyers barely see the value of buying impressions directly (greater share of voice, roadblocks, integrated programs) when they look at "the numbers" achieved by buying around them through networks and exchanges. And as long as premium publisher logos are part of the sales pitch from the multitude of intermediaries, buyers will continue to ignore the fact these purchased ad impressions also appear on countless eyesores of sites that come with that artificially glorified "site list."
Clients won't arrest this problem of running on unseemly sites through indirect sales channels, either. Many of those who look the other way see these "occurrences" as the cost of shedding their risk in buying media by the "numbers" instead of by instincts.
All of this adds up to too much for a premium publisher's direct sales force to consistently overcome. Premium publishers who also use indirect channels to drive revenue know this -- so why do they continue to dig their own hole?
It's like premium publishers are involved in an arm-wrestling match, but act like their elbows are not even on the table. That's because their other hand is accepting a bribe to throw the fight. Premium publishers can't wean themselves off of the monthly revenue they get from indirect sales channels that count towards their overall quota. So while individuals working at a premium publisher appear to benefit from accepting this revenue, the publisher's own brand value inches closer to defeat.
It's ironic that an iconic brand like the New York Times will build a wall around its digital content to ensure users sense an increased value -- but won't build a wall around its own ad impressions to protect their value and its own sales team.
These are dire times that call for dire measures. The time is now for premium publishers to take their heads out of the sand and dig out of the hole they created by collectively abandoning their indirect ad sales channels (yes. including Adsense).
Before any ad network person jumps in (like, say, fellow Online Publishing Insider Jason Krebs) and says this is just another diatribe from a guy who hates networks; hold off a sec. I am not suggesting these indirect channels don't have significant value to offer buyers and clients. They do, but by premium publishers pulling their logos completely out of the conversation, there will be more clarity in what ad exchanges and ad networks bring to the table, by making it clearer what sites are not seated and which ones are.
Or premium publishers can do nothing to help stop their own demise, continuing to point their finger at buyers and clients instead, for not seeing the branding forest through the impression tree. Which reminds me, have you ever heard the song "Solid Rock" by Dire Straits? There is a line in it that goes like this: "When you point your finger because your plans fell through, you have three more fingers pointing back at you."