Publishing Management In An RTB World

One thing I have learned in 18 years of working in digital publishing is that the Internet is so big that every idea will be tried.  Many, many bad ideas along with good ideas are launched and  fierce market forces will sort out the winners from the losers.  Then the winners will immediately face new competition, forcing them to evolve to survive.  Darwinian evolution is warm and fuzzy compared to the nearly infinite competition on the Internet.

One example of this evolution is the metamorphosis of advertising networks developed to serve and track advertising, and then to fill unsold inventory for publishers.  Very quickly this industry evolved to use  results-data from their ad-serving, first manually “optimizing” campaigns so they delivered the lowest cost-per-result.  Then automated solutions were innovated to track ROI and direct the “buy” on the fly to the sites and environments producing the most immediate result.  Now, more innovations drove networks to open up directly to buyers, leading finally to real-time buying that’s  like a stock exchange for media placements.

In the never-ending ripple effect of evolution, publishers evolved to take advantage of the networks by amassing audience through mechanized content aggregation and search engine optimization, building audience  for such a low investment that very low advertising revenue-rates would still be profitable.  With no content costs, and no sales costs, these bottom feeders themselves became an evolutionary force.  For advertisers seeking traffic to their sites, their ads may actually be the most engaging content on the pages leading to a high click rate that exceeds what can be expected in were the reader is in a destination environment.

How are brand name content publishers to thrive in this environment?  Simply put, the challenge for publishers who aim to invest in higher quality content is that they must also get more for the ads running in their content.  Since the results of brand-building impressions can’t be measured in real time, the highest quality content publishers can’t earn appropriate returns in an RTB environment.   If publishers allow their advertising pricing to come down to the lowest common denominator, soon enough their budget for content will arrive at the same point. 

RTB exchanges for network delivered impressions have survived the natural selection of the Internet, and are here to stay; attracting the spending of advertisers and establishing a low reference point for pricing.  Premium publishers, too, must evolve.  Generally the most successful have invested in three tactics to stay at the top of the food chain. You can too.

Some, like Walker Jacobs, EVP at Turner Digital Sales unit of Time-Warner’s Turner Broadcasting, are developing  sales approaches that allow them to package premium inventory into big, heavily customized packages  with multiple-coordinated-media executions sold to the client and agency.  The leftover money after this purchase makes it to the RTB market. 

Secondly, some premium publishers have developed their own “private” exchanges where they set the rules, including which advertisers have access, and the terms of the deals.  The Wall Street Journal announced just such an exchange this week called WSJ Audex.

Finally, a few publishers have invested in ways to prove the value of their media through research that captures the brand-building value of impressions of a sort that can’t be captured on a “real time” environment.

Many of you don’t have the resources of Time-Warner nor the Wall Street Journal, but you can still learn from these strategies.

First, all media can develop and sell more complete packages for their advertisers, that may include creative, but definitely include customized content, and multiple media (the right combination of in-person, mobile, print, video, etc.),

Second, it is possible to develop an RTB Private exchange through a third-party platform.  Hearst Digital Media, for example, is utsing the PubMatic platform to open its inventory to selected advertisers.

Finally, let’s understand just what advertisers want.   First ,they want confidence in the results of their investment in media.  This can’t be captured through RTB because it either may be delivering impressions that are never seen – or, being driven by click rates, can’t capture the building of brand that precedes action and takes days, months or even years.  Forbes solved this problem by offering advertisers with the right spending commitment the opportunity for a guarantee of measurable lift in brand recall, reputation or interest, based on pre-campaign and post-campaign surveys. 

In today’s digital world, conducting research is not expensive.  You would be well-advised to build such a campaign- validation system into your advertising offerings

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