The Best Defense Is A Good Offense: Hate The Network? Be The Network!

Football teams often strategize that the best way to control their opponent's potent offense is to keep the ball away from the other team, running a so-called "ball control" offense that is equally about holding the ball for a long time on the game clock and about scoring points.  It is axiomatic that the best way to avoid being on the defensive in business, sports or war, is to be on the offense.  This certainly applies to the conversation Ari Rosenberg has started and pushed forward with respect to the sales problems associated with offering inventory through advertising networks, and the focus of buyers on buying networks and using DSPs.

The most successful Internet publishers I have been associated with have moved beyond the limits imposed by selling only their own limited inventory., for instance, before it was sold to Disney, formed its own network of other mommy and parenting sites and blogs to increase the inventory it could sell.  This made the Kaboose sales force more important to the clients it was calling upon because it could propose and deliver bigger packages meeting another of the needs of its advertising client base; to make a few easy-to-manage big purchases rather than many smaller and more difficult-to-manage buys.  At the time it was necessary to invest in business development efforts to assemble the network, getting them each to plug the code into their pages to query the Kaboose ad server for display units. 

The advent of DSPs has made it easier for a publisher bundle a really large solution for a client; one that includes its own inventory and special content/community solutions that address the highest value needs of a marketer, AND additional inventory purchased off an exchange.  The average CPM of a big package that includes premium inventory on the publisher's site can be brought down by purchasing and bundling third-party inventory with the premium package.

We do business in an unforgiving world of extreme competition.  New ways of thinking, new strategies and new skills are needed.  It is not enough today for salespeople to connect with clients and agency-buyers (which is hard enough) and say "I have a really good audience for you; do you want to buy some of my inventory?"  The sales process needs to get to a higher plane, figuratively and literally. 

Salespeople for digital publishers can do a better job of "solution selling" by probing for needs, and assembling and proposing genuinely complete marketing solutions.  These solutions can include not only multiple digital aspects, but even off-line marketing components and research to validate their effectiveness.  These proposals can even include the creative if necessary.  This might put media companies directly in competition with creative agencies - but, strangely, sometimes in league with the sister media buying agency of the creative shop.  And by utilizing a network or DSP, the media company making the proposal is not even limited to their own inventory when proposing and delivering such a package.

By pursuing this strategy of selling more complete solutions, salespeople can get appointments at a higher level within the client or agency organization, with individuals who are focused on getting merchandise or services sold, not just driving down their "cost per point."  Proposing and selling an advertiser solution that is a so-called "integrated package" that includes more than a single media is a key strategy for all publishers.  Major publishers already do this; proffering multimedia integrated packages that often include an on-the-ground event that is desired by the client and not a commodity.  In this fashion major publishers cream off the top of major brand budgets before they even get to the RFP stage that the other publishers then compete over.

Because advertising agencies have moved beyond their role of being creative developers and media buyers, to becoming media owners and distributors, they have invited a counter-offensive from publishers who can and should be competing on the new playing field; utilizing the tools now available, like DSPs, to compete at the highest levels of the decision-making chain for the largest pieces of the budget.


Editor's Note: Here's a clarification from Online Publishing Insider Ari Rosenberg: "In last week's column ("Dire Straits"), I pointed at the as a brand that allows third party channels to sell their inventory based on the company's use of Google Adsense. I later learned that the does not allocate any unsold inventory to ad networks or ad exchanges, and that their Adsense agreement blocks over 4,000 national advertisers.

Although I believe running Adsense devalues a content site's perceived value, at the very least I painted an inaccurate picture of how the handles the pressures of third party sales channels. I regret this error, especially since they are doing exactly what I hope all content branded sites do: not making their inventory available on ad exchanges or through ad networks."

7 comments about "The Best Defense Is A Good Offense: Hate The Network? Be The Network!".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 21, 2011 at 4:19 p.m.

    Been out of the buying world for a long time, but it crossed my mind - how many buyers and clients actually go through the sites to feel assured, besides the number game, to know it fits the bill? I do remember back in the day when the Phila buyers were floundered to find out that there were different media estimators and buyers for every media. How could they balance what they all did? Now computers help, my old boss used to say, "I don't care what the numbers say. I want to know what works."

  2. Jared Cook from Omniture, April 21, 2011 at 5:26 p.m.

    Another excellent example of publishers going on the offense and becoming their own network is Ziff Davis. Powered by Demdex technology, Ziff Davis has effectively combined the audience from their owned and operated sites together with audience from strategic partner sites. Now their are selling much larger packages to agencies, delivering the campaign through their existing ad servers.

  3. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, April 21, 2011 at 11:31 p.m.

    Dan, I see your point -- publishers can bring more scale to the table by going out and buying complementary inventory off of the exchanges to add to their packages they propose/sell to clients -- but this selling behavior would only feed the bigger problem of glorifying impressions that run on inferior sites -- content publishers need to ween clients away from that thinking not towards it even if it means appearing counter to where the market "says" it's heading -- think of it this way -- every impression that clients pay to have appear on a site that has no brand equity puts another dent in the value of the impressions premium publishers bring to the table -- instead of buying impressions to drive up the scale/cost of their packages premium publishers need to increase the perceived value of appearing "just on their site" and charge higher CPM's as a cost of entry -- your suggestion takes them in the opposite direction in my opinion.

  4. Mark Zagorski from eXelate, April 22, 2011 at 9:03 a.m.

    Great piece, Dan. At eXelate we are big proponents of publishers becoming aggressive with their brands and building "extended reach" through offsite media.

    A key piece of that puzzle is data, as site extension is made of not just offsite inventory, but data as well. This data can be both the site's own audience information as well as third party data to enhance their audience view.

    Publishers with great brands can now leverage tools like eXelate's DataLinX and others to make their data, and that from 3rd parties, readily accessible outside of their site -- building a highly targeted branded "network". For sites that are oversold, this can be a boon to their bottom line.

    The opportunity for publishers is great if they learn how to leverage their core salesforce, brand and audience assets and enhance them with industry standard data solutions to drive new revenue streams.

  5. Daniel Ambrose from, corp., April 23, 2011 at 1:10 a.m.

    Ari, I agree with you. but I think step one is survival and growth, and that means winning business. I know business can be won protecting the high value and higher CPM inventory in a big package. Taken to it's logical conclusion I'm saying; media may need to act like agencies because agencies are trying to act like media. When you get to the scale of an ESPN you don't have to go outside to find the scale, but most of our readers don't have ESPN's scale.

    Another way to view it is that agencies have always recommended media plans that included a variety of media. In the pre-digital days for instance they might have included (and still do) low CPM low environment OUTDOOR-BILLBOARDS. That is essentially the way I see the network delivered impressions; like impressions on the I405.

  6. Daniel Ambrose from, corp., April 23, 2011 at 1:11 a.m.

    Thank you Jared. Good point. IDG, too, created their own network too...they just (unfortunately) aren't my client (yet :-).

  7. Doug Weaver from Upstream Group, April 28, 2011 at 5:18 p.m.

    Hi Dan, I've written on this topic many times on my blow, the Drift, and I'm with you. The glut of exchange-based inventory out there is the disruptive force in our market that's redistributing power and realigning roles. The publisher can easily become the media aggregator through retargeting (+frequency) and look-alike content or user targeting (+reach) on exchanges. We've just got to start listening to the customer and hearing exactly what it is they want us to do. They're not saying "sell me holes on your website where i can put my ads." Rather "Help me reach my audience and persuade them." Great post. @upstreamdw

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