Forbes, Premium Publishing And Programmatic

In past entries for this column, I’ve met with professionals from all corners of the digital ecosystem to discuss the impact of a rich-media exchange. Most have been overwhelmingly in favor of the idea, although some have expressed concerns or reservations. Sean Cullinane of Digital Trends, for example, was not in favor of the exchange, firmly believing that programmatic is not an option for his publication. Rather, his team focuses on creating unique, “never-been-done-before” native experiences for advertisers.

To get another perspective, this week I spoke with Mark Howard, senior vice president, digital advertising strategy, at Forbes Media. Forbes has always been incredibly innovative in terms of its advertising offerings, and Mark has been a driving force behind that innovation. It’s not surprising that he saw both sides of the discussion pretty easily.  “We’re all continuing to look for ways in which we can ultimately hold or increase our CPMs,” he began. “The only way to actually achieve that is by delivering more value back to the advertisers.”



The Rising Stars initiative, the linchpin of the rich-media exchange, is the key to delivering that value, in Mark’s view. “Not only do they provide the best palette for advertisers to integrate more messaging, but also greater distribution of content for the purposes of driving interactions,” he told me.

Mark also sees the need to balance programmatic with unique premium opportunities for advertisers. Certainly Forbes is investing in customized sponsorship opportunities. Some brand advertisers demand really special placements that cannot be bought or sold programmatically.

 “The business of publishers is to match brand advertisers with highly contextual and trusted editorial environments. This model of using a sophisticated sales team remains the lifeblood of premium publishers,” Mark said.  “However, marketers no longer target audiences — they target individuals and participants in today’s digital, social and mobile world. This requires a new, complementary selling model -- which is what the programmatic channel represents for us.”

Mark added, “We’re building our infrastructure around both lines of business. We’ve been very active in our programmatic technologies development. We’ve worked hard with our tech partners to make sure that the way we present ourselves in an open exchange, as well as the way we are working with various partners within a private exchange, are fully optimized. We believe that the technologies powering this type of buying are going to continue to penetrate into the other facets of our business.”  Mark affirms that the introduction of a premium, private marketplace is that next step in the process, agreeing that it’s very much in line with where the entire industry will be in the not-too-distant future.

Forbes has therefore taken an “abundance approach,” going full force into the wave of activity around programmatic and taking a fully transparent approach to present inventory that way. Forbes has also taken very a open attitude towards any partners who wish to engage in a private marketplace arrangement. At the same time, the publisher continues to enhance the way that all sponsorship opportunities on the site and the customizable programs are executed, as well as the way they track, report and optimize those programs.

“At, we don’t have a network of sites. We’ve got the inventory that our sales team sells directly and the inventory that we put up through the exchanges, plus we work with Google’s Dynamic Allocation,” said Mark.  Forbes doesn’t sell remnant on the exchange; it has made its entire inventory available through an exchange marketplace. “Google’s Dynamic Allocation has helped us best monetize all of our direct sold inventory. The rotations and audience inventory sold through our sales team actually compete through Dynamic Allocation with exchange buyers for the inventory, which is interesting and a slightly different approach than other publishers have embraced.”

Forbes has ultimately seen a huge result in terms of uptake and yield from the exchange business. The result is that all Forbes’ inventory has a value, and it isn’t about the direct sale versus remnant. “Whether inventory has been sold by the sales team or through the programmatic channel, we’ve now been able to optimize what we’re able to drive through both channels as a result of this type of approach,” Mark said.

Marketers with very complex messages and longer sales cycles can’t benefit from direct-response metrics the way many consumer marketers can. As we introduce the opportunity for them to more easily buy Rising Star units at scale, the application of that second tier of analytics for exposures and interactions will help drive value for these brands.  Mark believes (and I concur) that this is good for the entire ecosystem. He ended with, “The more opportunity advertisers have to use these units, the more economical it will be for them to create them more often. And the more that they’re actually using Rising Stars, the better off they will be both in terms of campaign performance, and the ability to move away from hardcore direct response metrics. From there, they can finally begin to place more branding value on each exposure.”

Amen to that.

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