Who's Afraid of Programmatic Selling?

The New York Times ,which has been very much on again/ off again about programmatic selling , this week indicated  that it will be changing course on its long-held reluctance to open up inventory to RTB, and is beginning to "lean into" a variety of programmatic selling options. Michael Zimbalist, SVP of Ad Products at New York Times said that “[p]rogrammaitc is now a part an overall practice” for the Grey Lady.

This change is meaningful not just for the New York Times, but as a harbinger of things to come: for the modern premium publisher, programmatic needs to be part of their story too. With the right strategy in place, providing programmatic options will help them meet buyers’ needs without sacrificing their business goals. 

What We Talk About When We Talk About Programmatic

Often, when premium publishers (like the New York Times not too long ago) express concerns about programmatic selling, they’re talking about open RTB – where any buyer can bid on any impression within an exchange and winner takes all on an impression by impression basis, with no controls on the publisher side.



A critical first step towards clarity is remembering that open RTB is a subset of programmatic, and a small subset at that. Private exchanges and deal IDs have created a niche within RTB by allowing publishers to monitor both prices and access to inventory, while programmatic guaranteed provides all the same controls as manual direct.

There is an ever-growing list of tools to both create dramatic efficiency gains and court buyers who want to buy programmatically, you just need to find the right ones.

Solving Problems Programmatically

Programmatic needn’t be viewed with low-CPM dread, but it is important to take a strategic approach. The New York Times’ stated approach of “thinking around programmatic as part of a total yield management practice,” is spot-on. Programmatic selling can’t be an add-on, it should be part of an overall strategy—which might mean that unsold impressions go into a secondary, open RTB market, and sales people work directly with buyers to build programmatic guaranteed and deal ID campaigns to fit buyers specific needs.

Becoming the Expert

As Microsoft’s Jay Seideman argued recently “programmatic is a loaded term that can mean widely different things…Sellers need to ask the right questions to peel back the unimportant layers and dig into the marketer need that is underneath it all.”

While many publishers cite buy-side pressure as a driver for investing in programmatic selling, many buyers are still looking at programmatic as a general strategy, rather than a means to achieve a specific goal. If you really want to win at programmatic, you need to become the expert. You should be pointing your buyers toward the solution within your programmatic sales stack that will help them best meet their goals.

The Million Dollar Question: How do you deal with channel conflict? 

There isn’t a single right answer, but everyone can find a strategy that can solve the problem of channel conflict before it starts. Leaning into programmatic tools designed for sales teams, like programmatic guaranteed or even deal ID, lets your team control all media spending, whether they’re handling it manually or with automation. The simplest way to avoid channel conflict is have the sales team embrace automation and sell it themselves – everything from sending digital proposals and I/Os to being market makers for their own programmatic platforms – RTB or guaranteed.  Channel conflict may not ever arise.

Many publishers have successfully built out programmatic offerings that haven’t cannibalized their direct business, and many publishers have built out programmatic offerings that are part of their direct business. Know your goals, define your strategies, and become the expert. Then you can make programmatic selling work for you.

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