In conversation with Melissa Bonnick, SVP of Client Results at Dentsu Aegis Network, Programmatic; Patrick Kelly, Senior Vice President at Havas Media Group and Lauren Kroll, Associate Director of Programmatic Activation at Essence.
Transparency, relevance and performance: three straightforward things that agencies are demanding of – and increasingly getting from – publishers as the digital ecosystem transitions into a first party world.
In the latest of our US breakfast briefings I moderated a panel with Melissa Bonnick, SVP of Client Results at Dentsu Aegis Network, Programmatic; Patrick Kelly, Senior Vice President at Havas Media Group and Lauren Kroll, Associate Director of Programmatic Activation at Essence.
I ask what agencies want and need from publishers, how the phasing out of third party cookies will change the industry, why agency-industry relationships must become more strategic and what has changed in the immediate aftermath of Covid-19.
Bonnick notes that consumer and employee behavior has dramatically altered over the course of the pandemic, with the shift to home working and multi-screening. She says: “We have done a lot of pivoting, a lot of changing to audience strategy as well as what asset types we’re delivering.”
For tech clients, around Covid, the focus has been on brand and product focus, making sure that the general public has what they need, rather than other verticals which may have seen budgets decimated, she adds.
Kelly reports a similar trajectory across finance, particularly in investment banking with markets bouncing back. “There are things that these firms have to say and need to get out there,” he says.
Understanding the mindset of people working from home is key. “The messages we would have aligned around the start of the day – the podcasts or newsletters, are now being listened to and read at any point,” he added.
“It’s generally still the same place, the same target. It’s just understanding the mindset of the person who is receptive to this message and the environment they are in – this makes for a more meaningful experience.”
The biggest shift for Kroll has been in messaging and “thinking about how we’re talking to our customers”, with an emphasis on ensuring advertisers are seen as relevant. “We definitely are pushing those purchases for people who are already in market and then also rethinking what the brand strategy looks like,” she adds.
Trust, transparency and honesty are critical if publishers want bigger budgets from agencies. For Kelly, this means building better relationships on both sides of the fence.
“Get ahead of the RFP and really get to know your agency partners well,” he says.
“Everyone’s busy, but meeting with partners is so enjoyable and everyone benefits. Be honest with what you’re selling, know who your audiences are and what your editorial content is.
Kroll urges publishers to dive deeper into the RFPs they receive and really consider the audience they can offer, as well as creative solutions unique to them. “What about this plan is different from what another publisher might be able to provide us? Is there any sort of alpha or beta tests that you are doing that no one else has run before?” she asks.
“Please come in and be honest about your products and your offering and your reach and the audience. If it’s small, that’s okay if it’s relevant. If we’re in the room together and you ask us what we’re looking for, listen to what we’re saying and come back with creative ideas that speak to the audience we’re actually looking for.”
Bonnick goes further still. “Don’t be afraid to nerd out,” she urges publishers. “Tell us how segments are being built, tell us the pockets of information that are really good. Secondly, don’t be afraid if it doesn’t perform, but prepare for it.”
She advises publishers to feedback on an underperforming campaign with further insights and ideas for further tests. “You might not get as much budget as you
got the first time around, but we would probably be more likely and willing to do test budgets with the revised version of the segmentation play that comes from your insights.”
Kroll says: “We have an entire data strategy team who when we work with a new publisher, we ask them to validate, and look into exactly how an audience is being built. Should we trust it? Transparency is key. When the results come at the end of the campaign, and we are looking at things like brand awareness and consideration, we’re measuring everything that we’re doing.”
For Kelly, validation reassures clients who might be hesitant or sceptical of data that is new to them. “It is pressure-tested, and if it passes the tests the performance will speak for itself.”
Kroll says it is more important to look holistically at campaigns, and look at the individual pieces and what they bring especially if a publisher had its own study into its audiences.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re pitting publishers against each other, just knowing that each publisher in general is going to serve a different purpose on our plan,” she says.
Previously, agencies were more reliant on their own first party and layering that on the open exchange, but there is now a sense that publisher data is more relevant and accurate than ever. With third party data it is often unclear what methodology lies behind it.
This has coincided with a move towards more contextual advertising, partly as a result of third party data becoming less trusted or available, which is leading agencies to consider performance metrics that align more to a contextual environment, such as time on site or time interacting with an ad.
Consequently, more conversations between agency and publisher are starting to happen. What Bonnick wants from publishers is unique datasets, whether it comes from contextual sources or any other extension such as affiliate data that can be verified.
As Kelly says: “Not all data is created equal, and a lot of third party data is not great.”
Bonnick is stauncher still: “When we’re looking at third party cookies we’re looking down the barrel of a gun. We’re probably going to get rid of them.”
She says: “For the time being, I think for us, the overarching strategy is maximising and extending first party data binding the second party data elements or publisher data as well. That is a good complement and expansion, and then obviously looking at content in a way that is not just plain contextual targeting but with some semblance of having demographic and audience behaviours that are not necessarily tied to just the content.”
Looking at the private deal versus open market, they all believe that CPMs remain an important factor.
Kroll says: “When we’re evaluating whether we want to do open exchange, or PMP, then CPM is definitely a factor. But we’re also looking at what are the goals of the campaign.
“Is it worth paying that higher CPM if it is getting us where we want to be?” she asks.
If a PMP gives access to inventory that an agency previously couldn’t have reached and would help accomplish goals then it might pay “a little bit of a premium” in order to ensure that an advertiser was visible and able to secure those ad slots where and when they wanted them.
Bonnick agrees: “We can’t necessarily justify a two-times increase on the CPM, but if there is additive data on top of that, and performance matches with the CPM increase and our LTV goals are being met against that, then I think we’ll be amenable to [premiums].”
However, if she could still get those audiences in the open exchange and there was no added value it would make no sense to transition over.
If there are three take-aways from our agency speakers, it is in getting the combination of contextual, audiences and demographic targeting right; publishers to ask more questions, more often, and be totally transparent in the scale and size of the opportunity they offer.
With the fall-out from the global pandemic and the demise of third party cookies, publishers have the opportunity to help build the ecosystem of the future.
But it will require greater collaboration and deeper shared goals if publishers are to thrive and give advertisers and agencies a better bang for their buck than elsewhere on the web.
As Bonnick concludes: “I cannot stress enough that we will throw dollars your way, but if we don’t see it with enough scale or transparency then there is nothing worse than having to pull those dollars.”