The State of the Publisher Industry – March 2020

March 30, 2020 5 min read

  • Becky Dutta, VP Customer Success

  • On the 26th March we hosted our first “virtual” publisher breakfast of the year for our EMEA customers. The inaugural session in a series where we aim to get the publishing industry to collaborate, learn and also hear from the agencies and advertisers that make up our ecosystem.

    Breakout sessions

    We asked all our publisher attendees to carry out a quick snapshot poll on the current state of affairs. Some of the results are below.

    Graph: What’s the biggest challenge you face with the buy-side in 2020?

    Clear signs here that driving more direct deals and getting closer to buyers is the priority for most publishers. Building trust in first party data is also a priority, something that we discussed in more detail during one of the breakout sessions. See below for more detail.

    Graph: Which of the following verticals (if any) have maintained the same/increased advertising spend as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic?

    This was encouraging, the majority of publishers feel that budgets will stay the same over the coming quarter with just over a quarter of respondents seeing a decrease. With so much changing in the world it is good to see that there is still revenue being generated by publishers. There were even 9% of respondents who can see an increase! We asked where this may come from.

    Graph: How have your revenue targets changed for Q2?

    As you can see electronics leads the way with entertainment close second. I wonder if we will see a shift in spend from direct response to more brand strategies which are less focussed on driving a conversion. Time will tell, what is certain is that publishers and advertisers will need to rethink how they communicate to consumers during this time. With all of this will come data and a new strategy. After the poll we broke out into smaller groups to discuss three topics that have been front of mind for publishers. A quick summary of the findings are below.

    Trust – what can publishers do to get buyers to trust their data?

    Trust isn’t really the issue here, publishers are trusted sources of media however they are not really known for their data. As these two come closer together it is important that publishers start to work on strategies to educate buyers and the quality of their data and media together. Having a standardised way of measuring is essential for this. If you are going to create an audience for one publisher, it should be consistent with another. The IAB transparency label was discussed as being a viable solution to this and having an agreement on what the standards should be. The other topic that was discussed was education. Publishers should have the confidence and narrative to tell a better data story which is backed up by the quality of their publication. This is about having open conversations with buyers and helping them understand exactly how their audiences are built. Something that third-party providers have never done. The final piece of the puzzle here is about sharing data. Is there a way to provide data to buyers in a self-serve tool? Is there a way to connect advertisers and publisher data in a safe and controllable way? These are all questions that publishers are working on answers to today. What was agreed is that the gap between publishers and advertisers is closing and the technology that sits in-between will be the ones that solve these challenges moving forward.

    Faster RFP responses

    In this session, we talked about ways in which publishers can build quicker responses to briefs based on real-time data available. A lot of publishers will answer a brief and start from scratch because they don’t want it to seem like they are offering off-the-shelf audiences. This can sometimes take time to create, not ideal when speed is essential to buyers. There is an opportunity to create commonly used segments and maybe use them or tweak them to ensure a faster response to briefs. Other tactics that were discussed included identifying existing segments that most closely resemble the target audience, maintaining a repository of all responses, whether won or not, to quickly inspire you and longer-term approaches such as using floating surveys to collect unique data. What this all came down to was thinking of new ways to create audiences and building a story around these data points

    Replacing third-party data

    There has been a huge shift away from third-party data over the past 12 months from publishers however buyers still rely very heavily on third-party data. If a buyer sees a large number of users within a third-party segment they sometimes don’t question it and go for scale over quality. Most third-party data isn’t vetted, has no transparency and is created in a black box. There is a lot of education to do in this area and this all starts with closer relationships between buyers and sellers. The other challenge that was discussed was how campaigns get measured. With no third-party data frequency capping and measurement go away. There has to be solutions for this as the industry incentivises, remunerates and relies on them a lot. It became clear that there is a desire to move away from third-party data and publishers are already far down this journey. Buyers however still have a huge reliance on it. If all third-party data goes away publishers will need to work hard to encourage a new way of thinking that relies on quality first-party data. The path might seem tough but it is inevitable when third-party cookies go away. Being prepared, sharing knowledge and working together will become essential at this time.