Expressen in Sweden goes all-out with programmatic

In November 2013, Expressen in Sweden made a concerted decision to start offering its advertising clients the ability to buy inventory programatically. Today it has advanced to a point where programmatic is playing a significant role in the company’s digital advertising strategy.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | March 9, 2015

Editor’s note: This is one of a number of case studies presented in “The impact of programmatic advertising on news publishers,” a new WAN-IFRA report published in early March.

Expressen is part of the Bonnier Group and a classical liberal newspaper with a national edition (Expressen) as well as local newspapers, such as GT in Gothenburg and Kvällsposten in Malmo. With about 3 million weekly unique visitors, Expressen is one of Sweden’s largest publishers.

Dilem Guler, Business Manager for Expressen, has headed up the newspaper’s efforts with this major shift in the marketplace, and spoke to us as part of our new programmatic report.

WAN-IFRA: What was the impetus behind moving moving into programmatic?

Duler: We recognised early on that we needed a strategy to handle this shift. It was clear that the market was moving towards programmatic buying. Although it was a small share of the total digital spend, it was important for us to get started with tests to learn early on  about the process, how our inventory is behaving and also what competence we needed for this new development – all to make sure that when the market was mature Expressen would be a strong and experienced player. Which we are now!

Where would you say your programmatic efforts stand since launching in 2013?

Expressen has really proven itself to be a strong digital player on the Swedish market. Since 2013, Expressen has made programmatic a part of our “normal” sales structure. When talking to advertisers or agencies, it is important for us to talk about campaign effects and target groups. How can we help our clients to reach the right results? If the answer is programmatic, we can offer this on all platforms.

The major questions for us this year is not the issue of whether we do programmatic or not, rather how can we work with our first-party data to offer the right target, how can we offer larger rich media formats, in-banner video and other creative solutions through the programmatic space? This will be our main focus this year.

How is your sales team structired: do you have one integrated sales team to sell across all platforms?

At Expressen our sales teams sell all media across all platforms. Programmatic is integrated in daily sales and plays an important role when talking to our larger customers. Expressen is part of the Bonnier Media Group; a part of having our own programmatic sales at Expressen had an important role in building the Bonnier ad network, which is enabling agencies and advertisers to access all Bonnier inventory and audience products in the programmatic space.

When Expressen decided to move more into programmatic, did you hire more knowledgeable staff? Has your staff size been reduced or grown as a result of this shift?

We figured out early that this shift requires a different kind of organisation and mindset, so we have really focused on recruiting new competence and training our existing team. In general, our staff has not been reduced but instead it has actually grown.

How much training has taken place and how crucial is that with programmatic?

Training has been very important, but we can’t forget communication. This shift can be scary for a lot of people, so from the beginning, we have included and informed ad ops and sales in what this shift actually means. That has really been a big key. Weekly reports from the start with information about buyers from the SSP (supply-side platform), rates, and reports about international trends have really helped our sales team to feel a part of this change, as well as information combined with training have given them the confidence to have meaningful discussions with the buyers.

What have been some of the challenges dealing with agencies and advertisers … can you describe that situation?

The agencies have really needed the time to organise, and find the models that work for them. This has been an interesting journey to follow, and I think that this year we will be starting to see the fruits of this work.

Also here, how do you as a publisher reach out to the agencies to help them in this regard?

It has been really important for us to have the right knowledge so we can support agencies with questions that are more technical. We really need to understand how the systems work from both a buy and sell side. The agencies have, as always, tight deadlines and need to get everything in place fast. And, as always, it is our task to make sure that all is working as it should be. For example, we have put in a lot of hours to solve DSP (demand-side platform)-related issues. The programmatic world is still very technical and not as automated as it should be, so we need to do a lot of trouble shooting.

Can you quantify how much of your sales is done via RTB/programmatic?

Not public figures.

Is there a goal of how much of your sales will ultimately come from programmatic?

No, we follow and adjust to the market.

Have you had any issues with fraud?

No, not that much.

Are you looking into selling video remnant inventory programmatically? What sort of potential do you see for that in a market size like that of Expressen?

We expect to sell a lot of our video inventory through our SSP, but not on a remnant level, rather on private marketplaces. Because there is a large shift in media spend from traditional broadcasters to online video, the demand for our inventory has grown rapidly during the last six months. Which means that we do not see a need to open up for auction, rather we expect to sell our entire inventory without any problem through private marketplaces on rate-card levels.

And what about mobile?

Mobile is really going slow. Our audience is there, but not the advertisers. Hopefully demand for mobile will grow this year. I think one reason for that will be that more and more publishers will offer first-party data, and that is something we will be doing as well.

What advice would you have for a traditional publisher like Expressen that is starting programmatic initiatives?

My advice would be: Have a strategy early on. Make sure that you keep contact with your most important advertisers. Do not lose this relationship even if they are moving towards programmatic buying. Make sure that you fully understand what you are offering, and remember that this is not a race, but a marathon. There are a lot of miles left to run, so there is no need to hurry. Most importantly, recognise that this development will not just stop, instead focus on how you can use this to increase your revenues and help your clients to optimise their campaigns.

Also, be more hands-on: have the right competence, make sure that your sales force feels included and not threatened. Make sure to have commission models in place. Start optimising your site; yield management is the key.


WAN-IFRA’s new report, “The impact of programmatic advertising on news publishers,” can be downloaded for free to WAN-IFRA members. The report is supported by technology partner RadiumOne, leaders in programmatic advertising technology and services. For more information, contact


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