Words of wisdom from three digital advertising aces

The push to make the digital advertising landscape less complex and at the same time more transparent, efficient, reader-friendly, and of course profitable has dominated the agendas of ad and sales teams for the past few years. Coping with trends such as programmatic, mobile and, most recently, ad blocking – to name a few – requires more than just embracing the latest technology. We asked three advertising specialists for their assessments of the current digital ad landscape just ahead of World Publishing Expo 2016.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | September 5, 2016

Michael Stoeckel, VP, Global Tech Strategy & Publisher Operations for Prohaska Consulting, USA

Stoeckel oversees work with advertising/marketing tech suppliers and also directs publisher strategy. As VP of ad revenue operations at The New York Times, he rebuilt NYT’s programmatic ad business and managed a team of more than 60 people across ad platforms, sales planning, ad operations, and yield optimization strategies.

WAN-IFRA: If you look at some of the trends in the digital advertising ecosystem today (programmatic, targeting, retargeting, ad blocking, native, video), are there any common challenges or questions that your clients are facing, particularly in adapting to the constant changing technology landscape?

Stoeckel: Across direct and programmatic sales, the “big three” revenue inhibitors for publishers are viewability, fraud and ad blocking. Given the attention those issues have received, they don’t need explanation, but there is another important ad-operations consideration that is less well known: the challenges publishers face in tracking varying currencies on a campaign-by-campaign basis while dealing with differing definitions of viewability. For example, a publisher may almost simultaneously launch three campaigns, each of which is contractually bound to distinct delivery goals, such as:

  1. Standard/served ad impressions
  2. Standard/served ad impressions, but with
    a minimum viewability percentage threshold, and
  3. Viewable ad impressions

The situation is further complicated by the fact that a publisher should price those goals differently. Pricing for the first goal and likely the second goal would be based on standard CPMs; the third goal would be based on higher viewable CPMs, or vCPMs. Unfortunately, none of the ad operations tools in the marketplace is equipped to manage multiple layers of currency metrics and pricing simultaneously, which makes it challenging for the publisher to price and manage inventory effectively.

Have you seen any ad technologies recently that publishers should consider adding to their toolkit?

For programmatic, publishers have long pursued the goal of maximizing the number of bids for each ad impression delivered as a means of improving yield. Header bidding in conjunction with mediation tools helps address that, but the current unsophisticated state of such technologies has been referred to as “hacks” by many publishers. I expect that technologies that accomplish what header bidding does today will evolve over the coming months. That will create a very different situation that will provide clean bids and maximize yield for publishers while allowing buyers to see a fuller view of available inventory.

Robert Johansson, head of online products for Schibsted Sweden

Formerly head of programmatic for Schibsted Sweden, in the spring Johansson moved into the new position of head of online products, which includes responsibility for programmatic. He joined Schibsted in 2013 as yield manager for the media company’s flagship daily in Sweden, Aftonbladet. Naturally, he has a deep understanding of the complex digital advertising ecosystem.

WAN-IFRA: What are some of the developments in programmatic trading at Schibsted in the last year?

Johansson: These are some of the changes we have made recently:

  1. We have decided that globally we work with AppNexus’ full stack, meaning that we will not work with any other ad server; we will use both their Adserver and SSP.
  2. We will have one global member, so a buyer who wants to access all of our sites in all our countries can do that and target only one member. Thus it is easy for buyers to access our inventory.
  3. Having AppNexus’ full stack allows us better control of our inventory. We will have more inventory in the market for programmatic and we can give them access to real premium inventory.
  4. We are looking into programmatic direct and will move ahead with that (it’s not yet live), but priority-wise, it is more important for us to give buyers access to premium inventory via RTB so they can buy in real time and use their own data. Programmatic direct is just automation of the IO (insertion order)-based business, which is also good, but not of the same importance.

Our organizational structure is also new as of January. Now we have a global product organization that is responsible for disseminating programmatic products to our markets (native, rich media, programmatic direct, video, etc.). In each market we will also have a programmatic team whose main focus is to maximize revenue for that specific country rather than develop new products. The reason for a global product organization is to have scale and power.

For example, in Sweden we still work closely with agencies and direct clients to help them move their budgets into programmatic and still have the same quality inventory.

  • We have training sessions for media planners and project managers with the big agencies.
  • We have an offer to allow buyers to use AppNexus as a DSP (since that is good for us).
  • We have launched a Schibsted Certification for buyers. Basically, we train buyers about how to buy our inventory and test them before we approve them (highly appreciated in Sweden).

Header bidding is drawing a lot of attention. Also known as tagless, advanced bidding, or pre-bidding, header bidding helps publishers instantly collect buyer bids on all ad inventory before selling that inventory. The story goes that by making RTB technology the first step in the auction process, publishers can see how much buyers are willing to pay on all inventory and get the highest price per ad. Where does Schibsted stand on that?

We have looked into it and talked to AppNexus about it. For our major market in Sweden and Norway, I do not think we will use it, since we are already heading for a full stack. Then there is not the same need for it. But for some of our markets, we certainly will evaluate it. There are two things I do not like about it:

  1. Latency. It is yet another script that will call for buyers. We are heading in a direction where we want to remove scripts – not add new ones.
  2. From a sales perspective, it is not optimal if buyers can access our inventory from different SSPs. It confuses buyers and our sellers about where our inventory actually is available. Our strategy has been to have our inventory in one place to make it easier for everyone to target the inventory.

Ben Shaw, Director of Global Advisory, WAN-IFRA

Shaw has the task of providing independent advice on digital strategy and organizational change. He also leads a number of initiatives to support the media industry in its transformation. Previously he was Shaw Media’s chief digital officer, focused on driving revenue and audience for their digital products in the United States. Shaw formerly served as the company’s CTO.

WAN-IFRA: As many publishers turn their attention to mobile and video advertising, what are some of the technological challenges facing them, particularly at small, local papers?

Shaw: Mobile advertising has overtaken desktop at the majority of publishers worldwide. It has begun to represent a significant portion of revenues not only at pure-play companies but at some leading traditional media companies as well. All told, digital advertising is not only growing – its growth is still accelerating.

If publishers wish to capitalize on the changing media landscape, they must significantly expand their base of digital-only advertisers. While digital growth still requires experimentation, 2017 should be the year for real strategic thinking and carefully considered investment. There are new, winnable digital dollars within our markets.

The main technological challenge I see for local publishers is friction. Posting and serving high-quality mobile and video advertising is too difficult for many companies, and it is too often presented in a way that is disruptive to the audience. The experience for everyone, from sales and production all the way to the user, frequently lacks both performance and easy-to-use design. Local papers must work on improving the processes of creating and consuming compelling advertising content on mobile and video.

You are heading a session at Expo about ad blocking – a complex issue, to say the least. What actions have you seen publishers taking to address at least the technology side of the equation?

Publishers have been responding to the ad-blocking threat in a number of ways, including purely technological solutions. The danger of those solutions is that they can readily backfire. If publishers allow themselves to be pulled into a cat-and-mouse game of technological circumvention, they can find that much of their sites’ functionality is completely blocked by some ad-blocking providers. Even worse, they risk alienating users, who are demonstrating their dislike of the ad experience.

The main ways that publishers have been dealing with readers who block their ads are these: blocking access to content, asking users to disable ad blockers (sometimes with a request for a donation if they do not), serving ads anyway by circumventing the ad blocker, or creating a personalized ad experience. During our panel, we will be taking a deep dive into the most successful cases the industry has produced to date.

The good news for publishers is that they have a direct relationship with consumers – and the opportunity to build on it. There’s also an opportunity for publishers to get in the driver’s seat with regard to advertising.

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