Wooing Advertisers Gets Even Harder For Mid-Sized Web Publishers
You’ve got venture capital-backed startups like BuzzFeed boasting about reaching 150 million-plus unique visitors per month.
You’ve got the rise of programmatic ad buying making it easier for advertisers to cherry pick select audiences when targeting ads.
And then you’ve got ad agencies increasingly funneling budgets to their in-house, more profitable “trading desks” to handle more ad buys.
Not to mention the massive clout of social networks like Facebook, Twitter and increasingly Snapchat.
Is it any wonder that mid-sized sites are feeling squeezed?
“It’s a perfect storm,” said Doug Weaver, founder and chief executive at Upstream Group, which consults digital media companies. With programmatic and the increased clout of trading desks, “the average media planning team at an agency has less money to plan with,” he said.
Across the online ad industry, Web publishers say they are increasingly feeling pressure to either grow their audiences rapidly to keep themselves on the radar for agencies, or accept selling ads through automated channels where they might fetch lower prices.
“The trend is at agency level is they want consolidation of partnerships,” said one top online ad sales executive. “They want to work with fewer, deeper partners. And you need big audiences. It’s very, very competitive. Twenty-five million uniques is not enough.”
“I think the number one issues for publishers is scale,” said Jon Mendez, chief executive at Yieldbot, which helps publishers manage data for ad purposes. “There’s no question about that. Hearst’s competition isn’t Meredith. It’s Google, Facebook and Twitter.”
“The number one issues for publishers is scale. There’s no question about that. Hearst’s competition isn’t Meredith. It’s Google, Facebook and Twitter.”
Jonathan Mendez, Yieldbot CEO
That’s why a few weeks ago, a handful of publishers, including the Financial Times and The Guardian, formed a programmatic ad selling alliance. Then last week, in the UK theAssociation of Online Publishers announced a similar consortium featuring partners such as Time Inc., Dennis Publishing and Telegraph Media Group. Many media observers expect more such pacts.
Take the The Daily Meal, a site for food lovers. According to Chief Executive Jim Spanfeller, the company was able to climb into the top ten in the food category early on, but didn’t start getting real traction with agencies until he neared the top three last October.
“More love is coming our way,” he said. Right now, The Daily Meal’s audience number–around 14 million unique users per month — puts it on decent footing in the food category. But in other segments, it would pale in comparison to bigger sites.
If your site doesn’t have massive scale, it better excel in a niche marketers are dying to reach, so you can get agencies’ attention. “Being good at being something general ain’t going to make it,” said Moritz Loew, chief revenue officer at the native ad firm TripleLift, who’s logged ad sales stints at Time Inc. and Microsoft. He said publishers need something “super sexy that (advertisers) can’t get anywhere else.”
Take The Daily Beast. The site reached 12.7 million unique users in February–surely an impressive number on its own. But that’s good enough for 47th place in comScore’s news category. Should the site chase the BuzzFeeds of the world with listicles or social media-fueled, “viral” traffic? That’s a losing proposition, said Mike Dyer, the site’s co-managing director and chief product and strategy officer.
It’s better to focus on producing quality editorial content and quality branded content, which is of increasing interest to advertisers, he argues. “That discussion gets brands a lot more engaged than our walking them through our display business,” he said. “There is not an agency we walk into that says demand for content is slowing.”
When it comes to content marketing, being a smaller, more laser-focused vertical site may actually be an advantage,” said Rafat Ali, chief executive at the travel business-focused Skift.com. “You know so much more about your audience in a way that giants don’t.”
Of course, building out a robust sponsored content operation isn’t easy, and isn’t for every media company. That’s why so many publishers are trying to figure out how to make programmatic ad sales options work for their businesses.
Marco Bertozzi, president of global clients at the digital buying agency Vivaki, said he’s sympathetic to publishers feeling squeezed, but said the onus is on them to adapt. “If you go into programmatic halfheartedly you’re not going to succeed,” he said.