Condé Nast’s Stinchcomb: Programmatic Doesn’t Equal ‘Unsold’

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Traditional media companies like Condé Nast are learning to fit programmatic buying into their ad sales strategies.

We spoke with Josh Stinchcomb, VP of corporate partnerships for Condé Nast about the company’s recent investment in cloud-based ad platform provider Flite and how the publisher of 18 magazines, 4 business-to-business titles, 27 websites, and more than 50 apps for mobile and tablet devices is continuing to adapt to an exchange-driven media world.

AdExchanger: How did Condé Nast come to invest in Flite?

Josh Stinchcomb: We are a customer of Flite. We would use their technology to build the creative for many of our custom campaigns. We have a pretty robust digital creative in-house studio, which includes about 60 developers, designers, project managers. We did over 1,000 custom digital ad executions last year, so a lot of volume coming from that team. But there are times when we can work with other vendors on the development piece. Flite has been one of those vendors. We liked Flite as a customer because it gave us a nice balance between design flexibility and tech standardization. And that’s a major benefit we can provide to our clients.

What specific benefits does Flite help you bring to advertisers?

When you’re working with the breadth of clients that we have, many of whom are aesthetically and design driven, we have to have enough flexibility to create ads that match the overall way these marketers present their respective brands. At the same time, in order to keep costs down, we want to be able to standardize as much of the ad formats as you can.

Flite provides a nice balance between aesthetics and cost. The other thing that we really liked about them – something that is part of a bigger theme within Condé Nast -- is their really smart use of analytics and data to inform what we’re doing. Flite's platform provides a feedback loop for what’s working.

You mentioned that a large part of the appeal of Flite is the data they help you to analyze. Aside from being able to dynamically change the creative during a campaign, how do you ultimately manage the data you accrue from working with Flite?

Flite is a tool to use observable metrics from the behavior relative to the ad itself. This is less about a deeper understanding of our audience generally and more specifically about how we can use engagement stats to inform creative. It’s a particular instance of us using data to provide a better product but it’s certainly not the only place and way that we’re thinking about data. It’s just one example.

Is it best to use Flite for certain kinds of ad campaigns, or is it available to pretty much all the marketers you work with?

Flite has a really impressive roster of marketing clients. They work with a lot of big companies in a lot of different categories, so I think it’s pretty flexible. What I think it lends itself to is ad creative that’s content driven, ad creative that is designed to get users to engage and consume or experience. And I think automotive manufacturers, CPG clients, beauty, fashion all benefit from what that tool can provide.

Our team will determine, based on the campaign objective and budget, what is the right tool at the right time and use it that way. I will say, given that it has done a good job of standardizing certain aspects of the creation, it should allow us to enact it on smaller campaigns as well as big ones. There’s some efficiency in the production which make it more affordable for even smaller advertisers, smaller campaigns, to where like a full bespoke custom execution might not be viable with a given budget.

You mentioned that Flite has its own clients as well. Will they bring in their own marketers in addition to Condé Nast’s ad partners?

Flite will continue to operate as an independent company. They have their relationships with other publishers and the clients and with agencies and none of that changes. We are just one of their many customers who also happen to be an investor in the overall company.

What other third party vendors do you work with?

We’ve got a couple of strategic partnerships that I would put in the data-related bucket. We work with AdMeld, which powers our private exchange. We’re still learning more about how agencies are approaching programmatic buying and I imagine that we’ll continue to evolve and grow in both scale and sophistication in that arena.

On the data management side we work with Lotame. We use them to take in data, not only that we’re collecting on our own site, but data from all hosts of data providers to create segments to target more precise audiences across our sites. That’s the place where you’re going to see an increased focus on our end and to tease it a bit, Condé Nast is sitting on a huge, huge amount of data that was born from our legacy business.

We’ve got 50-plus million plus subscribers in the database and we know a lot about them. We’re going to take some of this insight that we possess and use that to increasingly inform the online audience segments we offer advertisers. We’re finally finding ways to connect the data that we have in different parts of the company and put it to work in the digital space, so expect a lot of exciting stuff on that front from us over the coming months.

When it comes to using the data from those print subscribers and website visitors, how important is cross-platform ad sales to the print side?

Our brands have in many cases multiple touch points with consumers. You’ve got magazines, you’ve got digital magazines, you’ve got the web, you’ve got mobile apps, you’ve got our event series, you’ve got licensed products with retailers. Any number of our brands have a pretty wide footprint and that creates for our marketing partners an opportunity to build cross platform programs and we’re doing more and more of that.

We restructured our company about a year and a half ago to bring all of those disciplines under a single sales effort covering each brand. The ad sellers at Vanity Fair or Wired or The New Yorker represent the entire constellation of assets that that brand has. That simplifies the process of doing cross platform programs. On the buy side, I think there are some clients and agencies that are better set up and more interested in those sorts of deals and some that are still separate so we couldn’t address those.

Getting back to your exploration of programmatic buying, publishers have had a good deal of concern about fully embracing the exchange space. How has Condé Nast’s view of RTB environments evolved?

I think in large part it’s an opportunity. If you are a company that doesn’t have a lot of strong content brands, then your only option is to roll up audiences and sell them, right? Because you’re not really selling contexts; you’re not selling the power of a brand or an association with a brand – you’re selling audiences.  In the sense that this is something that organizations that don’t have strong brands can sell, you can look at it as a threat to what we do. But we don’t see it that way.

We were just talking about cross platforms that are anchored in being associated with a premium brand. That’s always going to be of interest to advertisers. There’s always going to be these multifaceted sponsorships that are deeply customized to a given brand. The power of a strong brand is what makes that work. That will remain an important part of the marketing objective. That said, as audience targeting expands, all the technology that’s built up around it creates another opportunity, even for Condé Nast.

There are also cases where marketers and agencies do just want to buy a certain audience. Now, we can offer that. In a world where the question as to whether an ad is actually being seen becomes more pronounced -- and a lot of research suggests that a pretty significant portion of online ads are not – being a major brand holds definite advantages. On top of that, we benefit from the concern on the part of marketers that their ads be placed and seen in a safe, brand positive environment. As those sorts of issues come more to the forefront, I think our audience cross-site offerings have become more and more appealing.

Programmatic buying creates a secondary way for us to go to market. It allows us to use all of the same technologies that power the networks. I see it as a nice complement. This is the great thing about strong brands: they’re a great filter for audiences and advertisers to connect upon.

A certain kind of person goes to Wired and the fact that they’re going there might say more about them, frankly, than a tech enthusiast target that developed across a network.

An exchange doesn’t have mean “remnant inventory.” An exchange is simply a buying mechanism. Maybe there’s ways for us to tap into that and automate more than the kind of standard buys that we do with our partners.  It adds to the efficiency on both sides and then that frees up more time to have the more interesting, strategic conversation about developing custom programs.

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One Response to “Condé Nast’s Stinchcomb: Programmatic Doesn’t Equal ‘Unsold’”


  1. John Ramey says:

    Programmatic is no longer synonymous with RTB. RTB is a subject of programmatic. RTB is actually remnant inventory because of the way it is sourced in the ad server (fill tags). But Josh and Conde are definitely on the right track and made good points - programmatic (i.e. APIs) can benefit the premium direct sales part of their business. The key is to recognize that standard RTB isn't the silver bullet.

    Especially good point about exchange based audience selling being good for properties without strong brand / context to offer the advertisers. But for those that do have great brand properties, exchanges are not the optimal way to capture the premium dollars.

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