VP/GM Resnik Says Gannett Digital Network Leveraging Site Ownership To Drive Ad Revenue

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Gannett DigitalJosh Resnik is VP/GM of Gannett Digital Network.

AdExchanger.com: First, what is the Gannett Digital Network – an ad network? And where does it fit in the Gannett "mothership"?

JR: We are not an ad network. We are a group of owned and operated media sites that are equipped with ad network-quality targeting capabilities (e.g. contextual, behavioral, re-targeting, etc.). Together, our properties offer a unique blend of national and local reach, and they are quality brands with tremendous equity in the marketplace. The national brands include USATODAY.com and vertically-focused sites such as MomsLikeMe.com and HighSchoolSports.net. And our local brands, while in many cases not nationally known, have been strongholds in their markets for a long time – in many cases over a century – so consumers have a deep connection with them. We currently reach nearly 50 million high-value consumers on a monthly basis across our sites.

Because the sites are owned and operated by Gannett, unlike an ad network the Gannett Digital Network offers unique content-integrated advertising solutions. In addition, we are closely aligned with strong Gannett Digital marketing services solutions such as Pointroll and ShopLocal, that enable advertisers to better engage and convert prospective customers.

And because of Gannett's strength in producing valued content that resonates with consumers, we ensure that advertisers’ messages will be placed alongside the highest quality and most trusted content available.

How has audience-based online media buying trend manifested itself at Gannett?

We offer advertisers the best of both worlds. Advertisers can connect with our users on a brand-specific basis, such as by advertising specifically on USATODAY.com or MomsLikeMe.com. But because of our extensive reach across more than 100 sites in all, we can also offer advertisers the ability to reach their desired consumers at scale by buying on an audience basis via advanced targeting capabilities.

Audiences on our local sites skew high for education and affluence, as well as many other categories of interest to advertisers in various segments. For example, the audience is more than twice as likely as average to have traded stocks in the past 6 months, which of course makes them very attractive for personal finance advertisers.

And local newspaper and television websites ranked first and second respectively in a 2009 national survey as trusted online sources for local information, as well as trustworthiness of advertising. In both cases, that puts them ahead of online portals. So our local sites are an ideal place for audience-based buying.

What’s Gannett Digital’s view on ad networks today? Exchanges?

Ad networks and exchanges fulfill a specific need for advertisers. They are mainly an efficient means of reaching audiences through non-guaranteed, non-integrated placements. Exchanges, in particular, are beginning to do a very good job of removing friction from the marketplace, and it is interesting to see how they are able to build new solutions as technology improves and the marketplace matures.

As a publisher, our main focus is solving problems for advertisers through a blend of custom integration and broad reach components. So we can provide services for marketers that networks and exchanges cannot. In addition, unlike networks, we have control over our sites and can guarantee the quality of the environments in which we place our advertisers.

Do you participate in data exchanges such as BlueKai and eXelate? Do they work for the publisher, in your opinion?

We utilize external data sources in order to better target advertisements on our network. In general, as we manage our sites we want to create great experiences for our users and advertisers. One component of that is targeting advertisers’ messages. When done appropriately and done well, both users and advertisers win. We do not share our data on third party exchanges.

Have yield optimization technologies proved useful for Gannett? What type of solutions are you looking for to improve yield?

Yield optimization technologies have been useful to Gannett Digital. We have a very large network, and as you would expect some areas are sold out while others have available inventory. In areas where we are not fully sold, our goal has been to optimize the value of that remnant inventory without getting in the way of our premium sales. We have a relationship with the Rubicon Project and they have done a good job of monetizing remnant through optimizing among competing networks and through real-time bidding for inventory. This has helped us to optimize yield and increase eCPM on remnant inventory across Gannett Digital properties while enabling us to maintain sufficient control over our inventory so that we don’t hamper our premium sales efforts. Different publishers have taken different approaches to working with ad optimization technologies like this, and similarly we will continue to adjust our approach and strategy as our needs demand, including tailoring our approach on a brand-by-brand basis.

Given the complexity of today’s digital technology, is staffing a challenge?

We strive to hire the most innovative talent in the industry. We believe that we’re accomplishing that, in terms of both sales and sales support. We’ve been able to hire very experienced talent for our operations, optimization, and other back-end functions, and they have handled just about every permutation of online advertising and related technology developments that have surfaced in the industry over the years.

We have been able to hire top notch salespeople because they are attracted to the opportunity to sell across a wide array of products and platforms. Great salespeople look for the challenge and opportunity to learn how to sell online media against great branded inventory on sites like USATODAY.com, to sell our audience of almost 50 million unique users leveraging contextual and behavioral targeting, plus the chance to sell across platforms like tablet and mobile. We hire people from leading content sites, from portals and from ad networks.

You recently signed a deal with ContextWeb to provide contextual categories for targeting purposes for your advertisers. Why is contextual still important given audience-based selling?

Contextual targeting enables advertisers to reach their audience based on content as it is consumed – what they’re engaged in at that very moment. Advertisers have traditionally targeted general categories such as Finance & Money, but with the help of ContextWeb, we now give them the ability to target highly-specific contextual categories such as Financial Planning, Frugal Living, Retirement Planning and Tax Planning across our network. That is very powerful. It places advertisers next to the most relevant content across the nearly 500 million indexed pages of our network. Our advertisers have been impressed with the resulting campaign performance.

Are advertisers interested in buying across platforms, or are they buying online only?

Our brands resonate across multiple platforms. At Gannett, we reach consumers through print, online, mobile, television…even on video screens in elevators! And just as many of our brands have resonated with consumers for over a century through traditional media formats, we are also extending those brands to newly developing platforms. For example, consumers have downloaded the USA TODAY smartphone apps (e.g. iPhone and Android) more than 5 million times. USA TODAY is also a leader on iPad with over a million downloads to date. And Gannett local sites drive tens of millions of monthly mobile impressions as well.

Advertisers see tremendous value in cross-media advertising, and we have provided a number of marketers with solutions that leverage the strengths of each platform, keeping in mind the importance of true cross-platform integration. Advertisers are not interested in cross-media for the sake of cross-media. There is real value in buying across the spectrum in an integrated way, and we can provide that value to our customers.

What milestones would you like to see achieved by the Gannett Digital Network a year from now?

We will continue to develop new solutions that help advertisers connect with the consumers they want to reach. We truly believe that the Gannett Digital Network’s offering is unique in its ability to bring both advertisers integration and reach on high quality national and local sites. Gannett’s success in creating highly engaging cross-platform content and providing the marketing services that enable advertisers to reap the benefits of this content will help us accomplish our goals.

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