Meredith's Schimel: Private Exchanges Alone Won't Save Publishers

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Liz SchimelAmong the questions facing publishers last year: (1) What should be done about the rise of audience buying?, and (2) How do we make mobile advertising really pay off? Meredith Corp., the publisher of women’s magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens and Family Circle, has been focused on mobile for years, particularly through the mobile marketing agency it bought nearly three years ago, The Hyperfactory.

AdExchanger checked in with Liz Schimel, Meredith’s EVP & chief digital officer, to get a sense of how the company is addressing programmatic this year.

AdExchanger: Meredith Corp. has pioneered certain aspects of digital ad sales, particularly with native advertising and mobile. But so far, there hasn’t been a clear sense of the approach to real-time bidding and audience buying. Do you have plans on the programmatic front this year?

LIZ SCHIMEL: We are looking at the private exchange model closely, but we haven't announced anything and have no concrete plans one way or the other. We have a very sophisticated data and analytics team at Meredith. We certainly bring that to bear in working with our advertisers around audience targeting.  So that's very much part of our go-to-market and there will be much more to come in 2013.

We're all in a world where programmatic and RTB are growing trends and we're responsive to that.  And we’re very focused on the value add that we deliver to an advertiser in terms of the depth of insight we have into our audience. How we choose to accept and place those ads, whether directly or indirectly, is something we’ll always have to consider.

Are there any particular concerns about the programmatic space or private exchanges generally that you’re thinking about?

It all comes down to the uses of data. Data is the key to everything, and having significantly differentiated and tightly focused data is an advantage for us. We're not trying to understand five different audience types, whether it’s adolescent boys, 25-year-old guys, teenage girls. We have a very clear demo and, fortunately for us, it happens to be one that advertisers care about passionately: the head of household, the chief household officer woman.

As we look at these buying patterns and the opportunities of a private exchange, we have to be very sophisticated about data. Because if you're not, a private exchange is not going to save you.

In what ways should publishers have a better handle on their data?

What I mean by being sophisticated about your publisher data is that you’re making sure that you continue to hold a laser focus on having very premium branded environments and experiences and products that take advantage of the specific needs of marketers.  In this digital world, successful companies have multiple revenue streams and multiple ways that they monetize the audience. You don't want to be overly focused on one versus another. We have to be good at several things at once. And you can’t expect to simply outsource that understanding to a third party and you can’t expect to turn on a switch and have everything run seamlessly for you.

Meredith’s big digital news last year centered around the relaunch of Parents.com and the acquisition of AllRecipes.com from Reader’s Digest Association. How will those two changes influence the way Meredith manages its other interactive assets?

We wanted to re-envision Parents.com. As you know, my background is in mobile. That demographic and "parents" is a pretty young audience. What we call our "mobile millennial mom."

Desktop is important, but we're into really designing for that audience from a "mobile first" point of view. We look to develop a responsive design with the idea, and when I talk about mobile, to me, mobile is any device that you easily carry around with you. It's a phone as well as any size tablet.

We think that this "mobile-first thinking" is very much going to inform how we think about our future product roadmap.

AllRecipes is already very mobile-centric in how they are thinking of the next generation. For some of our brands, our audience is still more desktop centric. We’re going to burn a lot of calories in putting greater attention and resources around innovation into making sure that the woman who accesses our properties has an optimized and unique experience on mobile and tablet.

Mobile advertising remains way behind the PC-based web in terms of spending and creativity. How does Meredith compensate for that?

Everybody faces challenges around mobile monetization. We're seeing a lot of success. If you think about mobile advertising as just a banner, except smaller, then the value proposition is not that great.  But if you think about mobile advertising in terms of how an individual uses their mobile device and what it means to them, then actually the advertising is even more valuable than it is on the desktop because it's location-centric.

For example, on AllRecipes, a large percentage of our traffic is mobile. We know that over 40% of them are accessing the AllRecipes site in the supermarket. When we talk to our large CPG advertising clients about the units that they can own on that site, they recognize that they are getting access to that shopper at the point of purchase.  The site is designed so each recipe is like a shopping list where you can check items off.

Advertisers understand that they're getting the most powerful point of purchase unit, next to a shopping list, where they can market their relevant product right as she's walking around the supermarket, checking items off that she's going to buy. The value of that mobile inventory goes way up. And so it's a completely different conversation than publishers like Meredith have been able to have previously.

That does sound meaningful. But is the spending meaningful relative to Meredith’s total revenues?

Mobile is still emerging, but we believe that it will be a significant revenue generator. Obviously because we have a big mobile practice on the marketing services side, so, overall for Meredith mobile is very important. The mobile advertising revenue across our network is still emerging.  I don't want to claim that it's huge right now and where we want it to be.  It's emerging.

It's growing quickly and we believe that we have insight into how to create a value proposition that makes that mobile experience more valuable to our marketing partners because we have the context of location. We understand we're optimizing the advertising around how she's using the device, as opposed to taking advertising that was optimized for the desktop and just shrinking it down so that it fits on the mobile screen.

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