The Guardian's Programmatic Play: Performance First, 'Premium' Second

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Tim Gentry, Revenue Director, The GuardianJust over two months ago, UK-based news outlet The Guardian unveiled the biggest step it has taken after four years of operating in the programmatic space: it opened its own publisher-side "trading desk." Read the release.

Created with help from MediaMath, The Guardian’s trading desk GuardianResponse+ will augment the news company's existing programmatic tools, including its private marketplace. Unlike a lot of publishers that have tried to focus more on automating parts of their direct sales operations to attract "premium" brand advertisers, GuardianResponse+ is squarely aimed at direct response and performance marketers that want to capture data and users both on and off The Guardian's digital properties.

Tim Gentry, Revenue Director at The Guardian, spoke with AdExchanger about the company's overarching goals for programmatic.

AdExchanger: MediaMath has been evolving from a DSP provider to more of a general software provider. For The Guardian's purposes, are they essentially serving as a quasi-DSP and sell-side platform?

TIM GENTRY: In this situation, yes, it's The Guardian as a publisher using MediaMath's DSP to find how users are behaving when it comes to other sites' inventory.

What led to the creation of a trading desk with MediaMath?

That partnership launched at the beginning of October. We're in the middle of a large-scale beta phase at the moment. It was borne out of the successful performance-based direct response ad sales strategy that we've had for a while. Our sales team was finding that they were running out of headroom on our owned-and-operated inventory, plus a greater understanding of the techniques around optimization.

So it seemed like the right time to launch our own publisher trading desk, where we're using the data from the 80 million global uniques The Guardian attracts on average every month. So this about providing better targeting of those users who appear to be in-market for a particular product, whether they're on our sites or outside across the web.

Is this strictly a direct response play?

The arrangement with MediaMath will remain in the direct response performance arena and represents a way that we can match up our technology with the ad agency trading desks. Our offering is comparable to what the agencies can bring when it comes to their own data and their understanding of users' behavior. We see 25 billion data points every month from our users. So that that gives us a lot to bring to the agencies when the discussion turns to real-time bidding and performance.

Can MediaMath also help promote the idea of programmatic direct ad sales?

It's taking that programmatic work into a different area for us. Prior to working with MediaMath, we had been partnering with The Rubicon Project for the past four years. So we're pretty advanced in using tools like private marketplaces to help broaden out direct sales abilities.

Does working with MediaMath alter the existing ad tech partnerships The Guardian already has?

Our partnership with Rubicon on private marketplaces is particularly well-developed in the UK and we're continuing to work to expand that scope in the US. Broadly speaking, our approach to programmatic is to think about what we're selling rather than the particular sales channel we're selling it through.

In addition to the DSP function, MediaMath will also serve as our data management platform (DMP) for GuardianResponse+.

Does most of The Guardian's programmatic activity take place on the open exchange or through its private marketplace?

At the moment, most of our programmatic activity occurs through private marketplaces, as opposed to the open exchange. It represents another layer of revenue that doesn't comprise direct sales. We've seen quite a lot of sophistication when it comes to private marketplaces, including different players, deals involving different ad formats for different audience segments than we might have otherwise used.

But what we haven't seen from private marketplaces is greater scale at the premium brand level. It still feels reasonably nascent. People still tend to look too much to programmatic and RTB as lower prices, lower value. But that's changing over time, as agencies and publishers understand how to bring in the right kinds of brands as publishers need to figure out the right kinds of inventory to match. We're on that journey together.

Is there a big difference in terms of how programmatic has developed in the US and in Europe?

Yes, we have noticed that difference, as the US is more ahead when it comes to programmatic. Obviously, we're more advanced when it comes to the UK, where our sales offering is more mature. In the US and Australia, we have startup businesses and we're thinking about not just programmatic, but how we can appeal more generally to advertisers and audiences in those markets. It's a continual work in progress and there's a lot of experimentation going on right now that has made the process very exciting.

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