Wenner Media, home to an iconic stable of titles that includes Rolling Stone, Us Weekly and Men’s Journal, still subscribes to a true publisher's paradigm: “When you have great content, it all falls into place.”
But it’s innovation in programmatic media buying that will enhance its properties’ brand equity and “will command better CPMs and deliver value for the advertiser,” says David Kang, Wenner Media’s chief digital officer.
AdExchanger spoke with Kang, Paul Likins, head of advertising operations, and Michael Persaud, Wenner’s new director of programmatic advertising, about their digital media strategy and work on a new programmatic private marketplace.
AdExchanger: How is Wenner Media building programmatic into its broader digital strategy?
DAVID KANG: For Wenner, 2013 has been a watershed year in terms of programmatic. Wenner had kind of dabbled in it at different points and there was the typical discussion that has gone on at publishers everywhere: “How do we think about programmatic and how could it complement or potentially challenge, even, our direct business?”
In 2013, Wenner decided to move forward in programmatic and what we discovered, initially, is that it’s a great and differentiated product compared to our direct sales, which is still doing well. We’ve noticed that as we’ve gotten on board with it, things in the programmatic world have accelerated. Our sellers in the field are giving us feedback that the marketplace is starting to shift in a dramatic way.
Whereas in the past, we [might do] a custom package with some run-of-site inventory, instead that request has turned into a custom package [to] scale through programmatic and interest in offerings we might have available as a premium publisher. Based on that feedback and our team’s sense of how the marketplace is evolving, we realize that there is yet another opportunity for us in programmatic, and that is to be able to create a private exchange and a premium aspect.
There are a lot of advertisers and agencies that are looking for pure-play, private-exchange deals. We feel we will have access to budgets and new revenue that we were not in competition for previously.
What are the effects on direct sales?
PAUL LIKINS: We see this as a partnership with our current direct sales team. Bringing on Michael Persaud, the intention is for him to work with these teams to go out in the marketplace and sit at a pitch meeting if a client has a question about programmatic. It’s to integrate the two and not to have any conflict whatsoever.
Ad operations has always been a customer service department, so the fact that the programmatic team sits within revenue operations or ad operations – there certainly is a level of customer service in that programmatic is here to serve sales in some sort of way and to not be separated. Part of Michael’s job is to go help the larger direct sales and print sales team or integrated sellers understand programmatic – how it can help them bring in more money both with incremental programmatic and also on their direct sales and create a broader partnership.
How are you looking at and harnessing audience data?
DAVID KANG: Part of bringing on the DMP [Wenner began using Krux about a month ago] is to look for interesting intersections. We know our overall demographic for Us Weekly may be women, ages 18 to 54. It’s definitely worth talking to advertisers, finding out what corners they want to stand on that we may not have thought of, and that’s part of the beauty of bringing on Krux and bringing on a DMP.
A lot of it maps tightly with the brand proposition. With Us Weekly, it’s a young woman who’s on the go, who is into beauty and fashion and who very much follows pop culture and enjoys celebrities and our voice, where it’s great coverage and quality journalism, but there’s a little bit of snark to keep it fun and interesting. We feel like that brand equity is reflected in the demos of people who visit us.
Rolling Stone, as you know, has a strong center in music and obviously great taste-making orientation toward rock, but in the last year, we’ve had Jay-Z and Daft Punk on the cover, so it really is for people who are passionate about music. In addition, Peter Travers [and our entertainment category] has a brand authority that translates into our programmatic packages as well. And, then finally, there’s the cultural aspect of it where we go into Matt Taibbi talking about what’s going on in the big banks on Wall Street and what’s happening in the government, so there’s all that equity we have coming across.
Men’s Journal has done integrated programs with Land Rover, Porsche and Tudor watches – accounts that are hard to get through direct business – but the reason they come is that they know the audience is sophisticated, aspirational, cares about clothes, cares about lifestyle and is willing to spend money. We feel the programmatic aspect of that gives you access to that [demographic] in a different way, and one that fits the media plan mix well. All our brand equity helps further differentiate our programmatic products.
As publisher audiences are trending mobile, what’s your response?
DAVID KANG: Mobile, in some ways, has been a watershed as well. We had been using a partner for probably eight years and kind of had them take care of mobile for both Rolling Stone and Us Weekly. But, as a publisher, we see that probably by year’s end, about half of our traffic will come from mobile or tablet, and this is a growth part of our business, so last month, we launched our first, completely Wenner-built and -controlled mobile product for Usmagazine.com, as well as RollingStone.com.
Of course, we have mobile apps as well. We see this as a key part of how we are serving advertisers and agencies. They’re reaching out to us because of the brand equity and to reach their audience, whether it’s on the go on the weekend, or etc., that’s the device they’re using to access our content. … Everyone understands how critical it is, and from a programmatic perspective, it’s not as evolved as the online audience or even the tools, but we look for the gap to begin to close quickly, and we’re putting a lot of energy into mobile products.
What’s next on your programmatic roadmap?
MICHAEL PERSAUD: We’re talking to a couple of SSPs, but don’t want to have too many partners in the sense that it’s going to commoditize our inventory. We want one primary partner to have all of our private deals in there and give access to some of the agency trading desks so they can buy in a way they’re comfortable – to package the inventory [and allow for a seamless buy] is our goal.
Can you break down the brand road map for each Wenner property over the next 12 to 24 months?
DAVID KANG: Rolling Stone: We’re at an exciting time for the brand. One of the things that’s happened over the last year or so is Gus Wenner joined the team as director of RollingStone.com. With that, he’s led an effort around thinking through the kinds of content and inventory that’s available with that. So, that’s working closely with the product team and ad operations, as well. We’re looking, in Q2 of next year, to launch an all-new RollingStone.com, which is not only visually driven, but from an advertising standpoint will have units that are seamlessly integrated.
The brand has been successful with sponsored programs. To have that content integrated into the site seamlessly, and transparently, for a better user experience -- it’s a lot of investment in content. We are in the process of expanding the editorial team behind it. And with the relaunch, there are more content verticals we’re looking to explore.
Us Weekly: We'll continue to expand in the beauty and fashion categories, and get more video content. Also, we are a strategic partner with Yahoo and a part of that is, if you go on Yahoo’s omg!, you’ll see that Us has its own channel. [We’re able] to scale [Us] through some pretty aggressive audience-development efforts we’ve had, and also through our partnership with Yahoo, Rolling Stone benefits as well.
Men’s Journal: We have incredible demand for inventory, and we are looking at next year as a great expansion year for the editorial resources we put into the Men’s Journal brand. It was the first responsive design, one-code base, [multiscreen], etc., which is a model we’re planning to follow with Rolling Stone. With that, we feel the brand can do a lot more and we see the content perform tremendously with our syndication partners.
We are in a growth mode in 2014, especially seeing that programmatic can be a driver in our business and an integral part of what drives the economics of our business.
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