Putting Some Weight On Your “Barbell” Strategy

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steveThe Sell-Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Steve Goldberg, senior adviser at EmpiricalMedia.

Over the last two years, many premium publishers have struggled to resist programmatic efforts and stick solely to direct sales efforts. But as programmatic adoption and viability has grown, many publishers are now comforted because they can say they will have a “barbell” strategy.

That’s probably a good thing.  But, as always, the “buzzword Bobs and Bettys” need to do more than just say it to make it true. ’Cause frankly, just calling something “barbell,” without contemplation, can make you sound like a dumbbell.

Having a strategy means you have a detailed (or even a rough) plan to optimize both lines of business. It means you have or will get the resources to do the customer segmentation and establish the feedback loop needed to succeed. And it means you view programmatic as a proactive part of your operation vs. a response.

The key to defining that strategy might be captured in a single simple idea.

“Programmatic is bought, not sold.”

Enough said (almost).

Really, the implications of this simple idea can drive a number of actions and decisions. And sometimes, those decisions will seem unconventional. Which is good because advertising that is bought vs. sold is – for most premium publishers – not business as usual.

To start, publishers should consider that programmatic efforts do not have to report to a CRO. In fact, they might be better off elsewhere. All the usual (and tired) arguments about channel conflict, etc., are easily addressed by having ad sales decide the "block list" and having someone else outside the sales team manage the yield.

Don’t believe it? Well, CROs may say they want to avoid channel conflict but catch them in the last week of a quarter and see how they feel then. If they are shy of goal, that’s when any yield discipline goes right out the window. And, at that point, having the CRO or sales lead not be involved in programmatic might be better for everyone.

Bottom line, if you can’t decide where programmatic lives, take a good long look at the sales team's skill set, focus, demeanor and training. The right answer will reveal itself soon enough.

Additionally, the bought vs. sold idea should help publishers remember that even general programmatic efforts (vs. the elusive programmatic direct) can offer superior revenue results if the buyer marketplace is resisting arguments about the differentiation of your content (and its value for adjacent ads).

This is especially true of local premium publishers. Many publishers with a local presence feel the only way to achieve aggressive year-over-year goals is by growing local audience. But that growth may be hard or impossible to achieve and (surprise!) might not even matter.

As many local publishers are learning, their “go-to” product – a local geotargeted impression sold directly (less cost of sales) – will very often have a lower yield than an impression bought by a premium retargeting marketer.

Put another way, say your site attracts Lexus owners because of its great content about snooty restaurants, but the Lexus agency buyers are making you wait in their lobby for an hour only to cancel your lunch and learn. Ditch the lobby and the chicken wraps and the wasted time. Understand that the tier-two Lexus dealers are going to pay a ton for retargeting on your site. More than that buyer would have, anyway.

Finally, publishers should acknowledge that not all marketers have a binary perspective on programmatic and direct. It's not like being a Yankees or Mets fan. You actually can do both elegantly and publicly.

In the long term, agencies (or, more likely, clients) will deploy programmatic and direct budgets for the same objective. Remember, certitude and transparency are the best tools in a media planner's toolkit – especially when presenting to clients. So agencies will figure out a split buying strategy eventually. And this means publishers should figure out a split account-management strategy proactively so that a barbell strategy can be applied to individual clients.

Yep. “Account-management strategy” vs. “selling strategy” – bought, not sold. When you remember that, you get higher yield, no channel conflicts, happier customers and more money.

You can follow Steve Goldberg (@stevegol) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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