The IDG TechNetwork is pulling the curtain off its new data management platform (DMP) today. The network oversees roughly 500 sites, including the tech and information publisher IDG's own web extensions such as PC World, Macworld and CIO magazines. Peter Longo has been CEO of the IDG TechNetwork for four years and has held executive posts as several publishers over the past two decades, at places such as Inform, Zinio Systems, Ziff Davis Media and CMP. We spoke to him about his role as the head of the ad network as well as someone who understands publishers' needs -- and occasional nervousness -- when it comes to programmatic buying.
AdExchanger: What's the new DMP called?
PETER LONGO: It's called IDG Data Services, and we're working with a third party to do that. We’re not ready to announce that third party provider. The other part involves selecting a data management platform partner that could ingest our taxonomy so that we can define inventory in the way that we wanted. That was very important to us. No one was able to provide us with the taxonomy class that we needed. We have the best taxonomies from IDG media and IDC which is a subsidiary of IDG. IDC has been categorizing and tracking the tech industry for almost 50 years. We've got a deep understanding of semantic elements of technology content on the media side and we use that in combination with IDC’s data to make it work.
What are you seeing on the display advertising front at IDG TechNetwork?
PL: For us, right now, it's a two-headed animal. Our traditional business is becoming increasingly high touch and custom per client. We've got a rapidly growing RTB and exchange business at the same time.
On the direct sold side, because we're in the vertical technology market with lots of deep relationships with our advertisers, a lot of the things that we're doing are customized. So we've set up a high touch environment in our sales organization that our reps can go out, present custom programs to our clients, and we've got a back end group called the "Tech Media Lab" that develops new, innovative and highly engaging units for our display clients.
On the flip side of that, we've got a rapidly growing exchange and real-time bidding business. It's low-touch in terms of client interaction. It's all done by machine, but a lot of that is being driven by data needs and that's driving people towards private slots and things on that side.
How has your role evolved over the past four years?
My roots are as a traditional technology publisher. That's been my background. I've also owned and operated sites and worked in digital media before the IDG TechNetwork. But launching a vertical ad network that has grown to more than 500 sites since 2008 was the first piece of what we need to do.
Setting up one of the early vertical networks was important because we had to position IDG Communications against horizontal networks. We had to ask, “What was the value of a vertical that goes deep into the tech category?” That business, in order to continue to be relevant has had to change pretty dramatically.
Since 2008, we've launched a vertical ad network, a video network, and an advertising exchange, all focused on technology categories and audiences. We're now offering a mobile network, and we'll announce this week a data platform to deliver IDG Data Services.
To think about what it takes to be a category leader in a rapidly evolving ad tech world, the onus is on networks like us and other publishers to stay relevant in the market, stay up on what's happening in terms of trends, and also to be very nimble and flexible. That's what we try to be.
Let’s talk about your views on DMPs. I had a conversation with Steve Plimsoll of Mindshare a few weeks ago, and he contended that they really didn't live up to their name, because they only take a small slice of data as opposed to this wide swath of consumer data. What is the IDG TechNetwork doing in terms of managing data?
About eight or nine months ago, one of our clients came to us, and we had noticed that with the expansion of our ad exchange, there were some changes in approach. Rather than buying our inventory in aggregate, which is the old fashioned model, what the marketer wanted to do was pick through our inventory one impression at a time, and use data to select those prospects that were most valuable to the vendor.
For a publisher like IDG, and a network like the IDG TechNetwork to surrender your inventory, to allow people just to pick through and take what they want on a basis that's not transparent, where there’s no control over pricing except for floors and the interactions between bidders -- this interaction felt a little bit one-sided to us.
To try to level the playing field between publisher or network and advertiser, we should define the most valuable data segments in the marketplace, and that might be cloud computing buyers, smartphone users, or numerous tech buyer categories. Then we could present those segments to clients who wanted to buy them. So we decided we had to move quickly and get into the data business. It powers our exchange and the many user segments in it.
How did you approach finding the right DMP provider?
We've worked with a bunch of them that have done really good things for us. However, in the vertical space whether it's technology, or health, or other verticals, DMP providers don't go deep enough in terms of the data that they're collecting and in terms of segments in which they're working .
For example, if you're a technology vendor, the marketer looks at data segments that are available from a data provider and they may be IT professionals, iPad users, business software purchasers, and prospects like that.
But that doesn't go anywhere near deep enough for our advertising. And our advertising is aimed at those who are looking for social media in the enterprise, cloud computing virtualization, data center and any number of different segments that currently exist.
We set out to populate our DMP with all the segments out there. By getting the taxonomies of third party data and marrying it with first party data across hundreds of sites, we know a lot more about engagement and intent. Our advertisers can then carve out initially small but precisely targeted audiences that power their campaigns. And these campaigns can be extended to multiple inventory sources from IDG websites, to our network, and onto exchanges.
So how does this change the approach to data?
A lot of what used to happen for media companies, whether it's Conde Nast or IDG, is that they always use content as a proxy for data. Someone comes to Computerworld or someone goes to the Vogue site, they’re interested in technology and/or fashion. Now, content isn't the proxy for data – data doesn’t need a proxy anymore.
It's also the fact that a publisher’s inventory is fluid. We have our owned and operated properties. We have our network properties that we represent and then we have access to inventory on ad exchanges. The important thing for IDG is for the past 45 years, we have been cultivating technology audiences. Now what we’re doing is defining inventory for technology advertisers.
We know a lot about audiences on our several hundred IDG media sites. We also define audiences across our IDG TechNetwork. We can also reach out into the exchanges on behalf of our advertisers and apply our proprietary data and taxonomies and then build highly targeted audiences for clients using exchanges in a way that a lot of other people can't.
As you establish this new data management system, what’s your view of private exchanges? Some have said that this is just a way to get publishers, who may be uncertain of ad exchanges, more comfortable with the process and nothing more. Do private exchanges have value in their own right or is it just a good way to market RTB platforms?
I actually don't believe that private exchanges are just a marketing tool, although I know publishers have struggled with how to make them effective. We've got 12 slots on our private exchange right now, and we've integrated them with many of the people who are buying advertising on behalf of technology advertisers. The difference between what we're doing and what other people are doing is that we don't segment our inventory.
Can you explain that?
Many media companies reserve their direct‑sold inventory for themselves, and then whatever is left over goes onto the exchange. At our Tech Media Exchange, the direct‑sold campaigns and exchange‑based campaigns, RTB‑based programs, all compete side‑by‑side.
When an advertiser comes in for a private ad slot in the Tech Media Exchange, we'll give that marketer a first look at all our inventory. Clients are not getting a first look, they're not getting a first look after anything else. That’s the value of our private ad slot. There’s bidding right alongside all of our direct‑sold or our IO‑based business at the same time. We've had a huge uptick in our volume based on that.
How do you balance the programmatic buys with the direct?
As it becomes more and more custom oriented, what it's characterized by is higher pricing and lower inventory needs. RTB, of course, is a lot more volume-based. That’s not to say that we don't get inventory constraints, when you've got a direct-sold campaign and an RTB based campaign looking at the same target audiences at a very small pool of inventory, but for us so far it's been working.
With the DMP in place, what are some of your other plans and goals for the remainder of the year?
The big play for IDG is to take our data management platform and make it universal. We also have our owned or licensed properties covering 97 countries with more than 400 websites. To define a global data platform that allows us to offer all of the parts of inventory whether they’re within the IDG TechNetwork or on IDG media sites is going to keep me busy for a year.