Publishers Clearing House Goes In-House On Mobile Programmatic

PCHDigitalThere are a plethora of reasons why it makes sense for Publishers Clearing House (PCH) to double down on mobile – the biggest one being its ever-growing trove of first-party data.

To that end, PCH Digital, the company’s digital and advertising arm, announced Wednesday that it has acquired mobile programmatic company Plethora Mobile as part of a play to expand its mobile targeting capabilities.

PCH declined to share the financial terms of the deal.

The sweepstakes and direct marketing giant has had mobile firmly on the mind since 2012 when it acquired mobile marketing and lead-gen company Liquid Wireless.

“Liquid was acquired at a point in PCH’s life cycle when they were starting to recognize that their consumer base was making a major move to mobile devices and engaging with the brand across multiple screens,” said Steve Bagdasarian, GM of Liquid, a PCH company, which now forms the core of what he called “PCH’s multiscreen ad stack.”

“Now, with Plethora on board, we can better leverage segmentation and targeting as we extend into the mobile marketplace,” Bagdasarian said. “The next step is all about scale from a cross-platform perspective.”

Founded as a mobile DSP in 2011, Plethora has since extended its capabilities to include cross-platform targeting, social audience retargeting and publisher audience extension. According to Plethora founder Tom Anderson (not the Myspace co-founder), who will join PCH Digital as head of programmatic, the integration process will start right away and should be completed in short order, either this quarter or in Q1 2015.

Although Plethora’s technology was attractive to PCH in its own right, the acquisition is part tech grab, part acqui-hire. “It’s as much about the talent as it is about the platform and the technology,” said Mark Cullinane, VP and general manager of PCH Digital. All three Plethora employees, including Anderson, will be based in New York City.

PCH, which now sees more than 16 million unique visitors each month, has been in the first-party data business since it was founded in the 1950s. Because users have to register to play games, enter sweepstakes and buy goods on and other PCH properties, the company’s access to personally identifiable information is formidable. As its customers became increasingly mobile, PCH realized it was time to start to capitalizing on cross-screen.

“We’re beginning to augment what we’ve done for decades, but now we’re doing from a mobile standpoint to take advantage of things like device IDs,” Cullinane said. “There’s a lot going on behind the curtain with regards to how we approach cross-channel, but our fundamental approach is similar to what Facebook has been doing with identity.”

Like Facebook, PCH starts with a known logged-in user and then takes steps to anonymize that person while still being able to use their stated interests and activity to create segments for targeting and connect it to their anonymous mobile identifier.

“For example, we know that someone has engaged with gaming content or we know that a person owns a Honda, but that’s not tied back to a personal identifier,” said Bagdasarian.

PCH handles the privacy issues associated with personally identifiable information by scoring its data separately within two different data warehouses, one of which holds PCH’s PII, which is specific to registration and commerce activity. The other holds non-PII elements, like behavioral characteristics.

The ultimate goal – and a big part of why PCH scooped up Plethora – is to create better scale for advertisers.

“The rationale behind acquiring a programmatic platform is to extend the availability of our first-party data, which is something we’ve wanted to do on PCH properties for a long time – but we’ve had to deal with the constraints of what a publisher could provide for scale,” Bagdasarian. “PCH wants to be one of the companies that can provide scalable reach for advertisers that isn’t solely based on a lot of probabilistic attributes. This is real data.”

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