TripleLift’s ‘Help Journalism’ Program Incents Brands To Advertise Against Hard News

Brand safety and local news
TripleLift is trying to encourage brands to buy ads next to news content, and has curated a group of 1,600 news publishers into a private marketplace. Those buying within the Help Journalism PMP also won’t have to pay TripleLift’s ad tech fee for the rest of Q2.

GroupM has signed more than a dozen of its clients to the program, focusing on 600 multicultural and local news sites.

“We did this really fast, because we think this is a critical time to support local news,” said Susan Schiekofer, Chief Digital Investment Officer at GroupM. “Local journalism for centuries has been a source of fact-checked information, and it’s a way to put the money back to legitimate organizations.”

Schiekofer wants to double the number of clients participating to 25, by June.

Gannett, which is participating in the PMP, felt the impact brand safety filters had on monetization in March and April, when most of its content focused on COVID-19, said Tim Wolfe, VP of revenue operations.

Brand safety filters can be so overzealous they keep advertising away from positive articles about coronavirus vaccines or healthcare workers saving lives, said GroupM’s Schiekofer and Gannett’s Wolfe.

“As an industry, we’ve misapplied the brand safety to the point where it hurt certain news organizations and categories,” Schiekofer said.

Brand aversion to hard news lowers CPMs by creating less competition for publisher inventory, so TripleLift is encouraging brands to run few or no brand safety filters when participating in this program.

“We’re running this at a loss to drive dollars for news organizations,” said TripleLift CMO Jordan Bitterman. “On a long-term basis, we hope we’ve helped two major constituencies and clients will continue spending to help journalism when Q2 comes to an end.”

The program also supports journalism beyond the pandemic. For instance, GroupM’s subset of local news organizations include 26 different Minnesota news publishers, Bitterman said, which have covered the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests.

Like the coronavirus pandemic, brands worry about proximity to hard news reports about violence – but without advertising, local news can’t be subsidized.

As brands see how local news organizations are struggling, some have started to shift their point of view, Schiekofer said, and use more nuanced filters that exclude phrases such as “virus deaths” or “miraculous cure,” but allow neutral or positive news. Gannett also offers its own brand safety filters for direct buys that take an article’s sentiment into account.

These types of solutions let cautious brands to dip their toes back into hard news. TripleLift also wants its Help Journalism initiative to provide that incentive.

“It was easier for some clients to not be in the whole category,” Schiekofer said. “Clients are understanding that they need to reconsider.”

A year from now, she hopes initiatives such as Help Journalism catalyze a change in how brands think about content adjacency. “All of us know we have to do something to make this better,” she said.

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