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Forbes’ Howard: We Don’t Have ‘Remnant’ Inventory


As 95-year-old business magazines go, Forbes is hardly looking its age. It’s helped that the title’s digital content and ad operations have been through a number of reinventions the past few years.

The most recent changes have been on the digital content side. Last summer, the company revamped Forbes.com with an eye toward reducing content clutter by focusing on a few editors’ picks and emphasizing social tools to highlight trending stories.

As the company looks to match its digital revenue growth from the first half of the year — online ad dollars rose 26 percent during 2012’s first six months compared to the same period the year before — we spoke with Mark Howard, SVP of digital advertising strategy at Forbes Media, about how the new content strategy is reflected in the ad strategy.

AdExchanger: How would you describe Forbes’ digital ad strategy these days? What are your priorities looking to end of the year?

Mark Howard:  On the direct sales side, as we think about our core business, the emphasis we make when we talk to advertisers and buyers is our ability to present an ocean of content and context to a variety of business audiences. In terms of formats, we have a number of initiatives around using the [Interactive Advertising Bureau’s] Rising Stars ad units to introduce our approach to granting advertisers bigger pieces of real estate on a page. Along with that, in addition to just providing this richer experience, we are improving the way we track engagement, interaction rates and times.

How have partnerships with third parties influenced your ad strategy? Who do you work with?

We’ve partnered with the creative shop Flite. We have licensed our ad platform and we’ve built a team of designers in-house here. Among our custom ad units is a billboard that we call Jet Stream and we have a 300 x 600 unit that we call a Social Ad Module.

One of the new advances is that, in addition to building these larger interactive units for the desktop, we’re now offering our advertisers engagement units for tablets as well as a mobile.

Are these ad units aimed mostly at larger brand advertisers? Or are they open to all marketers and campaigns, no matter the size?

Any advertiser that we work with has the ability to take advantage of this creative service that we offer. Overall, the goal is to best match advertisers with Forbes’ content. It even includes the distribution of marketers’ own content on our site or within our social extensions. For example, we built an in-Twitter stream capability within our Jet Stream and Social Ad Module units. As a result of that, we are seeing a lot of increased engagement and real measureable uptake in terms of the amount of time and interaction rates that demonstrate that people are willing to spend time with these units.

Does the emphasis on larger units and social interaction affect the kinds of campaigns advertisers decide to run? Is there a greater proportion of brand ad dollars coming in versus direct response? Or is the balance fairly even between those two kinds of ads?


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As you would imagine, the type of advertisers that we work with here at Forbes recognize the fact that they have to invest in demand generation. It is all about creating brand impact for the users. But we don’t just focus on behavioral metrics, which drive so much direct response advertising. To us, the behavioral metric that matters is time spent, and interaction with, the content in-unit. And that’s both good for brands, and ads that are meant as a direct call to action.

As a company where the core product is still print, how does the online ad sales strategy reflect the needs of the established organization? Does Forbes have a single sales team or do you keep the two sides aware of each other, but otherwise separate and distinct?

Forbes has a team of integrated sales managers that are out in the marketplace that represent both platforms for us. We also have a team of digital sales managers that focus specifically on the digital.

What’s the approach to real-time bidding and programmatic buying? Does Forbes have a private exchange? And if so, do you primarily rely on those methods to fill remnant inventory?

We don’t view any of our inventory as being “remnant.” It is all about the same value, but we think about our business as having a two different channels, a direct channel and an indirect exchange channel.

We’ve invested heavily in beefing up our operations on the indirect side and have partnered very closely with Google and their DoubleClick Ad Exchange operation to create a much more robust offering and really taken an abundance mentality towards our indirect sales, meaning that we have opened up the marketplace, so that anybody can come in and bid on our inventory. It truly does create an open market and has proven to be very successful for us.

With the announcement of the latest iPhone this week, there’s even more attention being paid to mobile. How is your mobile strategy evolving and how meaningful are the revenues coming from Forbes’ various apps and related smartphone usage?

We’re now seeing about a quarter of our audience coming via mobile devices. Our mobile visits are up substantially from where we were prior to the optimization of our smartphone experience, which was less than 10 percent [of total digital uniques]. We are seeing a shift in the dynamics in terms of how people are engaging with Forbes’ content. As a result, we’re thinking about that growing audience and creating strategies around how we can capitalize on that from a revenue perspective.

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