Milwaukee JSOnline Preps For ‘Total Programmatic’ By Year’s End

Sam, Betsy MJS OnlineLike a lot of midsize independent newspapers, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is starting to see some thaw in the economic downturn that hurt the print business at large. While the climate is better, the challenge of declining print ad revenues has been replaced by the challenge of developing a more mature online ad strategy. The company hopes to give its web-based ad sales a boost by hiring a VP of digital strategy, and is building out a private exchange with its supply side platform OpenX. The site has also been a member of the Yahoo Newspaper Consortium since 2008, but sources have said that the portal has been winding that service down over the past year-and-a-half.

Betsy Brenner, the paper’s publisher, and Sam Metcalf, the manager of digital yield, are quick to note, the JSOnline is no programmatic neophyte. For instance it has very few qualms about the possibility of cannibalizing direct sales. “Pretty much every impression on our website is programmatically handled, whether it goes through our supply side platform or our ad server,” Metcalf said. “We want to automate every impression that goes through our door.

Both Brenner and Metcalf spoke to us about the past and ongoing programmatic plans for the newspaper website.

AdExchanger: As a local newspaper site, how has the JSOnline’s programmatic position evolved? Is the profile of advertisers different from the ones who advertise in print?

BETSY BRENNER: The print product is focused in the four-county area around Milwaukee. But the digital focus is everywhere. We have users across the ocean, across the country. Primarily, we’re strong in the upper Midwest, but our reach, particularly for fans of the Green Bay Packers, is everywhere. And we’ve been able to elevate that digital audience using programmatic to segment, profile and show off the high demographics we attract. It used to be an eyeball was an eyeball. But we’re now able to get higher rates based on audience segments. So we’ve embraced programmatic.

SAM METCALF: The programmatic approach is a direct extension of our general digital ad sales strategy. We’ve partnered with Krux Digital to get their data management platform plugged into our analytic layer to better leverage our audience segments in ways we haven’t been able to before. We want to have better segmentation along national and local lines and give advertisers a bit more focus.

How long have you been pursuing this particular course? And how do you expect it to evolve?

SM: I’ve been in this role for over a year and the Journal Sentinel has had a programmatic strategy in place for close to three years. The strategy is to establish that happy medium that we get through a directly sold campaign and our historical remnant pricing. We’ve partnered with OpenX on “programmatic direct” and in building out our private marketplace. Over the past year, we’ve switched out from who’s monetizing our unsold space and have looked to a strategy that’s more aggressive and holistic in combining direct and programmatic. We expect to have the full programmatic direct strategy in place over the next few months.

BB: Before we looked into programmatic, we just sold out remnant inventory, which was considerable at times, at whatever price we could get. As competition continued to flood the internet, that price was driven down, down, down. We were getting $0.30 CPMs for inventory we considered to be much more valuable. But we couldn’t do anything to raise the price. Real-time bidding and programmatic helps us provide more information about our audience to advertisers and we’ve been getting higher rates as a result.

Is there any worry that those programmatic efforts have cannibalized the direct sales?

SM: No, not at all. Programmatic is opening new doors to national and regional advertisers who never looked at us before. That eventually opens a dialogue for direct calls and for doing a hybrid of programmatic and direct over time.


How do you define programmatic direct?

SM: Programmatic direct is the opportunity to send an impression with Deal IDs that were previously established with an advertiser, asking them, “Do you want this impression or not?” It’s an important difference with our private marketplace, which is something everyone is doing, where we establish controls and price floors for bidding. These tools all complement sales efforts.

Publishers often ask, “Why would an advertiser buy my direct inventory when they can just bid it down on an exchange?” But we have a chance to talk to other advertisers based on our audience profile. That shows them an opportunity to find an audience they didn’t know existed and offers the introduction to other ways of doing business together in a more direct, traditional ad sales way.

What are the most important controls that a private exchange has for the Journal Sentinel? What’s the ultimate value of the private exchange along with other programmatic tools?

SM: The “private marketplace” is kind of a muddy term. It simply means that you’ve set up your inventory to be programmatically bought and you’ve decided to take a certain amount of control when it comes to blocking out certain categories and brands – such as adult material or weaponry or alcohol. I think the industry is a little confused on what it is and what it isn’t. It’s a walled garden. We expect that once we’re ready to roll it out, the level of control and efficiency we’ll get with Deal IDs will take all of that a step further.

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