Reader’s Digest Association’s Move Beyond Standard Banners

Readers Digest Rich SuttonWhen Rich Sutton became Reader’s Digest Association’s CRO in January, his top priority was to extract more revenue from the advertisers accessing its audience of 53 million monthly uniques.

“We’re moving to a mix that’s more video, native and high-impact, because those are the formats that are commanding the high CPMs,” Sutton said. “I’m not sure that there’s anything you can do with that standard IAB ad, unless you have content or data that no one else has.”

He introduced nonstandard, native ad units, added in-line video and signed a multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal with Taboola, unveiled Tuesday. The deal includes revenue guarantees.

“Taboola fits in nicely with that strategy [to increase revenue in digital], because the unit recommends similar content for consumers, so it’s a value-add, and it’s a way to monetize every pageview,” Sutton said.

He expects Taboola to offer additional performance traction on mobile. Like most other publications, mobile monetization lags for Reader’s Digest, yet the channel commands 60% of traffic across its properties, which includes Taste of Home and The Family Handyman.

But while it waits for mobile to catch up, Reader’s Digest forges ahead with desktop programmatic. Its salespeople are fully integrated, and the company just hired a head of programmatic, elevating a role that started out focused on yield optimization.

“It doesn’t matter to us if our partners come to us direct or programmatic. What matters is that we deliver results for them,” Sutton said.

Reader’s Digest has over 100 direct connections set up in its private marketplace, which gives buyers control over campaign optimization.

Yet, Sutton admits that advertisers don’t always get better performance via programmatic.

“There are examples of campaigns we’ve run this year programmatically that we ran direct last year, and the programmatic teams aren’t sophisticated,” Sutton said. Publishers can optimize within a site, moving a campaign to different content sections to gain better performance, for example. Programmatic optimization lacks that precision. Often, agencies just cut sites, Sutton lamented.

The publisher is also seeing traction in programmatic guaranteed, enabled via PubMatic. While it offers first-party data, Sutton sees “demand for data in every flavor imaginable.” Buyers also want to access larger, more impactful ad units through programmatic guaranteed.

Programmatic guaranteed and private marketplaces require communication to work, unlike open marketplaces. That’s why Reader’s Digest assigns salespeople to manage private marketplaces, rather than just relying on the programmatic infrastructure. As a seller, Sutton hopes that programmatic will enrich the conversation between buyer and seller, not eliminate it.

“There’s no getting around it that programmatic is the delivery method of the future,” Sutton said. “The question is if the future is a human being on each end pushing a button, or if programmatic is more of a delivery system that allows advertisers to get very rich data about the programs they run and allows publishers and salespeople to provide really rich data to their advertisers.”

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