Salon Entertains Both Native And Programmatic Budgets

Salon MediaWhile some publishers – like BuzzFeed – are going the native-only route, Salon thinks the the best way to serve advertisers is by combining custom native programs with scaled options like programmatic.

The highbrow news organization creates bespoke native content for clients like Mercedes Maybach, Glenlivet scotch, Panera and HBO.

Eighty-five percent of the advertisers that run native campaigns with Salon also buy reach and scale with programmatic. Advertisers have room for both in their media plans, so it’s critical to tap into both to get more budget and to make the overall plans more efficient.

“We complement our direct deals with programmatic,” said Matt Sussberg, Salon Media Group’s sales VP. “[Advertisers] do special programs combined with run-of-site through exchanges to get the yield they’re looking for.”

Right now, the revenue splits between direct (which includes native) and programmatic is 50-50. “Those lines will blur,” Sussberg said. “Direct [deals] will include elements of programmatic, and we will round out a plan with a bit of both.”

Salon is still figuring out how to structure its sales team to accommodate the blend of custom and programmatic. Both require relationship development.

“Our direct sales force also calls on the trading desks,” Sussberg said, but the company is debating whether it wants the direct sales force to continue those conversations or if it would be better to bring in a specialist from the ad ops team.

Salon’s native programs are designed to match the brand’s message closely to the stories that engage Salon readers. It’s not easy for marketers to give up control, Sussberg said, or to get used to the softer messaging of sponsored posts.

“We try to tell as authentic story as possible that aligns with the brands’ objectives but doesn’t feel heavy-handed or like they’re watching an infomercial,” Sussberg said.

Brands receive feedback on engagement from Salon’s web analytics tool Adobe Analytics, which shows metrics like time on site.

While Salon guarantees impressions for a post, its draw is access to its audience, not massive scale. However, the publisher promotes the content within its networks, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but it doesn’t amplify campaigns via content recommendation networks. “We want [traffic] to be organic to Salon.”

That may limit the amount of reach an advertiser can achieve, but Sussberg said those who prefer reach will look to other native solutions.

It even runs sponsored posts from other native ad exchanges on its own sites, a practice some publishers with custom content shy away from. Last week, it brought in native ad exchange Yahoo Gemini, which runs in the same home page feed as Salon’s sponsored posts.

The sponsored posts from Yahoo Gemini appear in Salon’s news feed only when Salon doesn’t have a campaign of its own to run. But that’s mainly so the feed isn’t clogged with ads, not because they would conflict with each other, Sussberg said.

Ultimately, Salon lets advertisers run both high-end, bespoke native programs and advertising through native ad exchanges. Sussberg insists these aren’t competing interests, since each fulfills different advertiser goals.

“Those advertising through a native advertising network are looking for mass reach, not the curated experience that Salon wants to create,” Sussberg said.

Running both custom native and native exchanges is imperative because it performs well on mobile.

“The challenge is to monetize mobile, at as fast a clip as possible,” Sussberg said. “That’s not just a Salon issue but an industry issue.”

At Salon, mobile now accounts for 55% of traffic.

“The more traffic grows thorough mobile, the more value native advertising has,” Sussberg said. “Native advertising is worth the same because it’s content, and there’s no difference between reading an article for Panera or Lexus on your desktop or your phone.”

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