The 2020s: Publishers Must Wield Their Powerful Tools For Cleaner Ad Experiences

Sara Badler headshot

The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Sara Badler, senior vice president of programmatic revenue and strategy at Dotdash.

With the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) at our doorstep and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) rollouts already roiling the industry, publishers and marketers alike must ensure they are in the best position to engage with their audiences and best serve their clients.

Publishers are still trying to figure out how to connect with their clients in the most efficient and direct way. We are all familiar with the current order of operations, which follows some form of the following path:

Client > agency > holding company > demand-side platform > supply-side platform > publisher

Clients, ever cautious of how their advertising dollars are being spent, are trying to figure out which players are absolutely necessary and how they can potentially simplify and align that antiquated path. However, programmatic buying remains such a complex, expensive and daunting concept that to many the thought of taking it in house seems more like a 2025 idea, rather than a 2020 one. 

Still, efficiencies are available for those who seek them. Here is what we know:

• Programmatic organizations are not just sales and operational functions anymore. Working closely with the product team or having a dedicated programmatic product person on that team is crucial for media companies’ success. This alignment between revenue, operations and product ensures that all groups are working toward the same goals.

• Trusted partners are key. For the past decade, transparency has been discussed across the entire ecosystem. Advancements in measurement and supply-path optimization mean that companies are in a position to put their money where their mouths are. All companies must demand fee transparency from their partners and push for greater insight into how money is spent.

• Data, data, data. Buyers are laser focused on making sure they are hitting the right audience and not wasting any ad spend. With the culling of certain data sets due to CCPA, GDPR and ITP, advertisers no longer have as many tools in their arsenal to do that. First-party data from publishers will be a powerful tool in this future reduced-cookie world.

• Consent. Publishers and audiences want readers to consent to the use of their data – it provides a better reading experience for both sides of the equation. While there will be fewer data segments available as some users opt out, we need to position data and consent differently, emphasizing the benefits of data usage while simultaneously changing our approach to how buyers and sellers use it.

If the last decade was about learning the ins and outs of ad technology and then building from there, the next decade should be about figuring out how to properly use these powerful tools, creating a respectful and clean ad experience for readers while simultaneously maximizing value for marketers. The push toward “direct” connections between publishers and marketers is a push toward transparency and, most importantly, advertiser and publisher alignment.

While we ultimately want to achieve this alignment via different partners, how much tech and how many partners do publishers need? They remain in a difficult position as additive tech slows down sites, while at the same time creating a less appealing page for readers as ad units inundate the screen. Yet this is how publishers make money, and new partners can sometimes yield new revenue streams.

Prebid has become a go-to solution for publishers as it gives them control over their inventory while allowing for quick and seamless integration of new partners. Publishers can decide who they put in and who they take out based on speed and efficiency, enabling a meritocratic approach to integration.

The upcoming decade is the time to come to terms with industry changes, analyze what we know and learn from it. The deceptively simple concept of serving the right message to the right person at the right time is still the ultimate goal, but it’s up to publishers to facilitate that action in the easiest and most efficient way possible.

Follow Dotdash (@dotdashco) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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