The Diversification Dilemma: New Avenues for Publishers to Consider in 2021

Benjamin Blank CEO UPROXX

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

Today’s column is written by Benjamin Blank, chief executive officer of UPROXX.

The world of publishing learned how to be nimble in times of turbulence during 2020. 

While some evolution was expected (particularly in the digital realm), the obvious shakeup stemming from COVID-19 meant publishers adapted to changing consumption behavior and content needs—and quickly. Major digital publishers teamed up to create an opportunity to drive broader footprints across the digital ecosystem.

When we zoom out, the importance of a strategic and diversified revenue portfolio to ensure robust ad offerings—no matter the circumstance—has become a shared priority for the digital community. It’s important for business revenue to come in from a multitude of areas to really ensure your portfolio is diverse (i.e. social channels, editorial verticals, current partnerships, new partnerships, etc.).

If publishers diversify audiences and platforms, they will naturally build presences in places where audiences are moving. For example, when CPMs decreased on the web from 2015 to 2018, publishers who only focused on display impressions struggled because audiences were also consuming on newer content platforms, like Facebook and Instagram. 

Today, audiences are migrating again. In 2020, one-fifth of the US population became a TikTok user, according to eMarketer. In a world where content consumption is ever-changing, first you have to find where your audience is moving to/actually is, and from there you can serve the larger ad community with confidence. 

Walking away from being a “one-trick pony” is one thing, but now, in our current digital climate it is important that publishers consider alternative diversified revenue streams that work best for them, too. 

Consider different editorial and social sectors

As a publisher, owned assets are critical.  It’s important you tap into insights you have at your fingertips and look at them holistically. Ask yourself: What’s been working? Where have you seen the most engagement? Was there an uptick in views on more niche coverage this year? What about on specific  mediums? Was there any chatter on social about wanting to see more (or less) of something? 

When UPROXX started posting gaming-specific coverage to our website in 2019, our engagement metrics were not only high, they remained consistently high regardless of the news cycle. Engagement only picked up more in the wake of the pandemic, since consumers were spending more time at home gaming. 

Seeing high, consistent engagement opened our eyes to the possibility of editorial expansion. We grew our gaming content with gaming sessions on live streaming platforms like Twitch, did cross-over interviews with key gaming figures and dabbled with game reviews to see where our audience stayed and where new folks entered.  

We learned that when considering an editorial expansion, old metrics like clicks, may be the push you need to identify a new audience or coverage area, but it will be the engagement numbers on those new “trial” pieces that are  most critical in determining where your audience stands today. New editorial coverage not only attracts new audiences, it helps publishers unlock an expanded advertising scope and allows for scaled media buys. 

Publishers can also diversify by creating owned capabilities on a platform that you can sell. Work with brands to co-create campaigns. Then use your social platforms as the main consumption channel. Publishing brands such as Genius and Group Nine do this well, creating dynamic brand strategies via video. Using YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram and more, their publishing brands increase audience reach to potential advertisers. Acting as a true advertising partner with an abundance of first-party data can create monetized campaigns for both parties without cutting corners on content. 

What people are craving more than anything right now is the ability to interact with like-minded people around online content. People aren’t just consuming content now, they’re participating and interacting with it. It’s crucial you’re an active partner in that process. 

Reevaluate your partnerships

While it’s imperative to look within your brand at your own assets, it’s equally as important to consider partnerships beyond the four walls of your brand too. During the height of the first wave of COVID-19, many publishers took a step back on partnerships. While custom content for advertisers typically was a huge revenue driver, mid-year resource cutbacks due to pandemic changes, forced many publishers to change their course. 

Look at the totality of your portfolio and evaluate what existing partnerships can be strengthened: Who can you partner with that is doing something well?Who can you partner with that can give you, as a publisher, even more credibility?

Consider brands that sponsored events or participated in editorial integrations with you in the past. We participated a lot in VY Esports events as a partner, most notably in tandem with GameStop and American Eagle in their recent LA community event this past July. So, when it came time to consider adding in a gaming vertical to our editorial coverage, we knew VY Esports would be the perfect partner to help us launch the section.

In addition, consider partnerships that don’t exist yet but  can be brought into the fold, specifically ones with data and insights you may not have access to. The more you’re able to learn about your current audience, your untapped users, and where the bulk of your inventory is being consumed, the better holistic view you’ll have of your assets.

Finally, build on existing relationships to see how campaigns can morph. If your insightful approach helps a brand on YouTube, for example, see how you can better work together on Instagram or TikTok. 

The future 

With the slew of “predictions of 2021” pieces already written by leading members of the publishing community, it’s evident there will be more challenges to come this year, but also ample opportunity. 

We should go back to the lessons we learned in 2020: diversify coverage, approach content with a new lens, think about social differently and reevaluate our short and long-term partnerships. The horizon has opened up, and it’s time publishers broaden their outlooks.

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