Why Publishers Should Go Long On Sales Capabilities

Rachel Parkin headshot

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

Today's column is written by Rachel Parkin, executive vice president of strategy and sales at CafeMedia.

As we look ahead to life after third-party cookies, publishers and advertisers alike are on the hunt for solutions. To date, most of that attention has revolved around tech solutions from the latest proposals in the W3C to the newest identity partner du jour. In this journey to reinvent a more private web, what technology will emerge as a winner—and how much of a “win” it will be—remains to be seen.

There’s an alternative, overlooked tactic that can hedge against the end of third-party cookies: sales. When digital media buying swung towards automation and the ease of programmatic and audience buying, many publishers simplified sales organizations and products. 

Now, the pendulum is poised to swing back towards more tailored ad sales offerings.  Direct-to-publisher programs – just like all the new tech proposals floating around – can also restore capabilities when third-party cookies go away.

For example, publishers can control frequency caps directly, while advertisers lose that ability without third-party cookies. Publishers can use their targeting and insights to fill the hole left behind when third-party data disappears, along with third-party cookies. Advertisers who have dialed up their first-party data collection might find scale by syncing with publishers on a one-to-one basis. Finally, measurement and attribution require much more coordination in the future, too, increasing the value of a direct salesperson.

Knowing that traditional ad sales is a longer-term investment, publishers who reinvigorate their sales organizations today may find themselves best positioned to serve advertisers’ needs after the end of third-party cookies.

Sales teams of tomorrow

Creating the sales team of the future will take more than feet on the street. To make “direct-sold” advertising fashionable again, publishers need to reorient their sales teams to a consultative approach. The team should be built on service, to go along with a suite of custom, data-rich products.

Sales teams need a resourceful mindset. Instead of selling from a menu, they need to ask questions to determine the best product path. To excel at that approach, sales teams must develop a deeper understanding of ecosystem changes and the wide variety of ways advertisers and publishers can connect their data and reporting. Front-line teams will need education on how ads will transact without third-party cookies, so they’re able to listen to advertiser needs and offer up relevant approaches on the fly. Publishers may alternatively choose to expand the number of functional experts to create selling pods of a seller and a technical guru to achieve the same result.  

Another way for sales teams to become more consultative is through integration. If publishers collapse sales functions into individual strategists who handle everything from the pitch to content trends to troubleshooting to wrap reports, the team will be more informed about an advertiser’s goals and how to accomplish those goals. As a bonus, this structure organically turns sales teams into insights engines.  

A new bag of ad products

A big part of a successful sales infrastructure isn't just the team that is marketing the products, but also what products they have to offer. To grow direct partnerships, publishers must define what makes their inventory unique. 

Without third-party cookies, publishers may find success selling ad products that show ads to the right audience or right context on a publisher’s site. Now is a great time for publishers to reconsider what formats are truly native to their content and how their first-party data can inform an advertiser’s messaging. Creating interactive experiences (like surveys, a thumbs-up or thumbs-down after reading an article or navigation where users elect to see different content paths) can generate privacy-compliant insights consumers themselves opt into.

Every ad format idea might not pan out. However, publishers who place a bet on exploring a range of ad product possibilities, are the ones likely to maintain a high share of advertising in the future.

The must-have ad product: a data studio

These days, having your own data studio is practically table stakes for a digital publisher. Where publishers should invest time is formalizing how they package data for advertisers. Finding ways to simplify data choices—or even create uniformity across publishers—will go a long way toward replicating some of the “ease” buyers can already find within walled gardens.

Merging publisher and advertiser data to generate deeper insights or create a lookalike audience will also be extremely valuable. Many emerging clean room and data bunker tools provide utility to both publishers and advertisers, and publishers need to investigate how they work. 

Mapping advertiser audiences into ID-less contextual channels is just one example of why putting the time and effort into more customized data approaches can drive better outcomes for advertisers. If, for example, a banking advertiser discovers their first-party audience is more likely to read content on DIY tips and tricks and quick and easy meals, they can focus a contextual buy in those areas as a way to gain scale beyond a smaller logged-in universe.

Unlike the to-be-determined shape of the Privacy Sandbox, how publishers approach sales teams and products is entirely within their own control. Publishers who embrace the new sophistication of sales may be the ones who ultimately help advertisers find the most success. Nothing stops the “sales sandbox” from coexisting—and even thriving—in parallel. 

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