Guest Columns
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First to the party? How publishers are wooing advertisers

Browser and regulatory changes are limiting the scope of third-party cookies, forcing the advertising industry to refocus on privacy. Indeed, digital advertising is entering a privacy-first era – but brands, publishers and platforms must ensure that the onus is not on consumers.

These were the topics for a recent virtual panel discussion, ‘Putting privacy first – addressing the identity crisis’. It was hosted by publisher data management platform Permutive under its Make Possible series of events.

Permutive co-founder Joe Root talked to Mark Howard, chief advertising and partnerships officer of Penske Media Corporation, and Fatemeh Khatibloo, Forrester VP and principal analyst, about the importance of protecting user data.

Root kicked off the event by addressing recent industry changes: “Over the past few weeks and months, the ecosystem has shifted yet again with the California Consumer Protection Act now in effect, and even more stringent laws ahead. Google and Facebook are under scrutiny for monopolizing the advertising industry and TikTok is facing a class-action suit for stealing data. And, of course, we can’t forget that third party cookies are going to be blocked by Chrome by the end of next year.”

Top left-right: Fatemeh Khatibloo, Forrester VP and principal analyst; Joe Root, Permutive Co-Founder; Mark Howard, Penske Media chief advertising and partnerships officer

Privacy initiatives might seem disruptive for publishers and advertisers who have spent the last decade collecting more user data and tailoring campaigns with that information. But many of these changes are for the better.

Root said that publishers have a crucial role to play in the industry. In order to set themselves up for success they need to place more value on their data and protect it. As such they have an opportunity to be seen as trusted partners and become more profitable.

Khatibloo concurred, though she warned that companies must stick to both the letter and spirit of the law, particularly at a time when browsers were stepping up as ‘user agents’ – the ones shaping the privacy debate.

She said: “If we believe that privacy is a fundamental right – which Europe does and much of the rest of the world does – then the onus shouldn’t be on consumers to manage that per se.”

Khatibloo shared that the majority of consumers were most concerned with cross-site behavioral tracking across platforms. However, consumers were generally content for individual sites that they visited on a regular basis, such as Rolling Stone, to use their data to improve their on-page experiences.

“That’s why we need to build the relationship in the first-party,” she added. “It’s a big part of why I talk about the data safe haven and why the direct advertiser-publisher relationships are so important. We can start to build those trusted relationships and provide opportunities for best placement on the site.”

She agreed with Howard that the industry had got lost in the idea of hyper-personalization ‘one-to-one’ communications. Noting that, and that measurement of media performance will not be done on an individual level going forwards, “segment-based advertising is a ‘healthier’ way to think about this,” added Khatibloo.

For Howard, changes were afoot. He said that Penske was launching a portfolio sales organization and is working “very closely” with its revenue operations team “which sits at the core of so much of our business and drives so many of these direct relationships with advertisers”. He added: “And really, we are just experiencing the tip of the iceberg of what those types of relationships will look like.”

The entire Penske business, from advertising to subscriptions, was thinking about its first-party data strategy and “how all of these currently disparate sets of consumer data, that sit within those respective groups, can come together to help us create more enhanced audience insights and give us a holistic view of our customers”.

He urged all publishers to explore the “opportunities and optimism about what the future holds, as opposed to being concerned or afraid about what privacy regulation and other changes are going to mean for us”.

Howard said that this year heralded a “great resetting and rebalancing” adding that deeper conversations with clients were focused on unlocking valuable data. “Clients want to have unique audiences,” he noted.

Previously, Penske had kept several of its own segments hidden from advertisers because they were so business critical, but the publisher was now looking at how to unlock unique audience insights and inventory for its clients.

Moreover, the first-party piece should not just be about advertising, or subscriptions but for “all portions of business”. “Data is a valuable asset for a publisher, and if you can embrace that mindset, understand all the behaviors, trends and intent then you can build out much richer views of your audiences.”

He concluded: “Data is a product just like any other component of your experience.”

The virtual event can be viewed in its entirety using this link.