Advertising Guest Columns
5 mins read

Publisher strategies for navigating the programmatic future

2020 threw a new level of challenges at the advertising industry.  A pandemic, politically charged social and cultural unrest, and a pending loss of identity (via third party cookies and IDFA) left both media buyers and sellers playing catch-up.

Even so, as consumer media consumption shifted to digital channels, advertising spend followed with digital advertising spend growing 4.8% globally in 2020 (7.5% in the US and 1.2% in the UK) to almost $340 billion (eMarketer Oct 2020). Within that, spend on programmatic advertising continued its growth trajectory; in the US, it accounted for almost 84.5% of digital display and has an estimated value of $66 billion (eMarketer Oct 2020). 

But the popularity of programmatic is transforming the brand-agency-publisher relationship. Once direct and with a clear transference of revenue, we now have a supply chain that is complex, fragmented, porous and costly, with brands and publishers pushed further apart by intermediaries and assorted third-party providers. Not only that, there is an accelerated pace of change throughout the ecosystem affecting everything from identity and media consumption, to ecommerce and a growing need for media spend flexibility.

These changing tides introduce many challenges, but they also present publishers with an opportunity to adjust their operations in a way that will ensure they can successfully navigate the programmatic landscape in the months and years ahead. Our experience indicates that the following three tactics will help them to future-proof their businesses.

  • Get closer to media buyers

Publishers can no longer sit behind their supply-side platforms (SSPs) and expect the money to flow in; they need to proactively build out their buy-side relationships – again. At the heart of this lies transparency, and publishers should not be timid about asking their vendors for access to data to see who is bidding on their supply. Knowing who is buying and what they are buying, as well as how their inventory is being sold and the fees charged is an essential step in repairing fractured supply chain partnerships. Speaking to buyers to understand what they need brings further granularity.

Armed with this insight, publishers can control access to their supply and engage directly with agencies, DSPs and brands. Representing their own inventory puts them back in the driving seat because they can play an active role with trusted partners. And everybody wins. A publisher finding ways to maximise a buyer’s returns for example because they know there is first-party data that could be activated, or similar audiences on previously unused inventory that could be targeted, widens everyone’s horizons.

And as agencies increasingly look for ways to execute traditional insertion order (IO) buys programmatically, publishers need to be a direct part of this conversation – while also ensuring it is easy for agencies to engage with their inventory.

  • Protect data privilege

With the third-party cookie vanishing, first-party data and consumer consent are fast becoming the new currency. This calls for publishers to be selfish with their own first-party data, keeping it under their full control and only sharing it if required. Moreover, they should limit themselves to only working with partners that are aligned to their goals, whether that is protecting (publisher) data, driving advertising revenue or adhering to privacy standards – and understand how best to engage with them.

But perhaps more importantly, publishers need to choose the data and identity strategy that will maintain their existing revenue once third-party cookies disappear. Paywalls, contextual targeting, cohort and email hashing are all valid options, with the suitability of each depending on a publisher’s audience and content appeal. The forthcoming depreciation of third-party cookie has created an opportunity – and maybe even an incentive – for them to evolve and experiment with new technologies or approaches to monetisation in anticipation of a privacy-first future.

The direct link publishers have with their audiences puts them in a position to own this relationship, and process the data resulting from it. This is obviously a huge revenue opportunity in itself but, more than that, it looks to the long-term. Publishers with addressable technology that puts privacy first have the tools needed for the ad tech ecosystem’s much-needed rebuild, and by participating they can ensure they occupy a central position.

But the clock is ticking; tools and solutions of this magnitude don’t happen overnight – publishers would be wise to spend the next six to nine months refining their data, as well as their targeting strategies and systems.

  • Ensure ad technology is set up for transparency and yield

Publishers need to maximise their revenue without sacrificing either visibility of their trading partners or the user experience on their sites. Adjustments to their ad tech partners and setup can tackle issues such as latency, excessive fees and campaign performance. 

Analysing the header set-up is a good place to start on this process, with different configurations (client versus server-side bidding) and partners tested for latency, performance and yield. Third-party resources should be deployed to undertake the optimisation if necessary.

Additional demand-side transparency gives publishers insight into which of their trading partners are most valuable. This information can be used to optimise their path to demand, which can be determined based on the criteria that are important to them (favourable payment terms from SSPs, especially clawbacks and payment cycles for example have to be taken into account). This is also a key element in avoiding risky buyers; as the ecosystem consolidates there are likely to be a few more Sizmek-style collapses in the works.

Time invested in fine-tuning technology set-ups is rarely wasted. When publishers can plug directly into buyers and DSPs, they minimise tech fees and maximise yield and transparency.

Closing thoughts…

Publishers are central to the advertising ecosystem and should play a major role in deciding the route ahead; they need to join the discussion and be clear about the unique assets they bring to the table if the programmatic world is not to be overly-influenced by browser owners, media buyers and tech intermediaries.

Wenda Zhou
Publisher Product Lead, IPONWEB

IPONWEB​ is an industry pioneer and world leader in the engineering and operation of highly customized, real-time media trading systems for publishers, advertisers, agencies and innovative technology companies. With more than 15 years’ experience driving innovation in the ad exchange and real-time technology space, IPONWEB is the ‘behind the scenes’ technology provider that many of the world’s leading industry players rely on to successfully power their media and data businesses.