Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

From privacy to the pandemic – how publishers are reimagining their futures

œThe NDA Publishing Roundtable in Partnership with LiveRamp: Part One

There is a perception shift happening online – and one likely to reap rewards for publishers and advertisers alike.

The twin challenges of ever-more stringent regulatory and browser changes combined with the shock of the coronavirus pandemic has made the industry more aware of the future ecosystem it wants, according to an expert panel of publishers.

Tina Lakhani, Head of Ad Tech at IAB UK, Elliot Hemmings, Senior Agency Partner & Telegraph Champion at The Ozone Project ; Faisal Karmali,Senior Director of Business Operations, CNN International Commercial, Bedir Aydemir Head of Audience at News UK and Phil McMullan, Evening Standard Head of Insight and Data joined LiveRamp’s Head of Publisher Strategy Simon Burgess and Nora Schwab, Director Publisher Development UK in conversation with New Digital Age Editor Justin Pearse. It follows the publication of a LiveRamp report ‘Building the Future of Publishing: The Fightback in 2020.

The publishing industry is embracing the changes ahead, such as the demise of third-party tracking cookies in favour of privacy-first strategies and in doing so, climbing the advertiser value chain and differentiating their offerings from the more commoditised mighty tech platforms.

There is hope that an ecosystem not reliant on third-party tracking cookies but instead predicated on privacy-first measures such as consented identity solutions and other technologies that allow advertisers to target audiences will prove a boon to the industry. In such a world, the publishers will be measured less against the performance and scale of the platforms and more on the unique attributes they offer.

In turn, advertisers and their agencies are realising that all advertising is not the same – and that premium publishers offer a brand safe, contextually-relevant environment which, particularly when backed by an identifier, can offer unique audiences at scale.

How publishers can leverage the rise of ethical advertising

Lakhani believes the shift is about more than simply responding to these new and evolving restrictions. She says: “I really see an opportunity this year with the rise of ‘ethical’ advertising, with advertisers becoming more conscious of who they’re working with and where their money is going. It’s a huge opportunity for publishers to be able to strengthen their relationships with advertisers.”

She sees this for publishers big and small, with niche publishers able to deliver diverse audiences and the chance to work in ways they hadn’t previously.

However, part of the disconnect in recent years between advertisers and publishers has been down to the way that third parties work through the existing programmatic pipes, according to Burgess.

He points to the wastage and lack of transparency that has come from the layers of middlemen. “The technology that enables buying – the cookies – don’t talk to each other,” he says. “We see on a really regular basis with the brands that onboard CRM data through us and then look to use that data to spend money with publishers, that by the time it gets to the publisher, they’ve lost almost 70% of the data.

“Every time you get a cookie match between two different cookies, because they’re two actually fundamentally different identities, you lose data. And so then you lose that audience. And then the buyer thinks that they’re buying one thing, but the publisher thinks another.”

Taking a more unified ID perspective would help reconnect buyer and seller because if everyone in the partner chain was using the same identifier, each time that data was pushed from platform to platform would result in a 100% match rate.

“You stop having these kinds of discrepancy issues, and you actually start seeing the true amount of dollar spend going to the publisher, rather than 30% of what they could have been getting, had they done a direct deal with that advertiser.”

Why first-party data is a win-win-win for advertisers, agencies and publishers

First-party data will be key to this new relationship and a value exchange based on trust and transparency, according to Schwab. She says: “If 2020 was a year of privacy, 2021 seems to be the year of identity, and publishers are changing the way they engage with their users, building out relevant first-party data strategies and experimenting with those. But ultimately, it is a year of getting closer to advertisers and brands.”

Aydemir agrees. Of the year ahead he says: “Rather boringly, a lot of it boils down to first-party data – but it’s the way that we use it that will be key.”

He sets out two clear paths – the first being publisher first-party data being re-evaluated and revalued within the current programmatic ecosystem. “Publishers will step up using the very high quality first-party data to fulfil that role [of anonymised third-party data].

“Publishers know their audiences better and we can build segments more clearly and more accurately than anyone else.”

They will also begin to use their data in ways that help them expand their offering and monetise in different ways, such as more technical ecommerce or affiliate deals, white labelling of products and bespoke advertiser solutions.

Hemmings says advancements in tech have enabled publishers to start to utilise some of that first-party data to demonstrate their hierarchy in the value chain. He says: “I’m sure every publisher has had a conversation about data matching propositions. That’s going to be something big for the industry and something that many brands will look to capitalise on.”

He says that 2021, fuelled by COVID and cookie changes, will see businesses accelerate their commercial decisions and diversify their advertiser offerings and revenue streams.

Karmali says: “We’ve really enforced our USP and what our connection with a user and those data points mean and how that is unique to us as CNN. We will always lead with an audience first proposition, whether it’s a pure media play or we’re creating commercial content.”

Challenging the buy-side status quo

Aydemir agrees. “Publishers are ready, we’ve spent the last few years onboarding and gathering higher quality first-party data.” The challenge comes from the complexity of changing the buying behaviour of the market, though.

“Changing the way buyers buy is really hard but we’re ready to start having those direct relationships and allowing access to our audiences, our contextual taxonomies and our data,” he says. “It’s just changing the buying community’s habits and practices is proving difficult. They’re used to buying across the OMP at scale, using myriad third-party data sources.”

Schwab believes there needs to be a “completely new way of measurement when it comes to first-party data”. She calls for new standards in how to define what a successful campaign looks like.

Lakhani agrees, but cautions: “There’s definitely a need for new metrics and new KPIs. When we talk about measurement and ID together however, we should be looking at the bigger picture of what an advertiser is trying to achieve and it doesn’t necessarily have to come down to being able to track and measure on an individual, user-by-user basis.”

As Burgess concludes: “The measurement piece is super critical. Because if a brand cannot measure the effectiveness of its advertising, they’re going to move that spend to channels where they can.”