How Publishers Channel Their Inner Agency to Level-Up Audience Extension

Mar 08, 2019

Article ImageThe publishing industry is in turmoil. At a time when digital ad spend is steadily growing, only a handful of mega-giants are benefitting. How is a principled, large publisher supposed to make money if they aren’t super-sized like the walled garden duopoly (Google, Facebook) or a new age digital media collection?

One way to survive is by adding scale in any way possible. As a result, there are more media companies today that are selling more ad products to more advertisers. Media companies are servicing way more accounts than in the past and it continues to pile on top of each other. Unless the industry gets organized, it will end up like an overgrown garden, riddled with weeds.

There’s a limit to the audience publishers can attract on their owned sites and only so many ads they can pile on a page. To support more growth, a publisher has to enact audience extension strategies and sell on other sites beyond their own. But how do they manage this scale properly without having it morph into a chaotic mess?   

Overcoming this challenge requires agency-like thinking. Advanced digital agencies offer a centralized, organized channel to reach any audience on any site or device through any creative. They manage multiple, diverse campaigns running on a variety of sites and ad products. By contrast, standalone publishers reach only the audiences visiting the properties they own and operate, with a limited product set. An agency mindset gives publishers a roadmap on how to fully appeal to advertisers’ multifaceted needs.

Audience extension was predicated on publishers offering a deep understanding of audiences, and so could easily find any type of customer not only on their owned and operated sites, but on other sites. The model today includes multiple tactics and channels including mobile sites and apps, video inventory, real-time bidding (RTB), and private marketplaces (PMPs). These tools give publishers the potential to offer any ad product, broadening their sophistication and better positioning them as a trusted partner for advertisers’ money. This maximizes sales opportunities, brings scale and efficiency to campaigns, and generates more strategic relationships with advertisers.

But to truly “level up” their audience extension game and diversify monetization strategy in an organized fashion, I recommend these strategies for publishers:

Unify Ad Operations, Planning, and Activation – Publishers that garner millions in site views per month already have complex ad ops organization just for the diverse set of ad products for their own sites. When more is added on top of that through extension, the sales opportunities open up. But this also means complication in managing larger campaigns. Centralizing operations to optimize multi-pronged campaigns on owned and third-party media channels shows advertisers that publishers are well-oiled media machines just like agencies.

Search and Social – Paid ads on search and social are some of the fastest growing segments in digital advertising. But it’s not normally part of the strategy for publishers because it doesn’t seem to fit with display. It’s an operations expertise that may be difficult to scale for publishers. But offering activation on Facebook, Google Ads (formerly AdWords), Instagram, YouTube and more creates a major differentiator. And unifying the analysis of these campaigns alongside display tactics positively transforms an advertiser’s relationship with a publisher – making it more of a partner than a vendor.

Invest In an Advertising Tag System – When thinking like a digital agency, publishers have to consider operating their own ad tag system. This positions them to control campaigns, start flights on-time, funnel data to BI systems and more. Activating high-touch premium media executions becomes easier to scale on other sites. This type of control to scale up with precision and gather intelligence on campaigns is an efficient solution because the publisher helps advertisers find very specific, highly desirable audiences on niche sites that don’t have the bandwidth to sell to major advertisers. It helps publishers climb the funnel to compete for premium branding spend.

To meet advertisers’ multiple needs, publishers need to think beyond simple tactics and executions for audience extension offerings. A holistic approach in offering multiple scalable products and activating media with efficiency transforms an advertiser’s perception of publishers. Instead of being looked on simply as vendors, publishers showcase themselves as strategic media buying and audience acquisition partners.

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