Ad tech vendors are pitching themselves to publishers as subscription saviors

Publishers are pivoting to paid, and ad tech is trying to get a piece of the action.

Over the past several months, large publishers including Hearst and Condé Nast have gotten pitched by ad tech and martech vendors hawking their ability to help publishers sell subscriptions, grow direct connections or drive more e-commerce.

The pitches come at a time of skepticism as some publishers are trying to subtract, not add to, the number of ad tech tools they use to improve user experience or get compliant with GDPR. These new pitches also mean the vendors have to compete with a separate group of vendors that are specifically pitching publishers subscriber revenue tools.

Not every pitch is finding its mark. Fred Santarpia, Condé Nast’s chief digital officer, said none of the pitches he’s heard recently would be “meaningful” to his company’s efforts. Others hear in these pitches the same notes that are struck every time a vendor notices a trend sweeping across the publishing landscape. “Certain vendors have pivoted their messaging,” said Meredith’s chief digital officer, Matt Minoff, who hasn’t seen any surge in new pitches. “It’s what they’ve always done.”

Opportunistic or not, the pitches come as many ad tech vendors face pressure. “The ad tech companies certainly need ways to keep their clients sticky,” said Rob Rasko, CEO of ad tech consulting company The 614 Group. “There’s a real lack of differentiation between the ad tech vendors right now. If you can help your client drive revenue, that’s a good thing.”

Publishers have applied vendors’ tools for advertising and brands to their own problems. Oath has been using Voxpopme, which advertisers typically use to gather consumer opinion, to do qualitative research in developing consumer revenue-focused products.

And the kinds of ad tech pitches out there, some newer than others, run the gamut. Sourcepoint, which helps publishers derive revenue from ad-blocking users, offers a way for publishers to market to subscribers. Yieldmo, which runs a mobile advertising marketplace, is testing a product called EMP that could help publishers see how readers respond to their subscription offers. Content recommendation widgets like Taboola, which are trying to recast themselves as quality traffic drivers, are hawking tools that purport to increase engagement.

Just as ad tech vendors have had to jockey in a crowded advertising ecosystem, they will have to face incumbent companies that already specialize in the subscription area.

“The one thing I hear when I visit with publishers is, ‘We need less tools,’” said Paul Herron, the North American lead for subscription management platform MPP Global.

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