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CES Briefing: Publisher sales teams head to CES to get a ‘vibe check’ on the 2024 ad market 

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In a persistently uncertain ad market, publisher sales leads are hoping that CES will provide them the opportunity to learn directly from marketers and agency execs about what will convince them to spend their ad budgets in the new year. 

While some sales teams are doing this by having as many one-to-one meetings with existing and prospective advertisers as possible over the four days, others have planned larger dinners and floor tours for a curated group of C-suite level brand and agency execs.

“I’m just super interested in getting a vibe check on the health of the ad market and what marketers are thinking,” said Sebastian Tomich, chief commercial officer of The Athletic. “This is my favorite time of year because we usually have the most [client] conversations going on right now and no one has told us ‘no’ yet.” 

Regardless of the strategy, the goal is to turn the investment of sending a team all the way out to Las Vegas into revenue via third- and fourth-quarter deals generated from the four days’ worth of in-person schmoozing. 

“If you’re going out to CES hoping to close deals for Q1, you’re about three or four months too late,” said Mike Wong, Bloomberg Media’s head of North American sales, who is bringing three other U.S. sellers to Las Vegas with him. 

Wong said his calendar heading into the event is about 75% booked already with client meetings. The other 25% is meant to allow for serendipitous run-ins. While the number of meetings conducted at CES is not viewed as a success metric, the top priority that Wong’s team has going into the event this year is to have one-on-ones with Bloomberg Media’s biggest clients from its existing advertiser pool. Secondarily, the team will meet with advertisers and agencies that have not historically spent a lot of money with Bloomberg Media.

Going into CES with a nearly full, rigid schedule is by and large the favored strategy among publisher sales leads this year.

“We’re not going to be irresponsible with how we invest in trade events … We have to be really disciplined. We have to have real meetings, real client engagement and not with folks that we can see four blocks away in New York City,” said Geoff Schiller, CRO of Vox Media. He added that he booked a minimum of four meetings per day with clients during the span of CES. 

In addition to one-on-ones, Vox Media’s The Verge title will host 10 floor tours of the showcases at CES for C-suite execs at both brands and holding companies. Vox Media’s sales team will also put on a dinner Tuesday night for about 50 brand-side and agency clients. 

Tomich said a top priority for himself and his team is pitching The New York Times Company’s portfolio of brands as a bundle versus a standalone sports brand. Therefore several of his client meetings at CES will include a rep from The Times as well. Agency executives are the primary target for these pitches because “we need the agency partners advocating on our behalf and a lot of that requires a major perception change from The New York Times [being] one monolithic master brand to a house of brands,” he said. 

Axios is one of the publishers that is hosting an editorial event sponsored by accounting firm PwC during CES, but separately, CRO Jacquelyn Cameron and gm of Axios Live Jonathan Otto are responsible for meeting with advertisers and generating sales for the company. However, they will only be at CES for one day on Wednesday. 

While the media company’s AI editorial products, like Axios AI+, and its consumer data offering Axios Intelligence will be major initiatives that she will mention to clients at CES, Cameron’s personal goal is to determine whether advertisers’ planning and sales cycles will remain at the in-quarter or in-month cadence that has persisted over the past year, or if longer term planning is welcome in 2024.

In general, it seems that trade events are going to be important selling moments for publishers throughout the year and not just as a method to generate 2024 kick-off conversations with clients. 

“My Code is going to be very aggressive, being front and center at all industry events [this year],” said Edgar Hernandez, the former Complex Networks and BuzzFeed executive who joined My Code as its chief strategy officer in December. 

The two-pronged approach that Hernandez and team is doing to achieve this, he added, is first through hosting intimate settings, like a dinner on the first night of CES for about 30 clients. The second is by making introductions to as many prospective clients as possible. His goal is that his team will make connections with at least 100 new brand or agency execs over the course of the four days. — Kayleigh Barber

A moment of change for the gaming industry

In recent years, subscriptions and live service gaming have supplanted premium game sales as the predominant business strategy in the gaming industry, creating a moment of uncertainty and necessary evolution for gaming companies. At CES 2024, however, this shift to the live service model has made gaming the belle of the ball.

“Progress in games is super valuable. If you get to build certain things in ‘Starfield,’ the value of that subscription is much more tangible to you, because your identity really matters, and if you cancel your subscription, you lose your progress,” said Samsung head of product for gaming Mike Lucero, a speaker on Wednesday’s CES panel covering changes in the gaming industry. “That’s an incentive for people to really retain their subscriptions. From a streaming company’s perspective, it kind of changes the game.”

The expansion of subscription gaming in 2024 has created new opportunities for intrinsic in-game advertising companies, which are out in force at CES. As free-to-play and live service games become more popular, some marketers are less concerned about securing placement exclusively inside premium console titles published by the traditional gaming giants.

“You’re starting to see the FAANG or MAMAA companies, or whatever we’re calling them this year, make these really concerted efforts to either expand their streaming beyond theatrical into gaming,” said Sandy Shanman, COO of the in-game advertising company Frameplay. “Or you’re seeing them, from an acquisition vantage point, expand their portfolio in a really meaningful way to become a top-three gaming player.”

This year’s renewed focus on the business of gaming has come with its casualties, too — including some of the buzzwords that rode in on gaming’s coattails at previous CES events. In 2023, the conference had a dedicated area for “gaming, the metaverse and Web3.” This year, the word “Web3” is nowhere to be found on the program.

“I think this CES will be the CES of AI,” said Activision Blizzard Media vp of global business research and marketing Jonathan Stringfield, a member of Wednesday’s panel on AI and game design. “All the writing’s on the wall that it’s going to be the topic, from game design to integrating into various devices. It’ll be hard to go more than a few feet on the show floor without seeing the phrase ‘AI’ or something close to it.” — Alexander Lee

Omnicom partners with TikTok to fold influencers into its Omni platform

As CES 2024 officially kicks off today, agency holding company Omnicom is setting its sights on bringing order to the world of influencers and creators within its own systems. Digiday has learned the agency holding company will announce today what it says is a first-to-market partnership with TikTok — arguably the social platform with the most impact on Gen Z — to better plan and measure how its clients use it.

The partnership follows an initial testing of proof-of-concept for audience-based planning for creator spend that matched audiences derived from Omnicom’s Omni orchestration platform and/or client first-party data to TikTok influencers. Through the agreement, Omnicom’s clients have access to TikTok’s creators in TikTok’s Creative Exchange (TTCX) based on those clients’ needs. The deal is effective in the U.S. for now, with the goal of expanding globally.

The partnership is part of the holding company’s longer-term efforts to improve influencer discovery and measurement, said Megan Pagliuca, Omnicom Media Group’s North Amercican head of activation. “We’re really using data to plan and select the right influencers and having a horizontal media plan across [multiple] platforms,” she said.

Such a program is of particular interest to auto and CPG clients, said Alex Siddell, chief media officer for OMG shop Hearts & Science, who declined to name names. “This actually is giving us the ability not just to accelerate that purchase and drive that intent for consumers,” said Siddell. “But we’ve also used this to move into driving relevance with other audiences including multicultural audiences, and expanding the strategic opportunity elsewhere that typically they haven’t really been able to get into.”

One OMG client, State Farm, is determined to understand how to unlock influencer potential in its marketing efforts, and though the brand hasn’t committed to spending on TikTok because of the program, Baldwin Cunningham, its director of media and partnerships, called the collaboration “encouraging.”

“Creators have always been at the heart of TikTok’s strategy. Partnering with industry leaders like Omnicom helps us better identify the creators that drive resonance and energy with the audiences that OMG brands want to reach,” added Tim Natividad, US head of enterprise sales, global business solutions at TikTok. 

Since practically all Omnicom agencies deal with influencers in some fashion, OMG’s influencer practice, led by Kevin Blazaitis, helps enable their access to influencers beyond that top percentile that always get used by marketers. “It’s not just white women from Texas that we’re trying to reach,” quipped Blazaitis. “It’s much more focused on representative audiences and being able to find and identify them with data. It’s very data-led versus relationship-led.” — Michael Bürgi

Elsewhere from CES

Tech and automotive giants announced new innovations on Monday during keynotes ahead of the CES 2024’s official start today:

  • Volkswagen debuted a new in-car voice AI chatbot called IDA that can operate in-car features like climate control, navigation and more.
  • Samsung debuted a number of new AI features for various devices like refrigerators, vacuums, TVs and speakers. It also announced a new variation of its rolling robot called Ballie — which can project videos on walls, control smart devices and more — and plans to integrate Microsoft’s Copilot with Samsung phones and laptops.
  • Hyundai said it’s working on developing its own large language model (LLM) to give drivers new AI features. It also had a joint announcement with Samsung to power smart devices between cars and homes.
  • Nvidia debuted a number of new AI features for laptops, gaming publishers (including Activision Blizzard), and a new “avatar cloud engine” to make digital avatars with generative AI. — Marty Swant

Overheard

“According to ChatGPT, for a captivating sci-fi story for your drive to the consumer electronics show, I would recommend ‘The Hitchhiker’s Drive to The Galaxy’ by Douglass Adams, which details the adventures of Arthur Dent as he goes on an intergalactic journey through space.” — IDA, a new voice AI assistant from Volkswagen when asked for a sci-fi book recommendation to listen to while driving to CES, as told to Marty Swant

Veteran’s tip of the day: pack comfy sneakers

At CES, comfort is king — especially for your feet. Kevin Gentzel knows the drill: long days on the go call for one thing — sneakers. Ditch the formal footwear; when it’s go-time at CES, it’s sneakers that rule the floor. — as told to Seb Joseph; Read the full veteran’s guide to CES.

What to do

9 to 9:40 a.m. Harnessing the Power of AI Ethically at Venetian, Level 5, Palazzo Ballroom

10 to 10:40 a.m. Disney: The New Streaming Formula – Audience and Engagement Fuel The Future Of Advertising at ARIA, Level 2, Mariposa 4

11 to 11:40 a.m. How Legacy Tech is Talking to Creators at ARIA, Level 1, Joshua 9

4 to 4:40 p.m. Workforce, Wellness & AI at Venetian, Level 4, Lando 4304

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