Confessions of a Media Company Product Manager

Media companies are now technology companies. And yet for most legacy publications, this is an enormous cultural challenge.

Digiday spoke with a product lead at a large legacy publication to walk us through the biggest hurdles in getting green lights for ad products, why it’s difficult for publishers to create good ad products, and why communication is key.

Why are publishers so bad with creating products?
From an ad product standpoint, it’s definitely more difficult. Often you need to be extremely mindful of edit approaches and guidelines, which, for the most part, have nothing to do with the ad product itself. Balancing the tightrope is hard and often frustrating. There is also only so much real estate on publisher sites. Advertisers buy into edit experiences, but when they want something exclusive, there is only so much space that can be used for independent programs. So ad product specialists need to create the product and then back into the necessary measures: where will it live, how it will benefit an advertiser, what will it look like, what are the costs, what properties will it extend to. There are a lot of moving parts.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in getting publishers to move forward with ad products?
Being mindful of the brand, the voice and legal. Everything falls back on that. You cannot create a product that competes or conflicts with brand ideologies, even if the two don’t ever cross. So it becomes an art, in a way. Understanding how to make publishers comfortable with the product, how it will benefit them while also making it an incredible advertising experience. Also, publishers often need to be educated about advertising products and what they entail. Especially when it comes to emerging products in social, mobile and content. There is a huge learning process that must take place before an ad product conversation even begins.

How much time do you spend educating your outlet about the need to create new products?
It goes two ways. Half the time you’re out there informing your colleagues about the importance of product innovation, and the other half, you’re answering questions as to why the products you’re creating aren’t innovative enough. It’s a double-edged sword. A lot of work goes into the creation and promotion of a new ad product, but the emphasis is always on the need to move forward, creating new ad products and opportunities to bring to market.

Do you feel like you’re often talking to a wall?
Of course. Getting people to leave their comfort zone is a difficult task. Creating new products means additional responsibilities for all parties involved; there are new positions, new vendors, new designs, new pricing. Things often get very shaken up, and that makes people uncomfortable. There’s a risk, but there’s also massive rewards. Taking risks and innovating in this space is something that platforms must embrace with open arms. We’re in a time when competing outlets are constantly innovating and bringing new things to market, so products need to be ahead of the curve, or else they are overlooked and left behind.

Are there unrealistic goals set from above about developing new products?
Everyone wants to be first to market with their offerings, so that sets you up for some unrealistic goals. But what’s worse: not being first to market or releasing a product prematurely and having it fall on its face? As important as it is to be innovative and fresh, it’s as important if not more so to make sure you have fully fleshed out the details of the product — how it will execute, expectations, and how you will report on it — before releasing it. Yes, there are unrealistic goals but sometimes you satisfy that by building smaller products that complement one another. What’s most important is making sure the product is successful, and the smartest leaders at the top understand that and the time it takes from development to its release date.

How difficult is it to sell advertisers on new ad products?
It’s not always the easiest task. Being in a competitive landscape, you really need to differentiate yourself and your products from what other outlets are offering. You also have to think outside of the box. You see what is available on other channels — social and mobile platforms, so how can you take what they do currently and make it innovative to your brand? And how does this product capitalize on those strengths? You need to be fully prepared before pitching products to clients and have all their questions answered (in your head) beforehand. Why is this product different? Why does it cost X? Why should I do this with your brand? What are the KPIs? How is it measured? The most important thing is that you need to really believe in your product. If you don’t, the client certainly won’t. Clients and agencies are always itching for something new. So the opportunity is there. It’s now up to the outlets to create something that is unique to their brand and never been done before. Easy, right?

Image via Shutterstock

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