‘A second chance for publishers’: How Future PLC is using first-party data to sell against high-intent audiences

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It’s crunch time for media companies to ditch their dependencies on third-party cookies.

Future PLC has spent the last nine months building its own proprietary tech stack to collect, streamline and scale the first-party data that it gets from its more than 350 million monthly visitors to its portfolio of 130 special interest sites and enthusiast publications.

“The specialist piece is a key differentiator,” said Future’s global chief revenue officer Mike Peralta. That’s because enthusiast audiences naturally have higher purchase intent for products that are endemic to their passions, he added.

Additionally, Future’s team is able to collect across multiple enthusiast audiences — including fans of music, technology, gaming and photography — with the yet-to-be-named new tech stack platform, which launched last week that Future claims shows that there is crossover potential in interests, and therefore, there is crossover potential for advertisers that want to hit a cross sections of these high-intent audiences. 

Future has run over 200 campaigns through the platform to date and has seen a range of 50-70% better performance on campaigns that use its first-party audience segment data than campaigns that rely on third-party data, Peralta said. 

The data that is collected comes from the company’s three other tech stacks, which it started first investing in eight years ago, according to Future CEO Zillah Byng-Thorne. This includes its own content management system called Vanilla, an ad-tech stack called Hybrid and an e-commerce engine called Hawk.

Because all these stacks are owned and operated by the company, Peralta said his team is able to determine exactly where a reader is on a given site, what they are reading via keyword and contextual targeting and what they are shopping for, either because of an ad or an affiliate link that they clicked on.

“Being able to combine the number of targeting parameters in conjunction with this audience of high-intent [readers] allows us to deliver both audiences that the advertisers are looking for and make new recommendations of audiences that may not be as intuitive,” Peralta said.

For example, one client that Peralta declined to name, recently came to Future looking for new audiences to sell its digital collectible card game. The platform revealed that rock music fans and guitar-related interest groups showed a strong affinity for these types of games so the brand ran its ads against the publisher’s music titles. The company reported that the ads ended-up out performing the ads that were targeted directly to fans of card games, though declined to share by how much.

For buyers and marketers, it’s the combined behavior, engagement and shopping data that publishers with the scale of Future can offer that appeals to them when making a media buy, according to Sargi Mann, evp of digital strategy and investment at Havas Media.

It will “not only allow brands to utilize high intent audiences, but also navigate the world of brand safety [and] suitability guidelines for brands with their highly curated content,” Mann said.

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A lot of this audience targeting was already being done manually during the day-to-day conversations with advertising clients, Peralta said, “but this platform allows us to work at scale and read and look at more data and come back with better recommendations.” 

Future’s overall revenue for its 2020 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, was just under £340 million (approximately $459 million) and it had an operating profit of £93 million ($125 million), according to the company’s 2020 annual report. Both figures were up 65% and 56% year over year, according to the company’s 2019 annual report.

Future earns 70% of its revenue from its digital businesses, with digital advertising making up 60% of that and e-commerce making up the other 40%. This year, digital advertising earned a total of £140 million ($189 million) or 41% of the company’s total revenue.

Mann said that these types of first-party data collection plays are exactly what publishers should be doing to adapt their business models and keep a competitive advantage in the ad market.

“The deprecation of third-party cookies is an advantage and a second chance for the publishing industry to establish themselves as a meaningful partner for brands,” said Mann.

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