Insider’s SAGA platform pulls more ad revenue this year than ’20, enabling business-side hiring spree

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Insider’s ad business is on a positive trajectory thanks to its focus on harnessing its first-party data and so is the company’s plans to expand its team to support that growth. 

Insider launched its first-party data platform SAGA in February 2020 and despite the hit to ad budgets in the second quarter, the company closed more campaigns last year than in 2019, said CRO and publisher Pete Spande. This year, Insider is already up 55% in number of ad deals over all of last year and its sales revenue is up 61% year over year in the first half of 2021, which is more ad revenue coming in during the first five months of the year versus all of 2020 combined, according to the company. Spande declined to discuss the specific dollar amounts associated with this increases.

That revenue is enabling Insider to subsequently invest in its advertising team, growing that staff by 25% over its last year count. Currently, the team consists of 130 employees, but that number is expected to reach 140 by the end of the year.

SAGA is a significant contributor to this business’s growth. It collects non-personal identifiable information (PII), with a particular focus on behavioral data coming from contextual indicators on interested topics such as stock price news within Insider’s content. That information is then used to create audience segments based on intent versus demographics, said Spande. It works for both programmatic and direct-sold campaigns, which Insider calls insertion orders, and currently one-third of the company’s advertising revenue comes from its data platform. Additionally, more than half of all advertising deals, both programmatic and direct, use a component of SAGA’s first-party data at this time. 

Insider makes about half of its revenue from advertising, according to Spande, with the balance between programmatic and direct-sold fluctuating but typically remaining at about a 50-50 split. The rest of Insider’s revenue comes from its subscriptions business which it has been actively building over the past three years, and other consumer revenue lines, like affiliate.

“In the early days of digital, publishers conceded this space to ad tech and the platforms. There are a handful of publishers that are now realizing that there is a role for us to play in that space and that there’s tremendous value in the data that we possess,” said Spande. 

With that said, Insider is also realizing that it needs employees who can help the company further step into the world of ad tech.

Over the past six months, hiring has steadily increased across the digital media industry including for pre-and post sale roles as well as sales, said Risa Goldberg, president of recruitment firm Media Recruiting Group, which works with digital media companies, advertising agencies and ad tech companies. Starting in March, there has been an explosion in hiring that she said she expects to continue this summer. 

And while the job market is booming across the industry, talent recruiting agency Grace Blue is finding that media clients with strong first-party data offerings are receiving more demand from advertisers as the death of the third-party cookie looms, and thus have started actively seeking more brand-facing talent who can cater to those growing advertiser needs, according to a company spokesperson. 

One of the major areas of focus for hiring, according to Spande, is ad tech and data experts who can take all of the information being collected by SAGA and use it for both internal content optimization, but also for making client campaigns more impactful, he said.

“A lot of our preconceived notions around what works just aren’t right any longer,” said Spande. “We bring a lot of baggage to the practice of marketing and we’re seeing now through both the targeting data and also the performance data on the other end, that there are other ways to approach these campaigns that can be much more successful.”

But it takes a highly specialized employee to be able to do that, Spande added. These positions include analysts and data operations people who can identify problems and opportunties for more efficient ad campaigns, as well as marketers who can look at the data and turn it into stories, “which is generally not where we’ve focused our time from a marketing perspective,” he add.

Insider is not yet at the point where it can have one seller per client, nor do its seller roles exclusively work in one advertising category, Spande said. But while hiring out the advertising team, he said people with specific industry expertise are being sought out to cater to the brand categories Insider works with, like its two largest, finance and tech, and emerging areas like travel, home good and fashion.

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