The line between programmatic and other types of advertising has blurred to the point that The New York Times has erased the one between its programmatic and direct sales teams.
The New York Times quietly folded its programmatic sales team into its overall sales organization in December as part of a broader, publicly announced reorganization, a company spokesperson confirmed. The Times had originally formed its programmatic sales team in April 2013 and intended it to be united with the rest of the sales organization, but some time after that, the company split it into a separate team. Coinciding with the latest reorganization, the Times had its core sales team members receive training on programmatic advertising so that they would be able to sell any of the Times’ ad products to any type of advertiser.
“Programmatic continues to be an important element of our business — important enough that we integrated the selling of programmatic into our overall sales organization and organized around a programmatic operations team to support the sellers and our programmatic advertisers,” said the Times spokesperson in an email.
One industry exec described the reorg as coinciding with media agencies looking to consolidate their sales contacts at publishers. Advertisers are shifting their programmatic spend to going through media agencies as opposed to agency trading desks, according to Omnicom’s most recent earnings call. WPP-owned GroupM’s mPlatform similarly enables advertisers to go through their media agencies to conduct their programmatic buys. As a result of this shift, media agencies’ buyers are seeking a single sales rep at publishers who can handle any type of ad buy, this person said. This pressure from ad buyers may have caused friction between the Times’ programmatic and direct sales teams, with the direct team winning because it brings in more revenue, the person added.
Some members of the Times’ programmatic sales staff have left since the December reorg, including Sara Badler, who was its director of programmatic advertising and considered the most senior employee on the programmatic sales team at the time of the reorganization. Badler joined Dotdash this month as head of programmatic revenue and strategy; she did not respond to a request for comment.
“The industry is moving in the direction of consolidation and focusing on supply-chain transparency. It makes sense to streamline sales teams on both the buy and sell side and maximize the value they provide,” said Alanna Gombert, global chief revenue officer at ad tech firm MetaX and former co-chair of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s programmatic council.
The Times spokesperson confirmed that some members of the programmatic sales team accepted a voluntary buyout and left the company as a result of the reorg, but declined to say how many. One source outside the Times said a majority left, with the remainder joining the newly combined sales team.
The fusing of the Times’ programmatic and direct sales staffs also seems to signal how important programmatic has become as a sales channel for publishers in general and the Times specifically. According to estimates from research firm eMarketer, 82 percent of the $39.1 billion that advertisers will spend this year on digital display ads in the U.S. will be spent programmatically.
In 2017, the Times turned to programmatic to bolster its ad business abroad, and it began selling some of its custom ad units programmatically. But the newspaper publisher isn’t the only major media company ramping up its programmatic sales. Last year, Vox Media began selling its high-end ads programmatically, and longtime programmatic holdout BuzzFeed relented and adopted automated banners on its site.