Offer your ads for a penny (and other programmatic hacks)

Dorian Benkoil is a digital media management consultant focused on content business strategies for TeemingMedia and founder of MediaThon.

Publishers across the board are grappling with how best to make their advertising inventory available through automated exchanges.

With a majority of digital display advertising budgets allocated to programmatic platforms — growing to 63 percent by next year, according to eMarketer — they have no choice if they want to capture the most ad dollars possible.

Executives from leading publishers, tech platforms and vendors gathered last week at Digiday’s WTF Programmatic conference to learn ways to get the most out of ad exchanges. Here are a few tips from there, corroborated by my own work experience.

Iterate fast.
Publishers used to more languid rhythms of old need to have people who can quickly identify and act upon opportunities and trouble spots.

“Selling on exchanges takes attention and careful management,” said Mike Smith, vp of revenue platforms and operations, Hearst Magazines Digital Media. “You don’t just set it up and forget it.”

Marshal the power of your data.
First-party data — publisher measurements of how traffic flows through their sites — is gold. Through clever yield management, they can create high-performing opportunities in unexpected ways.

Business Insider’s vp of programmatic and data strategy Jana Meron gave an example of how health and fitness enthusiasts unexpectedly seemed more interested in one ad than tech section readers.

BI suggested moving more of the placements to health pages. The marketers were happier, and BI freed up tech inventory.

“We’re constantly updating our segments so we know they’re fresh and we know what’s performing,” Meron said.

Demand transparency.
The best programmatic platforms will show not only how a publisher’s ads are performing and how much revenue they’re making but will provide a view of the market overall.

“A good platform will show you a bid landscape that includes the bids you didn’t win,” said Alanna Gombert, founder & CEO of Gombert Consulting, soon to be with Omnicom.

Be transparent yourself.
Yes, others might use data a publisher shows to try to gain advantage. But, as one publishing programmatic exec told me, “They’re doing it anyway,” via third-party cookies and DMPs.

By being tactically transparent — showing what pages and URLs ads are on, certain cookie attributes — publishers are more likely to attract more interest and higher prices. Marketers want to know they’re getting a real view of available inventory, that what they’re seeing has the traits — position, target audience, etc. — it purports to have.

“Data is a friend. You’re on the same side of the table as the client, both trying to optimize,” Matt Prohaska, CEO & principal at Prohaska Consulting, said at the conference.

Set an average, not a floor price.
Many premium publishers will try to protect inventory in an exchange by setting a price below which they will not sell it, such as $5 per thousand impressions (CPM).

By doing so, they may be foregoing a lot of revenue, as bids below that amount are ignored and the money flows elsewhere.

Gombert suggests that, instead, publishers agree to an average overall price with buyers, then set the CPM range from $.01 to very high levels. That will let buyers bid for some inventory at the lower end, as long as they also bid at the higher end to keep the average at the agreed level. The publisher gets more money; the marketer gets a better perceived deal.

Be smart and stay abreast.
Keep up with technologies and best practices. Don’t assume that what is said to work does.

Jeff Burkett, senior director of ad innovation and product strategy at The Washington Post, noted that some vendors who currently claim to measure ad viewability “absolutely can’t measure certain types of inventory” and make it hard for them to collect money for ads that were seen.

Many at the conference noted their perspectives on programmatic had shifted from even a few months earlier — and will likely be saying different things a few months from now as advertising automation evolves.

Me, too.

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