Penske Media eyes data studio as way to drive more portfolio-wide selling

first party data

Penske Media Corp. is trying to find more ways to sell across its brands and it’s hoping a data studio called the PMC Atlas Data Studio, built using a homegrown targeting platform, will help whet advertisers’ appetites. 

Earlier this month, Penske, which owns a mix of consumer- and business-facing publications including Variety, Rolling Stone and WWD, launched Atlas, which allows brands to target readers across Penske’s portfolio, which reaches 134 million unique users every month, according to Comscore. Atlas offers some 500 different audience segments, many of them either modeled directly on established segments typically reached using third-party segments or pulled directly from advertiser and agency RFPs. 

Atlas also uses a mixture of on-site user behavior, including article and video views, poll responses and shopping data. It also taps first-party data gathered from its newsletter and magazine subscribers, event registrants (the company produced close to 200 virtual events in 2020), plus a number of data partnerships, to build those segments. About 10% of its portfolio audience is authenticated, meaning users can be tied to a permanent identifier like an email address, chief advertising and partnerships officer Mark Howard said, adding the company is actively exploring ways to increase that percentage.  

Like many of its peers, Penske’s decision to invest in a data studio is partly a response to the third-party cookie changes coming to the media industry. And for now, the price of audience segments available in Atlas are identical to the ones available using third-party cookies.

“[For now], it’s more about proving parity from a performance perspective,” Howard said. “If we’re able to show that in a definitive way, then as we go through more of these cycles, we’ll be able to adjust accordingly.”

But it’s also meant to further two strategic initiatives: Driving more ad selling at the corporate level and driving more on-site consumption through personalization. 

“You have all the ingredients ready to go for a very rich first-party data strategy,” Howard said. “It gives us a lot of opportunity.” 

Historically, sellers at Penske’s individual brands operated with a lot of autonomy, but about a year ago, the publisher began to focus more on selling media and executing deals across its portfolio, after it lured Howard away from Forbes.

“It was very much brand-led selling until Mark [Howard] got there,” said one media agency executive, who asked not to be identified when discussing a frequent business partner. “I think they’ve done a good job of [getting ready to sell across the brands], but it takes time.”

Today, “about 50” people support corporate sales efforts, a spokesperson said, though she declined to share specifics about how many full time staffers work solely on that effort.  

Penske built Atlas using an ad routing platform originally designed to control the ads that ran across BlogHer, a network of female bloggers operated by Penske brand SHE Media. The technology was rolled out across the rest of Penske’s portfolio in August 2020, so each brand’s sales group could use it in their own sales efforts. 

To date, the strongest buyer interest in Atlas has been on the programmatic side, where Penske’s sellers are discussing how to use its data in PMP deals, Howard said.

But the addition of Atlas should, in theory, give Penske’s sales teams at both the brand and corporate levels a chance to target more specific, bespoke audiences — a Penske team of data and revenue operations people can identify and build out a custom audience segment in about two days — and target them across the portfolio.

What Atlas doesn’t solve is the question of how Penske’s different sales teams will play together during tentpole moments that each sales team has typically handled on its own. The agency source pointed to the dominant position that some Penske titles have in certain categories as an area of both opportunity and, potentially, internal friction. Thanks to its recent acquisition of The Hollywood Reporter, for example, Penske (which also owns Variety and Deadline) plays a dominant role in the “for your consideration” ad campaigns that entertainment studios splurge on every year.

“How do you get brands that own a market to play ball with the rest of the portfolio?” that source asked.

This post has been updated to clarify which part of SHE Media originally operated Atlas.

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