Publishers Pine for BigAdCo

When it comes to the ever-growing ad tech world, publishers can sometimes just shake their heads.

Jason Erdahl, who manages the digital marketing strategy for the Star-Tribune Media Company, a publication with 6 million online users, finds he must cobble together his own system from the many point products out there.

“There’s a big issue with trying to combine third-party and first-party data, when managing retargeting or selling custom audience segments, for example,” said Erdahl. “It’s like using gum and tape, trying to paste these things together using DoubleClick and targeting technology. Without one centralized funnel it’s hard to choose what segment to use, and many of these spheres, where the audiences are, do not communicate.”

That has fed the need for what Cheezburger Network chief revenue officer Todd Sawicki half-jokingly calls “BigAdCo,” a single source of all the needs. That is one that doesn’t start with G and end with oogle. One publishing veteran at Digiday’s Digital Publishing Summit noted of the many ad tech vendors, “The truth is, 80 percent of these companies won’t be around in five years.”
The data issue is emblematic of the challenges publishers face. Erdahl relies heavily on first-party data because of concerns about issues like privacy and the reliability of audience segments. “Some of these people tell me, ‘Oh, we’re beyond demographics now, we’re into the psychographics. I need to know that those segments are not just a rebranding of the same data that I already have.”
The Star Tribune currently runs more than 200 display campaigns, and Erdahl believes that the most important challenge is deriving insights from user data without raising the hackles of privacy activists and consumers. Despite the wealth of data that the company holds on its registered members, “we do shockingly little in terms of selling our non-PII data because we are scared of the ever-cookies, the flash cookies being used with our customers.”
The company is currently redrafting its privacy policy, and Erdahl admits that “it’s intimidating even for the lawyers, as we try to explain privacy issues to our consumers, and it’s hard for the experts to get a grip on it themselves.”
Publishers’ relationships with ad tech providers have become increasingly strained as many premium brands have launched private exchanges in the past few years, citing concerns about low CPMs and inventory control. At the end of the day, Erdahl believes that the industry is moving towards major consolidation, and that’s a good thing for publishers. “If we fast-forward three years down the road, everything will be integrated; we’ll have a centralized system to manage our data and sell our inventory.”

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