How advertisers are fostering more effective publisher partnerships

Michael Weaver, senior vice president, business development and growth, Al Jazeera Media Network

An everyday conversation between publishers and advertisers goes like this: The publisher invites the advertiser to a meal to talk about their business, attempts to delve into specifics on what the media buyer is looking to achieve, their audience breakdown and how technology can enhance the results of a partnership. And the buyer essentially throws up their hands, signaling that they expect the seller to figure out how to meet their needs without the buyer providing the details.

It’s a scenario that represents a misguided dynamic in digital advertising, one that does a disservice to all parties. Publishers are neither buyers’ adversaries nor want to be wanton salespeople, trying to strike a deal at all costs (even if it is a bad fit). Media sellers want to determine how best to serve media buyers — but to do that, they need buyers to help them build more effective partnerships. 

Advertisers are getting more out of their media relationships by taking objectives, not solutions, as the point of departure for conversations, thinking creatively about their own audiences and going beyond automation when asking for technical capabilities.

Objective-focused discussions lay the foundation for effective partnerships

Media buyers often approach a prominent media seller like CNN or NBC and essentially say, “What can you do for me?” The problem with expecting the publisher to guide the conversation is that a media company of that scale can do virtually anything. They have thousands of employees across the world at their disposal. To be effective, they need a more granular understanding of the media buyer’s custom objectives.

Another area for improvement with this dynamic is that if sellers lead instead of buyers, advertisers risk getting distracted by edge cases when they should instead focus on their core needs and the technology and audience solutions required to meet them. Sellers, especially technology providers, are often excited about the newest bells and whistles. But those novelties — VR or short-form video, for example — are probably less vital to the partnership than elements like audience fit and standard ad types.

Instead of expecting technology providers and publishers to drive the media buying transaction with their preferred solutions, buyers can take control of the conversation and guide the other party by leading with their objectives. Who do they need to reach? What shortcomings have they experienced with other sellers and technology providers? These objective-focused questions lay the foundation for a more fruitful conversation.

Creative approaches to audience demographics drive incremental gains

Back in 1999, media buying was relatively simple. The advertiser would plug in a series of characteristics, such as men aged 35–40 on the East Coast, and ad tools would spit out publishers who claimed to meet those criteria. The data would be self-reported, so it was often far from rigorous, but the results of that basic algorithm would be an advertiser’s media plan.

In 2023, buyers and sellers can and should cooperate to do better. But that starts with brands and their agencies thinking outside the box about their audiences. If advertisers restrict themselves to, say, women with disposable income ages 18–34, they are going to patronize the same old complacent media sellers at the same bloated rates. 

Instead, thinking beyond the top-level audience and the most apparent destinations allows all stakeholders to discover adjacencies in content subject matter and audience demographics. Advertisers can make incremental gains that drive revenue growth while taking advantage of better rates to increase ROI. They can also expand their reach and finance more diverse publications, which many brands and agencies now consider table stakes. 

Emphasizing transparency to get the most out of tech-enabled partnerships

Technology has unleashed a torrent of innovation that should make advertising far more effective and efficient than it was twenty years ago. However, advertisers’ expectations for technology often boil down to setting it and forgetting it, or basic optimization. 

Instead, the opportunity buyers and sellers should focus on is a deeply aligned, cooperative effort to obtain better results — not just decreased labor hours. This was, for example, the dream of programmatic. And today, that dream has, for some, replaced putting in the effort to use technology to enhance how marketing dollars work. All of media, including programmatic, should live up to the promise of transparency and efficiency — from where their media runs to the control required to optimize for superior outcomes, not just time savings. 

But for this formula to work, marketers need to be deeply familiar with the audiences they want to reach and the objectives their technology should support. Ad tech providers and media selling operations are built for buyer needs. If the need is to cut a holding company’s labor expenses, ad tech companies and publishers will conform. But if the goal is a superior outcome — and if buyers embark on that journey with a detailed conversation about their objectives instead of a boilerplate request for sell-side solutions — ad tech companies and publishers can deliver on it more effectively. And advertisers and their customers will be much better off for it. 

Sponsored by: Al Jazeera Media Network

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