Confessions of a Publisher Mobile Specialist

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

Mobile is growing fast — there’s no shortage of breathless articles trumpeting that — but it’s also quite new. The mobile ad industry is immature and offers fairly unappealing options for brands, for instance. Digiday spoke with a mobile executive at a large publisher about the issues he/she faces in the workplace. You can read the full collection of Confessions.

What is one of the most frustrating aspects of leading mobile sales for a large entertainment brand?
I’ve found my company to be too heavily focused on capturing mobile advertising revenue without focusing enough capital and resources on developing our mobile technology or capability set. It takes a big team to make an emerging business successful, and without commitment from engineering, marketing, finance and sales you’re setting yourself up for a frustrating journey. Our advertisers want executions that inspire — while we often have to settle for the basics. To be successful in mobile advertising today on the brand side, it takes a bit of imagination. Unfortunately, the big ideas are often held back by brand restrictions and lack of technological investment. It’s a temptation for executives to hire “a mobile guy” for their team and check the box for their annual commitments — but it takes a whole team to make an emerging business successful.

Do you run into a lack of understanding in top executives?
Top executives will all speak to the importance of mobile in their company’s strategy, but only the very bravest are doubling-down on the resources and technology necessary to make mobile really work for the consumer.

What are some of the flaws you see in the mobile industry?
For the startups, the turnover rate is very high. There’s a big tendency to hear far-fetched empty promises from so many startups, it becomes challenging to find the new technology and new talent that shine through the clutter.

What about this notion of ‘mobile first’ and the monetization gap?
To be successful at the cutting edge of technology you must invest ahead of the curve. The leaders of this upcoming communication revolution will be brave enough to take a short term dip in revenue in order to adapt to a dramatic change in consumer behavior. There will always be a place for desktop computing, but cloud-enabled wireless devices are clearly fast on their way to becoming the dominant choice for consumers.  Faster than any technological shift in our history.

What do you have to say about the mobile ad networks? Is there differentiation?
They are all monetizing the same inventory and it’s unclear what value they can provide beyond a pure reach play. At the end of the day, they’re slinging banners. If you want to step up your game and do something innovative to capture users attention, you are better off finding a publishing partner who’s willing to take an extra step towards pure integration and sponsorship. There’s a place on the media plan for both, though I would argue media agencies certainly prefer to take the easy way out and buy networks instead of working a little harder to make a bigger splash in the mobile space.

What are your thoughts on iAd?
I’m thankful Steve Jobs and Apple invested so much time and energy into bringing attention to the mobile experience. It’s given the whole industry a lot of visibility at very senior levels. Without Apple we’d still be having the “feature phone vs smart phone'” discussion. Today that conversation is almost irrelevant.  Is iAd itself revolutionary? No, there are many different platforms out there which can accomplish your goals and give you reach beyond iOS devices.

More in Media

NewFronts Briefing: Samsung, Condé Nast, Roku focus presentations on new ad formats and category-specific inventory

Day two of IAB’s NewFronts featured presentations from Samsung, Condé Nast and Roku, highlighting new partnerships, ad formats and inventory, as well as new AI capabilities.

The Athletic to raise ad prices as it paces to hit 3 million newsletter subscribers

The New York Times’ sports site The Athletic is about to hit 3 million total newsletter subscribers. It plans to raise ad prices as as a result of this nearly 20% year over year increase.

NewFronts Briefing: Google, Vizio and news publishers pitch marketers with new ad offerings and range of content categories

Day one of the 2024 IAB NewFronts featured presentations from Google and Vizio, as well as a spotlight on news publishers.