For premium publishers, proving an advertiser’s return on investment is more important than ever

first party data

This article is part of Digiday’s coverage of its Digiday Publishing Summit. More from the series →

One of the top takeaways from this year’s Digiday Publishing Summit in Key Biscayne, Fla. was that while ad revenue is starting to flow back into the market, advertisers are asking for more proof that they’re going to get a return on their investment from their publisher partners.  

Between the on stage sessions and the publisher town halls that took place during DPS over Sept. 18-20, media execs made it clear that KPIs are changing, particularly for those who work for companies that consider their inventory as premium, vs. made-for-advertising (MFA).

With the impending removal of third-party cookies on Google’s Chrome browser, publishers are looking for replacements, be it alternative identifiers or first-party data, that will prove programmatic campaigns perform just as well post-cookiepocalypse. But on the direct-sold side of their advertising businesses, execs from Condé Nast, Blavity Inc and Apartment Therapy Media talked about how they’re being asked to guarantee better ROIs for advertisers as they compete for precious ad dollars.  

Here’s what some publishers had to say about changing KPIs and the task of proving ROI for their their advertiser clients:

More attention metrics, please

Condé Nast is ready to move beyond “table stakes” verification metrics, like viewability, click-through rates and volume of impressions, to try and sell advertisers, according to Deborah Brett, Condé’s global chief business officer. 

Instead, the media exec said she wants to use attention metrics – like hover rates, time spent and scrolling patterns – to prove to advertisers that the campaigns they purchase on Condé’s properties are not just effective in getting audiences’ interest, but are worth a premium price tag. 

“The reality of humankind is if you can make money at something, we’re going to figure out a way to game the system … and that’s where we’ve found ourselves in the last few years [with MFA sites]. But we’re now really trying to figure out ways that we can make more meaningful metrics that matter [and] prove the difference between [being] really good at gaming the system [with clickbait farms] … [or proving] out premiumness,” said Brett. 

While integrating these metrics as one publisher is a start, Brett said that it’s going to take a lot of education amongst advertisers and agencies to explain how these metrics are useful in proving out a return on investment, as well as unifying with other publishers to consistently measure and adopt the same attention metrics across their businesses to create some amount of standardization. 

“We’re lucky that the industry is moving us away from things like MFAs, but … a big part of why we allowed some of these not very legitimate metrics [like viewability] to last so long as the currency for digital media is that it was easy,” said Brett. “So if we don’t put enough work into making it easy to transact [using attention metrics], it’s not going to work and then we’re missing our entire opportunity to really prove out the value of what is possible in the digital ecosystem when done properly.” 

Proving meaningful engagement with audiences

As a Black-owned media company whose brands reach a diverse audience, Blavity Inc often works with advertisers that have allocated portions of their budgets to DE&I initiatives, but CRO Mike Hadgis said during his on-stage session at DPS that advertisers who go beyond those earmarked commitments find the greatest ROI on their campaigns.

Take McDonald’s, which signed a multi-year display ad deal with Blavity Inc that extends beyond the timeframe of Black History Month or DE&I-specific campaigns, and includes Blavity in its general market digital strategy for national campaigns at large. 

“It’s paid off,” said Hadgis. “[McDonald’s] sees it from in-store sales, they see it from engagement, they see it from all the metrics that they do on the [return on advertising spend] side.” He declined to share specific figures.

In quarterly business reviews, Hadgis’ team combines McDonald’s sales data and Blavity’s first-party, CTR and engagement data to consistently check-in that the multi-year deal is still creating a return for the fast food giant.  

Securing big-ticket deals, like event sponsorships 

It was a particularly tricky year for securing revenue, particularly event sponsorship revenue, according to Apartment Therapy’s president Riva Syrop, who spoke about the company’s largest event franchise, Small/Cool, during her on-stage session at DPS. But that’s partially because the advertisers that are willing to spend on high-priced event campaigns have different KPIs than sponsors from years prior. Once Syrop’s team realized that, they were able to tweak their event offerings to satisfy prospective clients’ needs. 

“In the past, a lot of brands wanted to be involved in an established event that had a little glitz and glitter around it [and] the association was enough. The ability to deliver on these softer KPIs was something they were excited about,” said Syrop. But this year, she said “we have seen a real pivot away from this desire for brand lift.”

Instead, event sponsors for Small/Cool want to drive transactions almost immediately from the event, be it through commerce opportunities in-person or driving audiences to their online stores. And that’s what Syrop and her team expect sponsors to ask for in the coming years as well. 

“The way that we’ll be approaching our events next year is making sure that we have the capacity to really transact or do something that is very literal for a client to make sure that we’re delivering on harder KPIs,” said Syrop.

Read more about Apartment Therapy’s approach to commerce within its events business here.

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