Media Briefing: How Pinterest is wooing publishers with its Red Standard program

This Media Briefing covers the latest in media trends for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Thursday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

This week’s Media Briefing takes a look at Pinterest’s new publisher program, which is among other social media companies, to compensate publishers for the content they produce on-platform.

  • Pinterest’s publisher pursuit
  • 3 Qs with Future’s CRO Zack Sullivan
  • Bloomberg restructures for events, Campbell Brown leaves Meta and more

Pinterest’s publisher pursuit

Pinterest is pursuing publishers with more fervor via its new Red Standard Program, which launched in beta this June in the U.S.

Three publishers told Digiday that they were starting to be courted by Pinterest this summer to enter into content deals where Pinterest would compensate publishers for publishing more videos on the platform, and in some cases would sell branded content and on-platform campaigns for the publishers. However, two of the publisher participants said they have yet to receive any ad deals through the program.

The payment structure for Red Standard participants is not straightforward. For example, not all publishers are paid on a revenue-sharing basis. Jeremy Jankowski, Pinterest’s strategic partner lead, who oversees publisher partnerships declined to share what exact rev-share splits are or the exact terms that the publishers agreed to when joining the program.

Two publishers told Digiday that the rev-share split for inventory sold by Pinterest’s sales team on the publishers’ behalf equated to a 35-65 split between the publishers and platform. Meanwhile, another Red Standard participant said that their agreement with Pinterest is not based on a co-sell model or rev-share at all, but rather they receive “a combination of payments and ad credits provided to the publisher for the number of assets published within a specific time frame.”

“They’re definitely one of the unsung heroes,” said one media revenue exec who spoke on the condition of anonymity, especially as Snap continues to let its publisher partnerships fall by the wayside

The exec added that, while their company has worked with Pinterest in an editorial capacity for years — thanks to it being a good traffic referral source — it was invited to work with Pinterest in a more official capacity earlier this summer.

“The point of this program is to be your buddy, and it’s really to train you and handhold you into how you can sell Pinterest the same way you sell your dotcom. [We want publishers to] use [Pinterest] the same way that you use your website,” said Jankowski. 

The pinpoints of Pinterest’s publisher program

There are 34 publishers currently in the Red Standard Program, according to Jankowski, who named Apartment Therapy, BDG and Dotdash Meredith. He added that only the publishers who organically received the most engagement on the platform (measured through pins saved by users) were invited to join. A Pinterest spokesperson added that the top 37% most engaged publishers who work with the platform in a one-to-one capacity were invited to join, but the company will be expanding it to include additional publishers next year. So far, there’s been a nearly 100% join rate among invited publishers. 

The terms of the Red Standard program include a number of perks all designed to educate publishers about the ad units and branded capabilities available to them and their advertisers, according to Jankowski: 

  1. Temporarily, participants will be provided with ad credits to teach them how to distribute branded content on the platform. 
  2. Participants also get a limited amount of funding, which Jankowski did not disclose, to help them recut existing video content for Pinterest and upload it all to the platform. 
  3. On Pinterest’s search landing page, publishers’ content will be featured to drive more views and engagement. 
  4. Participants receive one-to-one office hours with Pinterest’s team to ask questions or get guidance over how to use the platform. 
  5. They also are invited to send one representative for the Red Standard Council, which was created to share feedback from the publishers to Pinterest. 

In return, publishers in the program have agreed to continue posting content on Pinterest. Two publishers confirmed that the volume they’re required to post is on par with how they already used the platform editorially, though they would not disclose exactly how frequently they post on the platform.    

“We’re not going to sell a publisher that’s not really using Pinterest, so it’s a symbiotic relationship,” Jankowski said. 

Video content is very much at the center of this partnership. Thanks to the pivot to video during Facebook’s heyday, followed by the more recent pivot to short-form vertical video thanks to platforms like TikTok, Jankowski said, “a lot of these publishers have huge vaults of video-specific content and a lot of that makes a ton of sense for Pinterest.”

The revenue potential is still TBD 

Within the Red Standard Program is the Publisher Partnership Program, which is the rev-share component of the deal. Pinterest’s sales team sells branded content deals on behalf of the publisher, and since Pinterest is doing the bulk of the leg work to drive ad revenue for the publishers, the platform keeps the lion’s share of the money. 

All three publishers agreed that the terms were non-negotiable when they signed on and the Pinterest spokesperson added that “all of the publishers in the Red Standard beta receive the same revenue share potential.”  

Publishers in the program are on the fence as to whether Pinterest will be able to sell their inventory in the ad market, especially given the fact that this year has been tricky enough for publishers to sell ads at large. But amid revenue from Snapchat rev-shares decreasing and referral traffic from Meta platforms and X falling, the publishers who spoke to Digiday for this story did vocalize optimism at the very least for a platform willing to invest in their content at all. 

“The co-sell piece kicked off in August [and] we have not seen any traction yet, which, again, it’s new so I’m not saying it’s not going to produce any revenue. [But] it’s a tough ad market so I think bringing sponsors a co-branded pin program — it’s a weird time. It’s not that I don’t have faith in the model, it’s just hard to sell anything right now,” said a second publisher in the program who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A third publisher in the Red Standard program who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that while it’s hard to know just how much money will get back to them as a participant at this time, getting any compensation at all, and knowing that Pinterest is attempting to invest something back into active publishers on the platform is appreciated.

“[The publisher] is the content solution but Pinterest is the seller and so we’re doing a lot of brainstorming and having a lot of conversations with them… And that’s kind of how Snap had always operated [and it] was almost a self-sufficient business in itself. We have people who are creating content, and then we’re being compensated for that content being on the platform. That’s a perfect scenario for us,” said the third publisher. 

The first publisher mentioned that, while no ad deals have been sold yet from the co-sell, their internal sales team is still planning to pitch some of the new Pinterest tools and assets to advertisers in Q4 to try and generate interest. However, “it’s probably a little late for us to majorly impact 2023,” they said. 

And yet, the first publisher voiced optimism that this deal with Pinterest will be beneficial within the CPG, beauty and retail ad categories, and expects it to be more of “an incremental piece of the revenue pie, but focused on [those] specific categories.”

What we’ve heard

Some news from the Digiday Podcast: 

As of this week, Digiday’s senior media editor Tim Peterson will step down from his role as co-host of the podcast after nearly three years at the helm. Kimeko McCoy, Digiday’s senior marketing reporter, will serve as the new co-host of the Digiday Podcast alongside media editor Kayleigh Barber.

3 Qs with Future’s CRO Zack Sullivan

Future plc is rolling out a contextual targeting solution called Future Context, which categorizes pages in the CMS as soon as they’re live, thanks to a mix of machine learning and manual tagging. The company said this will allow them to more nimbly sell ads during fast-paced coverage moments like Black Friday.

It’s all part of the company’s efforts to use its own first-party data to sell against high-intent audiences and to prepare for the demise of the third-party cookie (a big topic at the Digiday Publishing Summit last month.)

Future’s advertising revenue is two-thirds direct and one-third programmatic, said Zack Sullivan, Future’s chief revenue officer. In August, around a quarter of Future’s advertisers were targeting campaigns using Aperture, the company’s first-party data audience targeting platform. One in five ad impressions are now targeted via Aperture. Roughly 60% of Future’s ad impressions are using contextual targeting, but Sullivan said it varies by season, and he declined to share how many of those impressions were through Future Context. – Sara Guaglione

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Why launch Future Context?

A lot of advertisers do still want to work on homepage takeovers, channel takeovers and channel sponsorships. And it made us realize we had probably been over-serving the audience-led marketers, and actually making the improvements in the contextual solution was the right thing to do… It’s probably the ultimate fallback, if there’s a real push towards privacy.

We publish just under 3 million new pages a year… So we can tag specifically what an article is about [and] that extra level of information we can take out of the CMS [and pass] over to [Aperture]… to then allow contextual targeting for users.

How are you selling the data and how much are you charging?

We have a stock set of [30 or 40 core] contextual targeting segments… So you might want to target people who are interested in new [cellphones]. That would be a really standard [tier one cohort]. A tier two might be an Apple or Samsung device. Then we can add to that [and find] someone who’s interested in iPhone 15 [versus] someone interested in Samsung Galaxy S22 user guides.

A lot of the tier [one] stuff is a really, really minimal charge. We’re really just charging to cover our admin costs of running the servers… We want the barrier to entry for [advertisers] working with us to be really low. We will charge premiums for really niche asks [in tier two]. Partly, that’s because of the scarcity. That audience is just inherently a bit more valuable… It’s not a ton more than what you’d have paid before for using third-party data.

Has all the recent hoopla around made-for-advertising sites put pressure on publishers to deliver better KPIs to prove their campaigns actually result in audience engagement or transactions?

Made-for-advertising sites [are] almost helpful because, broadly speaking, they are terrible… Having things like made-for-advertising sites crop up shows what bad performance looks like. It shows what using just open web, open auction advertising results in. You end up with campaigns that can often deliver pretty poor results. Sometimes I think they’re spamming. And probably bordering on fraudulent activity to drive clicks to try and artificially boost the campaign.

A big driver of why you choose to work with a premium publisher [is because] you’re getting all that extra security and guarantee by default. If we under-deliver, you can come and say to us, this wasn’t good enough… And we will work with people to get it right next time.

Numbers to know

$14: The amount of money that Meta plans to charge European users per month for to have an ad-free experience on the mobile Instagram app or $17 per month for Instagram plus Facebook on desktop. If they don’t pay up, Meta is proposing that users will have to allow the company to track their online activity to deliver targeted ads.

500,000: The number of digital subscribers that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution plans to have by the end of 2026, which is more than a 700% increase from its current digital subscriber base of 60,000.

$40 million: The amount of money that Front Office Sports is now worth following the minority stake purchased by former CNN CEO Jeff Zucker.

7-figures: The budget for The Philadelphia Inquirer’s first major ad campaign in decades, which will span more than three years and is targeted to lure millennial readers. 

1,000: The number of applications submitted to Gannett for the Taylor Swift and Beyoncé reporter roles posted by the publisher last month.

What we’ve covered

Publishers reckon with declining Facebook referral traffic as the platform pulls away from news: 

  • Publishers are still feeling the effects of a change Facebook made in May that caused a steep decline in referral traffic to publishers’ sites.
  • Nearly four months later, publishers aren’t sure when, or if, that traffic will come back. 

Read more about declining referral traffic from Facebook here.

There is a new definition for MFAs, but it’s meant to be open to interpretation: 

  • A new definition for made-for-advertising sites has officially been released by a group of trade organizations. 
  • But given the fact that the definition stopped “short of creating a standard,” some think it’s going to be difficult for everyone to evaluate and classify publishers as MFAs the same way. 

Learn more about the trade orgs’ new definition here and why it’s purposefully vague here

Publishers weigh generative AI’s pros and cons during the Digiday Publishing Summit:

  • AI was a major focal point throughout the summit and for the most part, publishers’ focus for the moment seems to be on how AI can make people’s jobs easier, as opposed to taking people’s jobs away. 
  • Publishers seem to be exerting a healthy amount of caution — and concern — when it comes to how much of their businesses they want to expose to AI.

Hear more thoughts on AI from publishers here

ChatGPT’s latest update fuels publishers’ concerns about AI chatbots siphoning traffic:

  • Since the birth of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, publishers have expressed concerns that the generative AI chatbot’s ability to give information without citing sources could lead to a decline in the referral traffic publishers get from search results.
  • Now that ChatGPT users can use the tool to surf the internet for real-time information, some publishers are reconsidering the weight of the issue.

Read more about how publishers are handling the new update here

Why publishers are questioning the effectiveness of blocking AI web crawlers:

  • A number of publishers were quick to block OpenAI’s web crawler from accessing their sites.
  • But whether this tactic is actually effective is debatable, according to conversations with five publishing executives. 

See why publishers think the block to OpenAI’s web crawler is nothing more than a “symbolic gesture” here.

What we’re reading

Bloomberg Media is prioritizing events: 

After its live events revenue increased by 48% year over year, Bloomberg Media is undergoing an internal restructuring to “streamline operations” around events and integrated marketing in the coming year, Adweek reported.

Fact-checking isn’t enough to stop deepfakes:

Labeling deepfake videos, used to spur disinformation, as fake appears to only go so far, according to Casey Newton’s Platformer. Ahead of the 2024 presidential election, AI and disinformation could be more of a problem than ever. 

News head Campbell Brown is out at Meta: 

Axios reported that veteran journalist Campbell Brown, who spearheaded Facebooks’ news business, is leaving her role as head of media partnerships at Meta this fall. Meta’s been actively distancing itself from news (see Digiday’s story on declining referral traffic from the platform), and this exit further proves the company’s intentions. 

The Messenger is using AI to remove reporting bias: 

Media startup The Messenger signed a multiyear, multimillion-dollar partnership with AI tech company Seekr, which has a tool aimed at eliminating bias from stories by highlighting clickbait, subjectivity or personal opinion in stories, according to another report from Adweek.

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