Three mistakes that get publishers kicked off the direct-buy shortlist

You put out a request, wait for the proposals to roll in, hammer out the details, and then, weeks later, a deal is struck. When direct digital buys center on local or regional inventory, they can move at a pace that’s categorically analog. But sometimes, going direct is the only way to be sure you’re getting what you ask for.

“When you’re talking about being relevant in a specific location, publishers that are familiar and think locally are really important,” said Emmy Spahr, director of programmatic at Razorfish. “At the end of the day, a guaranteed buy is the very best way to make sure that you’re going to, number one, deliver in full against the allocation of impressions that you want, but number two, be consistently in the exact content where you’re going to influence your audience”

Unfortunately, most of these crucial buys lack key digital benefits that have become table stakes for the media transaction process. We asked agency buyers which issues can get a publisher knocked off their direct-buy shortlist.

Not the most transparent offerings

Each direct relationship takes time to manage, so buyers don’t want to waste any vetting partners that don’t even have what they need. But knowing who does isn’t always as easy as it sounds, as publishers’ local and regional offerings are rarely transparent.

“One of the bigger challenges for us is really understanding what the inventory is,” said Carolyn O’Leary, group director of The Media Kitchen. “A lot of local publishers are used to having more of a verbal agreement with someone, so a lot of it is handled with back-and-forth conversations.”

“We were negotiating a buy with a local radio station website, and one of the immediate challenges was just figuring out what kind of a budget level made sense and what kind of inventory and reach was available. This wasn’t something that it was so easy to get at.”

Getting lost in geo-translation

To up the challenge, something as basic as a specific designated market area (DMA) can mean different things to different parties. Buyers can often do little more than cross their fingers and hold their breath until they get some campaign results to see if everyone was speaking the same geo-targeting language.

“There are definitely differences in how each of those partners define their regions,” said Spahr. “In some cases, we want to be at the zip-code level or even the city level. Certain partners can only offer DMA. That’s something that planners have to carefully navigate to make sure we’re not seeing a huge disparity in terms of where each partner’s ads are showing up.”

Guarding against this risk takes extra effort on the part of buyers. “We need to be very exact about telling our clients what we’ve bought into for them and then putting the safety measures in place with third parties to make sure the ads are appearing where they’re supposed to.”

Missing the digital boat

The worst part? Reckoning geo-terms and a perpetual back and forth takes time, and that’s not something buyers have in excess. For Spahr, the turnaround for one of these direct deals can be incredibly frustrating.

“Because of the scarcity of specific regions, it can take over a week for the publisher to respond with their avail,” she said. “When we have a request, we need to be able to respond to our clients about a recommendation very quickly. In some cases, if somebody is not able to turn around that information quickly, we don’t end up purchasing from them mostly because of timing. That can be a big deterrent when you’re working in a geo-targeted way.”

“Just to have a small digital buy with this one [radio] station [site], it took several hours and a few weeks of back-and-forth to be able to actually implement the buy,” agreed O’Leary. “You can imagine that, trying to scale that among multiple publishers, the bandwidth isn’t there.”

Despite all the shortcomings, these buyers do want to work directly with publishers, and luckily the platform solutions are out there for publishers who know where to find them. But until they use those solutions to make it easier for buyers to have a look at what they’re selling and make buying a more frictionless experience, publishers will see the number of those direct relationships dwindle. And in that scenario, everyone loses.

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