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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Telegraph, Future, Guardian, and Immediate on direct-sold strategies

March 25, 2024 | By Thomas Baart, Customer Success Manager – Permutive @permutive
The topline: As third-party cookies finally fade, publishers are positioned to provide brands and agencies with the data, insights, and audience addressability they’re looking for through direct relationships.

We recently hosted a discussion with a panel of industry experts from some of the UK’s biggest publishers. Panellists included Karen Eccles, Chief Commercial Officer at The Telegraph; Nick Flood, Global Ad Product & Revenue Operations Director at Future; Katie Le Ruez, Director of Digital at The Guardian; and Matthew Rance, Head of Commercial Data & Analytics at Immediate Media. Here’s what they have to say about building first-party strategies and direct relationships with advertisers to grow revenue. 

Direct relationships 

As we (finally) wave goodbye to third-party cookies, publishers are perfectly positioned to provide brands and agencies with the data, insights, and audience addressability they’re looking for through more direct relationships. In fact, they’ve been ready to offer that to advertisers for a very long time, according to Eccles.

“All the publishers on the panel have been putting in place the technology, the products, and the story, for this year for a really long time, and it’s finally here,” he said. “My worry is revenue moving to walled gardens. But my hope – and we’re seeing it borne out in our revenue and the conversations that we’re having – is that there are more conversations between publishers and agencies, but also with clients. At the moment, 75% of our digital ad revenue is transacted as direct-sold or PG,” explained Eccles.

“We can work with clients to help them answer questions that they might have about ‘why isn’t this particular product landing? How do I connect to the target audience? Can I test creative to understand what really resonates?’”


Even while the world still has Chrome’s third-party cookies, exploring these direct partnerships could be very beneficial for advertisers, because only 30% of the open web is currently addressable (even with them still around). Half of consumers already use browsers where third-party tracking is blocked, and 40% of people using Chrome have disabled tracking.

That’s one of the reasons why Immediate Media was an early mover with its data proposition, which focuses on telling a story with its data and presenting this to clients, according to Rance. “Something we’ve found as the most important thing is the story that we tell with our data. It’s so important,” said Rance.

“We launched our data proposition back in 2018, which was, all things considered, fairly early… at the time, it was really interesting and innovative tech, because there were all of these buzzwords that we were mentioning that no one had heard about like cookieless and on-device.

“What we found over time is that it was really interesting to clients and certainly helped get a foot in the door. But it wasn’t the most important thing. The most important thing was the story we articulated with our data.”

But, for any publisher to form an effective data strategy, they need to be willing to put the money into making that a reality.

“It requires investment in the data infrastructure and resources,” said Le Ruez. “At The Guardian, increasingly, we’ve been investing in digital experts, audience experts, data analysts, working very closely with our products. We’re trying to ensure that connection between sales and expertise is really considered and always-on.”

Part of that also means being “more proactive” with advertisers and internally, Le Ruez continued. “So, making sure that we understand not just advertising data, but also the data that other departments within The Guardian have. We try to identify opportunities from sign-ups or review ratings, etc., to get a better holistic view of everything. And then, from there, work out what has value for advertising purposes. It’s an enormous job, but it’s something that we’re really excited about.”

Driving better conversations

While the changing ecosystem, and recognition of the importance of first-party data, are helping to drive more direct conversations between publishers and advertisers, it’s also having a significant impact on how “grown-up” those conversations are, as Flood sees it.

“Two years ago, you would never get a question from an agency about what the audience’s make-up was. Now, especially in the US, I’d say 50% of responses that have some data element, you will get follow-up questions. What’s the source? How have you made a cohort? Are you using third-party? Is it a seed? All those questions,” said Flood.

“I think agencies have increased their knowledge in this sphere, which is good because you can have bigger, more grown-up conversations about better relationships and partnerships.”

These conversations are being driven by agencies now being “held a lot more accountable to their clients,” and understanding that there is more to marketing than just the viewability or clicks numbers. Nonetheless, while those conversations are now more knowledgeable, there is still room for them to start happening much earlier in the process, Flood concluded.

A pivotal role for publishers 

Our recent panel discussion shed light on publishers’ pivotal role in shaping the future of digital advertising through data, especially given the open marketplace’s addressability challenges and the decline of third-party data. 

The insights shared by Karen Eccles, Nick Flood, Katie Le Ruez, and Matthew Rance underscore the preparedness of publishers to harness first-party strategies and establish direct relationships with advertisers but also highlight the growing accountability of agencies to their clients. 

As the industry adapts, publishers remain poised to deliver valuable data, insights, and audience addressability through direct and meaningful collaborations. 

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