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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Four media companies on tackling signal loss with data collaboration

The Arena Group, Hearst, TelevisaUnivision, and The Washington Post share strategic insights on identity, clean rooms, and exceeding ad industry expectations

June 24, 2024 | By Jeffrey Rosello, VP Customer Success – Permutive@permutive

Signal loss makes it increasingly difficult for advertisers to run campaigns across the open web. Traditional methods for prospecting and direct response are particularly impacted, with only 30% of the open web currently being addressable.

This change places advertisers in a challenging position, making it difficult to reach their target audience and maintain brand equity, especially on the open web. However, publishers and broadcasters are uniquely positioned to assist advertisers in navigating these issues, as they have not experienced signal loss.

Media companies have highly engaged audiences and access to a growing variety and volume of behavioral and contextual data points, which are essential for effective audience modeling. Essentially, publishers are the key to achieving 100% addressability and the future of targeting on the open web. However, to maximize the value of these insights, they need tools that foster collaboration and provide advertisers with clarity amidst the chaos.

To gain insights into how publishers are strategically addressing these issues, Permutive gathered four customers and publishing leaders who are reimagining data collaboration. We asked them where they see opportunities and how they are solving the challenges that arise.

Our panel included Stephanie Mazzamaro, VP, Addressability & Premium Programmatic at The Arena Group, Michael Nuzzo, SVP Data Solutions at Hearst Magazines, Josh Peters, Global Head of Commercial Data Strategy and Programmatic Operations at The Washington Post, and Bethany Hillman, Vice President, Data and Advertising Operations at TelevisaUnivision. 

Here are the four key insights from that discussion: 

1. Solving for signal loss: What advertisers want

The panel’s resoundingly indicated that advertisers are looking to publishers to solve signal loss across the open web and the addressability data gap caused by privacy regulations and third-party cookie deprecation. Josh Peters at The Washington Post emphasized the complexity of these advertiser requests. He said they are seeing varied inquiries about data access and standards and noted the challenge of advocating for better solutions beyond standard industry offerings. He said: “They want the IAB standard. We have to make the case that we actually have something better.” 

Stephanie Mazzamaro at The Arena Group stressed the need for standardizing signals. She explained that one of the big initiatives and challenges for the publisher this year is making the signals a standard but still unique. “How do we still create that special sauce and still provide differentiators in the marketplace?, she mused. On the issue of creating standardized audiences –  and echoing Mazzamaro’s challenge – Michael Nuzzo at Hearst Magazines said: “Having a single person be one thing, at any given time, is kind of an impossible task.”

Publishers know their audience, and, through the right tech, can connect the dots and provide insights into audiences that advertisers might not realize. Nuzzo believes it’s important to understand who users are at the right time in a given contextual space and expand beyond existing user bases. 

He said that “it’s something that advertisers and agencies understand really well: If someone’s reading about dog food, I should serve them a dog food ad. But we also know, through a taxonomy, that people who are interested in dog food are often outdoor runners because they run with their dogs. And so we open up new audiences, and we’re not just pitching these people into a single segment.”   

2. Metrics for success: Moving away from clicks  

The Arena Group has put a lot of resources into launching “as many IDs as possible” to find its North Star, and has started shifting from page views to addressability metrics, focusing on user engagement and “stickiness.” Highlighting the role of Permutive’s new identity hub in streamlining these efforts, Mazzamarro said her team has been busy finding ways to use contextual with addressable audiences. They are also focused on finding ways to make them stickier and have created a scorecard internally to measure them. 

Amid the furor of made-for-advertising sites (MFAs) and external companies deciding the premium status of publishers, is a focus on quality and equipping premium publishers to tell their own story through insights, which can be used at every stage of the sales cycle. Washington Post, for example. is moving towards quality over quantity, emphasizing time spent and exposure. They are also using clean room interactions for better post-campaign analytics and insights. 

Peters told the audience the publisher is being more precise with its actions and feedback to advertisers. For example, if an advertiser spends money in one area, Washington Post can point out another area with better performance and time on site, suggesting they focus more there. He said: “That’s what the advertisers are looking for and that’s where the dollars are going to end up.” 

The challenge here is different for broadcasters, particularly given the proximity to its end users in the app environment and considering both linear and digital buyers. TelevisaUnivision is packaging digital metrics with traditional video and CTV platforms, aiming to provide comprehensive audience insights and drive better market adoption. “I’m pulling those linear buyers through,” explained Bethany Hillman at TelevisaUnivision. “Not just saying you have to purchase video and big-screen, but giving them the full concept of all the digital metrics, we’re not just looking at households. Pulling that market along has been the most important piece for us. 

3. Identity management: Connecting disparate data  

TelevisaUnivision and The Arena Group both see identity management as an important part of their strategies, particularly the need for consolidation and easier data access to drive forward resource allocation and storytelling. Referencing Permutive’s Collaboration and Connectivity products, Bethany Hillman at TelevisaUnivision said: “We have offline pieces. I’m calling APIs to get data in. I’m trying to find coverage in different places. For me, the consolidation is going to be huge.” 

Nuzzo at Hearst stressed the responsibility of managing identity data, including consent management and internal collaboration to maximize data utility. 

It’s important to be transparent about that data, too. Hearst integrates identity and data with media activations, determining value through CPM uplift. Washington Post has developed a dashboard to track audience transactions and contextual performance, providing transparent and actionable insights company-wide.

4. Clean room: Scaled activation versus single solution 

Washington Post and The Arena Group both discussed the challenges of adopting and implementing clean room technologies, calling for clear next steps and collaboration to fully leverage these tools. Mazzamaro said “it’s a checkbox” for agencies when they ask if publishers can access clean rooms. It’s always a positive reaction when a publisher says yes, but that agency always runs something else that does not require a clean room. “Working through adoption is really hard as an industry,” explained Mazzamaro. 

TelevisaUnivision highlighted a partnership with Home Depot to illustrate the potential of clean rooms but said that “it’s an oxymoron that clean rooms equal data collaboration.” She said: “What I’ve seen so far is you load your data in, and you get a match rate… where I am collaborating on data? My big hope for clean rooms as we stand them up, is that we see the activation, not just from a one-to-one match perspective, but really to see that growth scale and to collaborate for the first time. So what data can I bring to the table to help that person expand their consumers.”  

The critical role of data collaboration

In the face of signal loss, publishers and broadcasters play a vital role in addressing advertisers’ needs for audience reach on the open web. As our panelists have discussed, advertisers are coming to them with requests because they possess highly engaged audiences and access to a wealth of data points. 

By leveraging data collaboration strategies and connectivity tools, publishers can advance the industry by consolidating disparate data for effective identity management and fully realizing the potential of clean rooms for scaled activation and data collaboration. These strategies will enable the media industry to continue providing effective audience targeting and drive greater success in an evolving digital landscape.

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