It might be a cliche, but this year really is looking like a pivotal moment for the media industry. As we enter 2023, America’s top publishers face a rapidly changing landscape. To survive and thrive through increasingly uncertain times, many publishers are working hard to upskill their talent, reorganize their priorities and teams, and implement new campaign management technologies. In this article we will take a closer look at these strategies, exploring how leading publishers are adapting to the most pressing challenges and opportunities of our time – and whether they will be enough.
Upskilling employees and poaching tech talent
It’s an undeniable reality that media jobs are evolving so that they increasingly resemble tech jobs. The digitalization of publishing has made it increasingly difficult for individuals to succeed without a base level of tech competence—from search engine optimization to content management systems, and analytics to automation.
Publishers can no longer afford to be slow to learn or implement new technology. Market-leading publishers have two options: either upskill their existing workforce or seek out new talent with strong technical credentials.
In our circle of clients and partners, we’ve seen both. And, when it comes to finding new talent, there is a growing trend for traditional publishers to poach from the tech industry. The benefit is that not only do they bring the competences desired, but also a fundamentally different, digital-first mindset that many publishers recognize will be invaluable this year. E-commerce, for instance, is increasingly of interest to publishers who are embracing self-serve ad sales. Understanding the basic mechanics of cart abandonment, checkout optimization, and prospect nurturing are great ways to make ad sales more profitable and reduce manual workload.
Reorganizing priorities and teams
The second strategy we are seeing implemented across leading publisher brands is reorientation across multiple levels of the organization. For a long time, the business model of publishers has supported extensive, high-cost sales teams. With increased competition from everything from new social platforms to streaming television—and an uncertain economy—sales will never be the same. The traditional seller of print ads is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Many digital-first publishers are skipping sales teams altogether, where others are upskilling and redirecting focus to self-serve processes.
We’re already seeing major layoffs from the likes of CNN, NBC, the BBC, Vox Media, and more. But at the same time, publishers cannot afford to sacrifice growth. So, they are looking for new and more efficient ways to bring in revenue, and to design teams and projects that prioritize profitability. Buzzfeed for example, who laid off 12% of their workforce in December, saw their stock rocket upwards by 150% when they announced that they would be integrating AI into their core business, using generative text models to create new content.
New technology and automation
As ad sales teams come under increasing pressure and reduced headcount, publishers are looking for new, more cost-efficient ways to capture ad revenue and streamline their ad operations. At the same time, hyper-localization, made possible by new technologies, is pushing publishers to reconsider how they interact with audiences, and what targeting options to offer to advertisers. One growing area of interest is self-serve campaign platforms. Designed to allow publishers to sell ad inventory directly to advertisers (as opposed to the opaque supply chains of programmatic, and the labor-intensive processes of direct sales), self-serve platforms are on the rise.
Leading publishers that have launched new advertising projects recently include The Wall Street Journal, McClatchy, and Rogers Sports & Media. All of these publishers, regardless of their specific audiences or heritage, share one pressing concern: to re-establish quality publishing as an alternative to Big Tech’s advertising dominance of the past decade.
At the same time, brands like Disney have led the way in developing proprietary ad technology, giving themselves greater flexibility and control over their ads business. Disney’s Audience Graph for example, based on first-party data, offers advertisers access to over 1,800 segments with visibility into 100,000 audience attributes. Having control over that aspect of the process allows the company to have more freedom and command, which enables them to focus on fulfilling the advertising needs of their clients and their own business objectives.
Where do we go from here?
All of this to say that publishers are looking ahead at a year full of uncertainty, rapidly evolving technology, and a shifting landscape that will see many tried and tested revenue models becoming outdated. From our experience with clients and partners, we can only offer this advice: be bold, but not reckless. Experiment, but be cautious not to get swept up in new trends without due diligence. And above all, keep your eyes and ears open – too many publishers are focused on their own internal struggles rather than framing them within the industry at large.