Hearst, DailyMail.Com, & Nexstar Digital Layout Their Digital Advertising Keys to Success

Three widely known news publishers sat down for a main-stage panel discussion during our most recent Publisher Forum in Nashville. They hashed out the steps they are taking to continue to thrive in a space where publishers have to alter their survival and monetization tactics. 

Lorin E. Bona, head of analytics & revenue optimizations for News & Media Holding Companies at Google, led the discussion. It outlined not only each publisher’s first-party data practices but the strategies they are all taking in working with sales teams, editorial, revenue diversification, and each executive’s predictions regarding the industry’s future going into 2023 and beyond. 

We got to hear from Scott Both, VP of programmatic monetization & operations at Hearst, Jeremy Gan, SVP of revenue operations & data strategy at DailyMail.com, and Pamela Nguyen, director of revenue analytics at Nexstar Digital. 

We learned from this panel that a revenue and data strategy department can only make some things happen by standing on its own two feet. By working with sales teams and editorial departments, publishers are beginning to see the most success. 

Attendees left the room with resourceful recommendations for strengthening their digital advertising strategies.

First-party Data Strategy, Testing & Iteration 

In an ad tech world full of dying cookies, publishers now more than ever realize the power of their first-party data. The concept of the death of cookies is now a rebirth as it presents a slew of opportunities for publishers to strategize the best ways to use the data they’ve accumulated. 

At DailyMail.com, they look at data in general as a two-prong process. The first process for them is finding addressability for non-addressable inventory. Then secondly, they gather that PII data and provide it as an option for their buyers in a privacy-centric way. 

Hearst programmatic monetization and operations teams think about data as business intelligence and consumer information. The business intelligence they have built helps inform editorial and helps rev ops understand what users are shopping for when they are reading product reviews on specific sites. 

“This whole aspect fuels the next decision a company will make,” said Both from Hearst. “There’s ongoing innovation there. You have a separate category of consumer information and how that links with our advertising systems. What are your users reading? That indicates where you have a strong position to build a data product.”

Hearst and Nexstar Digital pointed out that they have a large team that focuses on data products and solutions and that they’re constantly building new first-party audience products.

Educate Your Sales Team On Your First-party Data

Nexstar Digital owns over 120 news stations and their accompanying websites, and they work with predominantly local and regional advertisers. Within these sectors, budgets are tighter than usual, and the challenge here lies in finding advertisers willing to adopt and experiment more when working with some of Nexstar Digital’s first-party data products. 

“Education is key. It is important that you make sure your sales teams know how to address advertisers’ underlying anxiety about your current sales strategies,” explained Nguyen from Nexstar Digital. “Make sure sales understands that when looking to stretch your dollar a little bit further, you can utilize first-party data products to expand into environments that are no longer “addressable” when it comes to third-party data products.”

Along with the internal education aspect, DailyMail.com added that as revenue and ad ops executives, we also need to break down pre-existing walls that can separate publishers from revenue diversification opportunities. It’s time we help sales understand all capabilities we can offer to buyers that can help differentiate us from other publishers. We also need to help them feel confident in going to market because we can segment up our inventory to provide the necessary targeting, addressability, and audiences they want. 

Lastly, in strengthening the relationship between you and your sales team, Hearst Magazines suggests creating a feedback loop where you take in feedback from your sales team on which request they’re getting from their clients in the market. What is coming out of the agencies and advertisers that they work with? What are the needs or asks? Ask these questions and follow up by sending that information back to your data/product teams. From there, you can build something to help service those deals. 

Creating Revenue-Driving Page Experiences With Editorial 

The relationship between ad tech and editorial can either be nonexistent, shaky, or minimal, but it’s time that ad tech and revenue teams collaborate more with editorial departments. The relationship should be a two-way street. While writers may not necessarily be trying to optimize for the best outcomes when writing an article, they can optimize for less bad outcomes.

“When I was starting, there was a tough line between church and state when it comes to commercial and editorial,” Gan, from DailyMail.com, explained. “While the line still exists, in many ways, we are having a lot more conversations with editors. This is an evolution beyond the old-school advertising model. We are moving to a more diversified revenue stream for media companies. So really working closely with editorial and producing page types and environments that help them reach their goals. Then the wall is no longer church and state, but we can now provide them with commercial analytics to show what articles are performing best.”

For a long time, there was a lack of scoring and measurement in a way that publishing groups needed, but thanks to Google core web vitals, there’s now a score, a framework, and a rubric for determining whether or not a page experience is good or not. At Hearst Magazines, Both sees the assignment of a score as instrumental in managing the balance between advertising and editorial tasks. 

Generally, a publisher should ask what a good experience for the user’s needs is and how it can be measured accurately, not by simply evaluating the opinion of the internal group. However, it is great to create polls and surveys to get their opinions when it comes to consumers and users who view your web pages often, but a scoring system is critical. 

Revenue Diversification Recommendations

Each of the three publishers on this panel provided excellent recommendations for revenue diversification:

  • Introduce content strategies that are a good fit for your consumers and audiences who frequently consume content on your website. Through this, you can find ways to have it be complementary to your advertising business
  • Look into affiliate marketing; commerce is huge 
  • Don’t be afraid of exploring new categories, for instance, sports betting
  • Double down on your resources on ID fronts and retain addressability
  • Diversify your sales strategies
  • Find natural synergies between linear and digital, and leverage those synergies in ownership over video content to expand into Livestream, OTT, and CTV (if you haven’t already) by nature. This will diversify your revenue.

2023 and Beyond

There’d be no advertising business if consumers were not visiting your website, and for this reason, your relationship with your consumers is primary. It’s essential to start with your consumers and ensure that your relationship with them guides decisions on short versus long-term revenue.

Next, strengthen your partner relationships. With the recession coming, focus on the relationships with your partners and make joint decisions. As publishers, we must also figure out the data front with the buy side. With all these federal regulations coming in, how do we work together with the buy side to figure out our next moves? 

Lastly, focus and listen to your editorial teams to ensure that what you’re doing benefits their goals. Unify your efforts and realize that everybody has a stake in those same main KPIs and metrics. The goal is to keep flipping content. There is so much in alignment between what drives traffic, what drives those eyeballs, and what we can earn.