Online and Offline Aligned: Condé Nast’s Print/Event/Digital Convergence

When you’re as focused on digital media as we are at AdMonsters, sometimes it’s important to remember the offline world still exists, and it’s generating serious money for a lot of publishers who are active in it. If you’re coming from the point of view of a media company with a rich legacy in print, though–or if you’re going hard in event sponsorships–you don’t need to be reminded. Each of these channels–print, digital and events–has value to advertisers, which is great news until you start comparing their performance, or bringing together processes for managing front-to-end orders and overall revenue. That part can get convoluted very quickly.

But the convergence of digital, print and event revenue is something Condé Nast has been rooting for. The media giant has been working with FatTail for solutions to increase efficiency and transparency, and to reduce headaches. I was curious about which processes they needed to bring together, what that means from an engineering perspective, the benefits they want for their internal teams and their advertiser clients, and what their online/offline revenue management utopia looks like. Fortunately, I knew how to reach Lauren Farber, Condé’s Senior Director of Business Operations, and Alvaro Villa, FatTail’s VP, Account Management. They both took the time recently to get us up to speed on how print, digital and event revenue is coming together.

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BRIAN LaRUE: At first, this topic reminded me of my own time in print, 10 years ago. In those days, the sales team had to convince advertisers of digital’s ROI. What’s challenging right now in the conversations you’re having with advertiser clients?

LAUREN FARBER: We’ve been having this conversation a while, but now it’s in a new, much more integrated way. It’s about creating a premium experience for advertisers, similar to what they used to expect in print. How can we make digital feel as exclusive as print, and take advantage of the interactivity offered by channels like social and branded content? Our branded content plays and social plays are huge. We have a full division focused on producing custom video, either brand-led or driven by ad campaigns partnered with our publications.

The easiest play for events is around sponsoring events that already exist, like GQ’s Man of the Year. Our internal agency, 23 Stories, has services for advertisers that want to do anything custom-built through our publisher brands. We’ve recently acquired Pop2Life to create and sponsor events—including custom events, like, theoretically, a pop-up shop with a brand like Vogue or Wired.

BRIAN: What are Condé’s goals in bringing together information about print and event and digital revenue?

LAUREN: Internally, it’s about bringing together a holistic pipeline and revenue picture, then finding the white space for other advertisers in those same categories. Where are our advertisers spending? Are there others in the same competitive set that should be spending in those channels as well? Externally, it’s about having a holistic offering for our clients. We have some of the strongest print brands in the industry, and that is what we’re originally known for, but how do we push the envelope in digital—for example, using our social handles that have millions of followers?

BRIAN: Between print, digital and events, what processes did you want to unify in the sales/order/revenue management process?

LAUREN: As someone who is black belt Six Sigma certified, I would love for all of it to be consolidated! Making the entire package available to an advertiser as they would like it is extremely important — pipeline, insertion order and post-campaign reporting, with points of contact for each stage— but each purchase path may require a bit of specialization. The metrics are not all the same.

BRIAN: What does tracking these various revenue streams mean from an engineering perspective? What needs to be built out?

LAUREN: It all starts for us with having different Salesforce opportunities, like events, digital and print, within the same space. Is there a way to create one opportunity for the whole campaign, and push out to a revenue management system like FatTail’s AdBook+ to capture the details? Today, our digital goes to one place, print goes to another, and events go directly to financial. Not that efficient, right? We’re working with FatTail on providing automated pricing models and rate cards in the tools, so you can have a consolidated IO, single invoice downstream, holistic internal reporting, all with the vision to easily identify revenue opportunities.

Having it all in one place also means we can standardize the products we offer and make it simpler for sales support staff to identify the best product. As opposed to learning about the latest offerings in a training or marketing meeting – that’s how information can get missed.

Approval workflow is another thing. Today it’s done over email or the phone for the print and event sides of the business. We need the ability to book a product in an order management system and have the workflow live there as well, so everything is more streamlined and you can consistently select the highest-ROI product.

BRIAN: A lot of media companies are managing cross-channel order tracking in spreadsheets—highly manual, but at least customizable. What’s FatTail doing to present Condé a system that’s at least as flexible as Excel?

ALVARO (AL) VILLA: A spreadsheet is easy, but at a certain point—especially with a client as big as a Condé Nast—it becomes unwieldy. You need to centralize that information. You want good approval processes. When you have spreadsheets, that workflow becomes harder to enforce.

On the engineering side, a lot of what FatTail does on any convergence project is learning the workflow. In this scenario, the rating piece is also key. AdBook is very flexible and we’re trying to design a solution that meets the very different needs of the print animal, without drastically changing people’s lives.

LAUREN: Today we have an internal BI (business intelligence) tool that pulls from all of these different locations, and it really tires out the system. We’re in process to eliminate spreadsheets for revenue and pipeline tracking through the BI tool—if it were to come from one place, somebody could pull from all of those different systems and generate the reporting they need on the back end, and have it stored in one system. Right now, with sales support staff, we have completely different people entering orders for print and digital, mostly because they use different systems. There are a lot of efficiencies that can be gained not just on the people front, but with job functionality. Let’s get those people doing more strategic work.

BRIAN: Where do you stand in allowing buyers to shift spend from one channel to another without causing extra pain for your staff?

LAUREN: When you’re working with an advertiser direct, one person, like the CMO, is typically responsible for the whole purchase, including shifting spend. But when you purchase through agencies, it’s still very segmented. There’s usually a digital buyer and a print buyer. Let’s pretend you’re in a situation where print is decreasing, which is the normal industry trend. I want to move that budget over to digital. Today, internally it would just look like the print side lost a page and digital upsold—which is partially why I want to get it all into one system. I want that cohesive feeling that even if there were two different buyers, the same amount of money shifted. This insight would help us provide more helpful recommendations to our clients, allowing for upsell opportunities.

BRIAN: AdMonsters recently published a piece where we talked about the increasing complexity of direct deals and how that trend affects the ops team. Does that relate to what we’re talking about now, with digital/offline convergence?

LAUREN: With direct deals, it’s fascinating how agencies will push for a programmatic deal when it doesn’t matter on our end that it’s purchased programmatically. These are things like homepage takeovers, which would never be considered programmatic at a non-premium publisher. So, how do you manage that? We have to train our staff to be fluent in how to set up deals programmatically, when truly what they’re submitting to us is a contract for exclusive placements.

AL: There’s a reason those deals are getting more complex, because programmatic–along with the solutions ad tech companies have built to negotiate it–is getting so commoditized. This convergence plays really nicely to that theme.

BRIAN: In this cross-channel convergence, how much of FatTail’s solution is ready out of the box and how much needs to be customized to the individual media business?

AL: Print does have some unique characteristics that don’t exist in the digital framework. For example, there are different workflow and approval concepts around a print publication (or issue) being open or closed; that will likely need to be customized. But a lot of Condé’s concerns could be handled by the existing AdBook order management and workflow feature sets, and we’re confident we can quickly bridge any gaps.  Feature enhancements are something we’re adept at with our agile development processes and our monthly release cycle.

BRIAN: Are the biggest media companies—those with the budgets to custom-order solutions—going to be the beneficiaries of this convergence? Is there hope for smaller publishers with a loyal audience, but not necessarily a lot of money to throw around?

AL: The theme of convergence is one are seeing across the industry – it’s prevalent in discussions with prospective and existing media clients alike. Lauren mentioned earlier that publishers need to provide more value to their advertisers outside of a standard digital brand. Any publisher that has the capability to sell across channels like print, broadcast, events, or audience extension, in a holistic offering is going to do better. We’re extending the AdBook platform in new ways — something that we build for Condé would provide value for other clients wanting to manage print in our system.