Processing PubForum: Highlights from Huntington Beach

AdMonsters’ 44th Publisher Forum wrapped, but I’m still here in Huntington Beach, CA, decompressing a bit and quietly assembling the event summary attendees can share with their teams when they’re back in the office. There’s a lot to process—spirits were high all week here at the PubForum, attendees were especially engaged and talkative, and plans are underway to keep these discussions going in one digital channel or another. But I wanted to take a minute and point out what seemed to be the juiciest topics of the Forum.

Rob Beeler, Gavin Dunaway and I all knew brand safety was going to be a big one this time, as it’s on just about everyone’s lips on both the buy side and the sell side, and it involves so many elements of the publisher business. For one of our attendee sessions, Adam Moser, Hulu’s Head of Ad Tech and Platform Operations, put together a meaty presentation on why the brand safety discussion seems to have exploded recently, and what’s at stake for publishers. But brand safety came up almost as soon as our first keynote, Trusted Media Brands’ President and CEO Bonnie Kintzer, took to the dais on Monday morning. Her talk was about how creating and maintaining a better user experience—a process guided by listening to your users, giving them what they tell you they want, and focusing on the products and experiences that perform best—can really drive monetization. So it’s not surprising that brand safety is part of that process.

Part of how you get there, Bonnie explained, was that you don’t necessarily put an ad on everything. You don’t necessarily sponsor every product that could be sponsored. But you can stay open to pulling advertisers into these experiences, and you can incorporate advertising or sponsorships where buyers recognize the value of being in those environments specifically.

Which relates to another subject we heard throughout the Forum: A brand-safe environment is one where the client understands the value of being in that environment, and often publishers need to explain how that environment operates. One example that came up in the Wednesday breakouts: If you find one of your clients has blacklisted the word “shooter,” and they’re trying to buy in an environment related to basketball, they’re going to have some problems, and so are you.

GDPR also gave people a lot to talk about this week. One of the reasons the GDPR discussion isn’t over yet is that the interpretation of the regulation’s language keeps changing. But it feels like we’re getting somewhere. We’re no longer hearing publishers ask, “Do we need to worry about compliance?,” because there’s consensus that trying to dodge the regulators would be a very bad idea. OpenX Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel Doug McPherson explained the stakes in OpenX’s session. For example, GDPR has really strict rules around how much time a company has to notify authorities of a data breach—72 hours. And when you think of any high-profile data breach in the U.S. in recent years—Equifax, Target, et al—it’s not likely any of those companies have acted so quickly.

Anyway, the big GDPR question for U.S. pubs is now more like, “Is my EU audience small enough that I can just shut off our EU ad business altogether?” The clock is ticking, and many pubs are lagging in compliance (only 2,500 U.S. companies have certification from the Department of Commerce’s self-certification process), making pulling the plug seem like an acceptable idea. In Doug’s session and in other conversations around the Forum, we’re hearing predictions that the E.U. regulators are going to enforce GDPR in part by making an example of some U.S. company or other. Pubs are wondering whether that company will be Facebook or Google, or something more seemingly random. Will that show of enforcement be a shot across the bow, or a reaction to something particularly egregious?

There are other conversations we heard, which we’ll be getting into in future AdMonsters coverage. The past few days have given us fodder for articles and events to come—so, as always, watch this spot for what’s to come.