Editor’s note: This is one of 11 case studies featured in INMA’s strategic report “Programmatic Advertising Opportunities for Publishers,” released in September.

When Condé Nast became one of the first media companies to create a private exchange for programmatic advertising, it wasn’t a dramatic strategic shift for the Manhattan-based publisher of the New Yorker and other magazines. 

“We decided to approach the market like we approach any other market — with premium inventory and premium experiences,” says Alanna Gombert, Condé Nast’s senior director of programmatic and trading. “There’s no difference in price, because why would there be? At the end of the day, [programmatic] is a booking tool.” 

Condé Nast’s private exchange allowed the publisher to connect its premium inventory and brands with advertising partners in its core segments. It has continued this approach with the advent of premium programmatic (also known as programmatic direct) advertising sales that allow advertisers outside its private exchange to purchase inventory programatically. 

The company’s ability to protect the rate card is in part a reflection of the premiums Condé Nast commands across all advertising. But it is also a reflection of a broader shift in online advertising that benefits all publishers that have quality content and rich consumer data. Says Gombert: “The eyeball mechanism is changing. Eyeballs are important, but eyeballs in context are more important.”

For Condé Nast, programmatic is not just a booking tool — it is also a delivery mechanism and an API (application programming interface) that can target and deliver rich media in automated fashion.

For example, programmatic can enable the delivery of advertising such as Google’s “light box” format, an online advertising unit that expands into full-screen multimedia powered by YouTube.

“Because programmatic is a series of APIs, you can use programmatic as a tech piping to disperse beautiful creative as a way to engage brands” — and command premium pricing, Gombert says. 

Equally important, programmatic provides a way to unify advertising creative across multiple devices and platforms. 

“Even six to eight months ago, everyone was saying there’s a mobile campaign here, a video campaign there,” Gombert says. “We’re getting to a world now in which technology that can run creative across all screens is trumping the market. Programmatic helps because it’s a distribution engine. And as publishers, we can offer up the inventory for sale, target it, and know the creative will work because it’s responsive.”

Condé Nast’s programmatic team plays a consultative role with its direct sales teams, and is often brought in to discuss the technology with advertisers. “We sell, and we help craft a solution,” Gombert says. 

Gombert, who helped found the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s programmatic group, urges publishers to share information with each other and to focus on their core advertisers and markets.

“Optimising down to a grain of sand in the Sahara might work for Yahoo because they have so much inventory they can play that game,” Gombert says. “You pick the components you know and your top partners, and it becomes organic.”