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

Having collected rich information on about 100 million consumers, Meredith has long called itself a “database company in media clothing,” says Chip Schenck, vice president of programmatic sales. 

“Different companies have different personalities,” says Schenck, who was hired in late 2013 to lead programmatic sales for the New York-based publishing, broadcast, and marketing company. “Our data-driven approach has important purview in the way we approach programmatic.”

For Meredith, he adds, “data is the business model, programmatic is the medium.”

While Meredith began experimenting with programmatic sales using Google’s AdExchange platform, the company took a “wait and see” approach until two key triggers emerged:

  1. Pricing began to rise.

  2. Advertisers began to become disenchanted with the limitations of third-party data, creating new demand for publishers’ first-party information as a tool to target the specific audiences programmatic can deliver across multiple channels. 

“It’s hard to sell clients something if they don’t value it,” Schenck says. 

The company will continue to focus on “providing multiple access points to (itself) and rewarding (its) best customers for their long-term partnerships on the direct side,” Schenck says. 

The company’s strategy is three-fold, Schenck explains:

  1. Recognising that the company’s unique data provides opportunities to sell premium programmatic products that offer highly precise targeting. “The differential in the product is going to be the data... (and in) the different contextual and audience layering we can do,” Schenck says.

  2. Creating a pricing model for programmatic ad sales that rewards Meredith’s existing long-term advertising customers: “If a large partner says, ‘I really want to work with you and focus on an integrated partnership,’ we will absolutely do that, even if that means their competitors get locked out.” 

  3. Providing flexibility across buying channels — direct, programmatic, and hybrid models, and ultimately across other media, including print and broadcast.

    “It’s not your granddaddy’s programmatic. It’s about finding the right people in an operationally efficient manner so our time is spent more efficiently and strategically. A lot of clients are struggling to find high-quality inventory at scale, and this gives them another way to do that.”

Meredith’s digital sales team has embraced the opportunity to develop hybrid deals, including programmatic components with clients — a key reason why Schenck believes programmatic sales can’t be separated from direct sales.

“You need to have the base of knowledge residing in the people who serve (clients) day in and day out. They don’t have to know all the technical stuff … but they have to understand the right questions, the trigger to look for.” 

Meredith’s broad range of media and marketing properties captures individual consumer information at multiple touch points, providing rich data that allows advertisers to have conversations with consumers throughout the buying cycle, according to Schenck.

“We’re looking at data as an asset and programmatic as a form of execution,” he says, noting that while data is often seen as a commodity, the high-quality information needed to drive effective programmatic campaigns remains scarce — and increasingly valuable to advertisers. 

Schenck points to studies suggesting that strategic programmatic thinking hasn’t yet reached the upper levels of advertisers and agencies, which would provide an opportunity to create a “mutual conversation” between advertisers and media companies.

“Everyone’s in the learning mode,” Schenck says. “Our approach to customers has been that we don’t know all the answers, but it’s all testing and learning. As long as people take that approach, there’s going to be a lot of success.”