3 publishers share how they are controlling first-party ad data

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


Greetings from London, England. I hope you are enjoying the summer months. 

In this newsletter, I want to highlight some exclusive insights as to what three key members of the INMA Advertising Initiative Advisory Council had to say when it comes to first-party data and taking control of our own destiny. You could use their answers as a benchmark as to where your company is today.

You might be surprised that whilst it seems many publishers are now grasping the first-party data situation, we still have a long way to go before we feel completely comfortable with our efforts.

See what you think? We had a long discussion on all this and the summation of their thoughts and expertise is highlighted below.

To add, I also have enclosed a case study of The New York Times and what they are doing in this space. It makes for interesting reading.

The INMA Advertising Committee: The interview, August 2022

I led a discussion around a number of areas such as: How are you dealing with first-party data for advertising purposes? Is it linked to your subscriptions data? Will you gain more control? Do you have a robust first-party data advertising strategy in place?

Here’s what they said:

➡️ Tracy Day, managing director of ad products and innovation at The Globe and Mail, Canada: 

We’ve just hired a new team specially to put the two together (subscriptions and advertising). 

The advertising data cloud (as we call it) includes new tools on things like how do we benchmark this? Our legal team is heavily involved regarding what is private data and what’s not, and therefore what can we use? 

It’s the No. 1 priority for us right now. 

Tracy Day is managing director of ad products and innovation at The Globe and Mail in Canada.
Tracy Day is managing director of ad products and innovation at The Globe and Mail in Canada.

Privacy is also key. We tell people all the time why we want the data we ask for and how we will use it. We do this with subscriptions upfront, and it makes the reader feel comfortable. 

We also sometimes use advertisers own data and merge them into our own via our “clean rooms,” where we verify what we can use and what we can’t. It helps the advertisers, too. It’s seen as a valued service that we offer. 

Advertisers sees us as publishers, having more value due to our acceleration of first-party data focus and highlighting the quality of our audience(s). 

Overall, I would say it’s also very much a cross-disciplinary project where it’s been good for us as everyone across the company now works better and closer with each other.

Do we have a full advertising data strategy in place yet? We are probably at level six on a scale of one to 10 in two years. Integration and privacy laws make it more complicated, but we are working through it. However, everyone is onboard.

➡️ Marcelo Benez, chief commercial officer at Folha de S.Paulo, Brazil: 

The most important project we are undertaking currently is our commercial partnership with our most important brands. What’s important is how can our sales teams get the best from data for their clients. 

Many require precision marketing. However, some advertisers are still in the Stone Age. So, we have to educate them. 

Marcelo Benez is chief commercial officer at Folha de S.Paulo in Brazil.
Marcelo Benez is chief commercial officer at Folha de S.Paulo in Brazil.

Accountability and measurement are vital here — using data via reports, metrics, KPIs, and ROI on their advertising. 

At Fohla de S.Paulo, data has been important for subscriptions, but we still have to improve more and more for advertising. We are currently examining how do we set up our teams to utilise this overall and whether we need a separate team for print and one for digital. Or maybe one for all, i.e., a multi-platform approach.

That said, we have been producing new channels, e.g. newsletters, events, and the like, which started as subscription offers, e.g. part of the subs package. And we can use the data and learnings (from subscriptions) for advertisers, too, via differentiation within our segmented audiences around client needs and requirements. 

We started our whole data project in the newsroom and subscriptions. Now from the CEO down, everyone is onboard culturally.

As a result, data has been more relevant in daily life in our company in most departments. The news Web site editorial team drives it all as they know it’s crucial to have the whole user journey on the site monitored as to what people are dwelling on, what they are interested in, etc. It flows to other areas from there.

Advertising data strategy? I would say we are at level five (on a scale of one to 10). It’s taken us three years this far. We focused initially on the more important advertisers, but we want it for all.

➡️ Latha Rao-Cheney, senior vice president of sales at MediaNews Group, United States:

Subscriptions and advertising data combined is important for us. It remains to be seen how much the cookie deprivation will affect us as we hope to have a robust first-party data strategy in place by the time it comes in. We aim to take control. 

The SMBs need educating in all this. The larger ones tend to be a bit more sophisticated re: what they want and which audiences they want to reach. But we need to help them. 

Latha Rao-Cheney is senior vice president of sales at MediaNews Group in the United States.
Latha Rao-Cheney is senior vice president of sales at MediaNews Group in the United States.

Regarding subscriptions per se, we can learn about time on the site, preferences, behaviours, what they are interested in, etc., and use these for our advertising efforts. 

With data, there is now more collaboration between departments and our media generally. Maybe programmatic and COVID have accelerated all this? 

Declining traffic to the site is our main problem. Defining pageviews has been the big issue for programmatic. The pandemic bump has now gone. Now, if you have additional inventory, you can fill that in with programmatic or open auction and you lose that extra incremental revenue. 

Advertising first-party data strategy? We have an advertising data warehouse team and will be integrated it into our subscription’s efforts.


So, from the comments made above, it seems we are all on the same journey — just at differing points on the first party-data road trip. Importantly, it’s vital to get everyone in your company onboard across the disciplines from that CEO down. It’s a cultural shift in mindsets. 

Crucially, subscriptions and advertising are not mutually exclusive data areas and belong combined for maximum exploitation both for us and our advertisers. 

And with the cookie apocalypse delayed again, by the time it arrives, there is no excuse for any publisher not to have had a first-party advertising strategy in place, enabling you to take control of your data journey for your own internal efforts and your advertising clients — be it for user experience, client satisfaction/loyalty, and ultimately, revenue generation.

New York Times case study

The New York Times Company issued a press release in August regarding its second quarter 20223 results.

As part for the narrative, Meredith Kopit Levien, president and chief executive officer, said: 

“Our second quarter results demonstrate that we are making palpable progress on our (subscription) strategy. In the quarter, we brought in 180,000 net digital-only subscribers and saw a 70% increase in net digital-only subscriber additions relative to the second quarter of 2021. 

“With continued strength in converting new subscribers, and an increasingly valuable product portfolio including a breadth of new offerings in games and The Athletic, we are well on our way to achieving our next mile marker of 15 million subscribers by 2027.” 

An example of advertising on The New York Times Web site based on user first-party data.
An example of advertising on The New York Times Web site based on user first-party data.

Impressive. But something else she said also stood out for me with my INMA Advertising Initiative hat on: 

“We are (also) confident in our advertising approach, which is grounded in the market leading suite of first-party data and premium ad products, that our subscription-first strategy enables.” 

Very often, some argue it’s an either/or with ads and subscriptions, that they are mutually exclusive. 

They are not.

As The New York Times has so many subscribers, it has a huge amount of first-party data it can then use to target ads for advertisers, which in turn, gives it a market advantage as advertisers get smarter and more “precision” based on their wanted contextual, personalised targeting of sometimes, very niche audiences.

And, to add to the above, it was announced recently that the NYT is planning to increase its advertising business across its bundled products, e.g. sports and games.

Over the past decade, the NYT has pivoted its strategy to focus on attracting more consumer revenue via subscriptions. Now that it’s reached a near critical mass of those subscribers, it further sees a big opportunity to build more tailored ad products that cater to those users. 

NYT now has more than 1 million subscribers for both its games and cooking apps and over 9 million paid subscribers total across all of its subscription packages.

Big, but a small percentage of the 135 million that engage with the Times’ content monthly for free via its ad-supported products.

“A big part of the Times’ ad expansion strategy scaling up the companys premium/proprietary ad offerings across the whole subscription bundle over the next couple of years” — so said Alex Hardiman, head of product at the NYT.

A focus will be figuring out how to expand the Times’ ad-targeting and optimisation capabilities using the first-party data it collects from its users.

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Mark Challinor, based in London and lead for the INMA Advertising Initiative. Mark will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media advertising. Sign up for the newsletter here.

This newsletter is a public face of the Advertising Initiative by INMA, outlined here.

E-mail Mark at Inma.mark@gmail.com with thoughts, suggestions, and questions or follow him on Twitter (@challinor).

About Mark Challinor

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