7 ways publishers can help their advertisers right now

By Ameet Shah

Prohaska Consulting

Washington, D.C., United States

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These are challenging times. Where we are now versus two weeks ago is a completely different living, economic, and media environment. Realistically, we don’t even know what next week will bring. COVID-19 has certainly changed — well, everything. 

For news publishers, there have always been challenges. Users recognise the value, the trusted content, and the professional quality. For advertising, it can be challenging when there are negative news stories. Now, that feels like every day. 

Advertising impacts to news publishers 

Our observations and discussions with publishers highlight that traffic for news publishers has significantly increased, typically 10%-40% in the United States and other developed regions. For many non-news publishers, traffic has dropped significantly — even more so for sports sites.

As the pandemic spreads to more regions of the world, news publishers are experiencing a decline in their CPMs by 15%-30%.
As the pandemic spreads to more regions of the world, news publishers are experiencing a decline in their CPMs by 15%-30%.

While a traffic increase for news sites is generally positive, the majority of that content is specifically tied to coronavirus, which will typically be blocked by an advertiser’s brand safety controls. Fortunately, industry leaders like Dr. Augustine Fou and others like us have been calling for companies like Moat, IAS, and Doubleverify to lift auto-blocks where entire publications are overly restricted because of a few bad apples from illegitimate “publishers” spreading misinformation. 

From the advertising perspective, direct insertion order sales have suffered. Many advertisers have pulled spend or paused campaigns, especially in devastated categories like travel. We expect publishers have seen a 10%-30% drop in their IO (insertion order) relationships.

This certainly makes sense as advertisers need to be able to respond and be sensitive to the news and trauma, and also because too many marketers still make the mistake of reducing ad spend as a first act when times are tough. 

Earned revenues (eCPM and RPM) is changing by the day. With lower (and currently declining IO sell-through) overall CPMs falling, this is creating a greater volume of inventory available within exchanges with less demand. As such, we observe news publishers are experiencing a decline in their programmatic CPMs by 15%-30%. The overall revenue loss can be less as there are higher impression volumes. 

What can news publishers do? 

Proactivity is needed more than ever during this uncertain time. Much of what occurs is uncontrollable but there are areas that can be influenced to improve positioning: 

  • Discuss the advertiser’s long-term goals: This is a time to remind advertisers that those that maintain presence during tough times come out much better in the end. Their challenge could be to see how they can adjust their campaigns or corporate messaging. This is the opportunity for them to reach concerned audiences on how they are helping the response and making consumers’ lives manageable.
  • Focus on key advertiser verticals: Not all advertisers are experiencing the same issues. Now may not be the best time to reach a travel advertiser. Instead, connect with advertisers that are relevant for the current news cycle as they have updating messaging to circulate. Where better than the news sites that everyone is consuming:
    • CPG: new cleaning products in market.
    • Retailers: tech solutions for working remotely.
    • QSRs: quick service restaurants notifying customers they are available for drive-thru.
    • Finance: providing alternate payment programmes to their customers
    • Entertainment: plenty of clients doing well while millions are working from and staying home 
  • Know the advertiser’s brand safety considerations: Now is a great time to reach out to marketers to understand their (potentially revised) brand safety concerns. Explain to them how their messaging can be blocked from certain content topics or sections. Create a new PMP (private marketplace) to account for updated requirements. 
  • Develop peripheral content: While the health concerns will drive much of the content, there are opportunities to create peripheral content which users are seeking. Examples include community responses, the local “heroes,” how to effectively work from home, resources to support children learning from home, how to stay healthy, family activities, restaurants and stores that are still servicing customers, virtual happy hours, and more. This content should not include “coronavirus” or “COVID-19” terms as it is not focused on that and so it is not blocked from brand safety filtering. Users are seeking information, resources, and uplifting messages. This could also be an opportunity for a client to sponsor this content. 
  • Review of blocks and rules: Many of the “controls” put in place just weeks ago may not be as relevant now. Some of the pricing rules can be adjusted, some of the category blocks may be loosened, or competitive pricing for preferred advertisers to encourage spend. 
  • Support increased creative rotations: Highlight to marketers that campaigns can be updated daily (or more frequently) with updated creatives if it is something they can’t already directly control.
  • Ensure marketers with an on-call number: Let advertisers know that on-call resources are available in case the news story changes so campaigns can be run with confidence and knowing their campaigns can be adjusted (i.e., paused, revised) as news stories warrant it. There are different rules during this time period than “normal operations.” 

News media is critical to our society and democracy, now more than ever. Advertisers realise that, and consumers realise that. Yet at certain times those don’t always align.

Working with advertisers to get their updated messaging out is critical. Publishers need to be able to respond with proactive solutions in the areas they can control. Publishers control the site content, business rules, and advertiser relationships.

This is the time to over-communicate, develop custom solutions, and be able to respond. While the revenue impacts are real, they can be minimised or maintained. This is, regrettably, not anything that is going to change in a few days but instead likely the norm “for a while,” so publishers need to start acting now.

About Ameet Shah