How the FT raised programmatic yield to be on par with direct sold

Six months after appointing its first global head of programmatic, the FT is now generating the same yield from ad inventory sold using ad tech as it is from media sold directly to advertisers. This has been facilitated by broadening acceptance of the technology as tier one brands become increasingly convinced using such technologies are an effective and safe means of connecting with desired audiences.

That’s the claim of the broadsheet’s first person to hold the role, Elli Papadaki, whose tenure began in January this year, and characterises the FT’s shift in attitude towards programmatic by saying: “The big departure since I joined is to look at it for what it is, and that is simply automation, and not see as another product, it’s just another route into media buying.”

The most critical change since then is that pricing is now on par with direct sold campaigns, according to Papadaki. “Surely this is because we are now looking at programmatic as a means of execution,” she adds.

One of the FT’s first steps was to open its audience data to ad exchanges. The decision was taken using the following rationale: “If brands are happy to use automated technology to tune into the audiences that they are interested in buying into, then we are happy to let them do that.

“Previously, we only looked at the FT as a generic audience, now we are able to offer the opportunity to buy demographic, contextual, or behavioural data, with exactly the same options they would have had if they were coming to us direct.”

Selling media using programmatic technologies has traditionally been seen as a means of moving advertising inventory that would otherwise go unmonetised – commonly referred to as ‘distressed’, or ‘remnant’ inventory.

This had led to a lot of resistance – or confusion at least – in the industry over how publishers can best use ad tech to monetise inventory, as media buyers gained a reputation of using such technologies to up the ante on their (already aggressive) bargaining techniques early in its inception. In many cases (in the UK at least), publishers found themselves with the hard part of the bargain.

However, Papadaki describes how there was ‘not a lot of resistance’ as she began to implement her fully-fledged programmatic strategy from the beginning of the year. An additional key part of this strategy has been winning over advertisers to also believing that such tech is an effective was to connect with relevant audiences. The buy-side of the industry too has had its concerns over the use of such technologies.

Complicated jargon, scare stories over brand safety, clumsy frequency capping, and rampant levels of ad fraud have only perpetuated such notions.

However, buy-in from tier one titles such as the FT have had the effect (albeit slowly) of assuaging such concerns, says Papadaki. As a result, the FT has been able to keep its floor prices, i.e. the minimum it is willing to sell ads using programmatic – at a reasonably high level.

“Whenever I’ve mentioned to clients – be it agencies or brands-direct – that we’ve decided to raise the price of our inventory to the same level as if they had of come to use direct, everyone has been very supportive,” she says.

This increase in confidence from blue-chip advertisers has been further facilitated by the rise of more closed -ergo ‘brand safe’ – trading environments during the past two-to-three years. The rise of private marketplaces (PMPs) has helped buoy such confidence. The FT has been working with Rubicon Project to help sell some its most premium ad inventory to a select-few advertisers.

“Initially, advertisers were quite cautious,” she says. “I’ve spent a lot of time with brands, as I’ve felt that’s where the most educational work has had to be done… We’ve spent a lot of time explaining that programmatic can mean a lot of things, such as PMPs, RTB [real-time bidding], or programmatic-guaranteed, it means a lot of different things.”

“Now we just give advertisers advice on what choices they have to when they want to buy inventory,” she adds, noting that the FT’s ‘traditional direct sales team’ now also sells-in programmatic opportunities.

An additional part of the full integration of programmatic into its media monetisation strategy has been to begin exploring audience extension, whereby it sells ad space served to its readers on third-party properties.

The FT has been working with Google’s DoubleClick to begin exploring this, with Papdaki noting that successfully convincing brands – especially luxury goods manufacturers – to buy into this requires some extra reassurances.

“With audience extension, we make sure to mention the differences between appearing on-site, and off-site,” she adds.

The FT shares such ambitions with its fellow cohorts in the Pangaea Alliance - CNN and The Economist to name but a few - which began in earnest earlier this year. When asked about how the FT intends to balance monetising its inventory directly, and how it intends to employ the Alliance option, she says: “If inventory is not monetised another way, then it goes to Pangaea.”

Click here to read more about how the FT monetises charging for its premium content.

Search The Drum Jobs

Explore the best jobs in Marketing and Media industries
View all open jobs

Ronan Shields

I'm the digital editor at The Drum, and cover adtech and martech. Prefer news and analysis, over opinion pieces. Current fascination(s) are blockchain and media futures trading; also curious about transhumanism on a personal basis. NYC-based, but really London Irish.

All by Ronan