By Ronan Shields | Digital Editor

May 2, 2017 | 8 min read

New York Times senior vice-president of advertising and innovation, Sebastian Tomich, explains how advertisers are starting to revaluate the opportunities posed by trusted media brands in an era when fake news and brand safety top of their list of concerns.

The conversation includes: the increasingly collaborative approach between advertisers and media owners; how its growing audience engagement since the start of 2017 is bolstering its latest offering Story[X]; as well as how the recent brand safety furor created an up-tick for its programmatic-direct play.

The New York Times kicked-off its NewFronts pitch yesterday (1 May), eschewing the opportunity to put new technologies front-and-center of its messaging. Instead it paraded its core selling point – the quality of its journalism; plus the opportunity for brands to harness the audience engagement this generates.

Early success with The Daily podcast

One key aspect was of the presentations the success of its podcast The Daily which as generated over 27m streams since its launch earlier this year (far in excess of initial expectations).

Tomich is keen to highlight early brand collaborations of the 15-minute audio format with outfits such as BMW and Samsung eager to participate, and promises 10 further such brand activations by the close of the year.

“The Daily [podcast] shows the power of audio as an emerging medium, which shows that when we do jump into a new space we try to go big and be the leader,” he says.

“With audio (even though they’ve been around for a long time) we’ve been able to achieve this,” he adds.

Story[X] is signing up partners

Also featured was its innovation lab Story[X] – unveiled at last year’s NewFronts – with Tomich explaining how its recently acquired assets Fake Love and Wirecutter will work with emerging technologies such as augmented reality, etc, to provide new storytelling opportunities to consumers and advertisers.

He also explains that it is in the process of signing brands up to projects with its latest offering, albeit such negations are too premature to showcase at this year’s New Fronts.

“We want it to be clear that all of our investments and all of our emphasis as a business are all going into creative ideas. What I mean is the staff, the hiring, the creation of the creative team across the globe, it’s why we acquired two agencies during the last year,” explains Tomich.

“We really don’t want the headline of the show to be ‘the future is AR, audio, or mobile'…" he says. “We want it to be clear that all of our investments and all of our emphasis as a business are going into creative ideas.”

How collaboration within ‘church and state’ guidelines creates trust in brands

New York Times ad

A core foundation of the two-hour series of presentations was the title’s recent ‘Truth + Dare’ campaign, with its star investigative reporter Mat Apuzzo taking the audience behind the scenes of an investigative story.

"We have a lot of people working in the background to piece together puzzles and then eventually a story will break. And that’s why it was put together to show [advertisers] why people come to The Times,” adds Tomich.

He is also eager to point out that this shows how the collaboration between the Times’ advertiser solutions team and its traditional editorial staff won’t betray its sacrosanct ‘church and state’ division. The only differentiation the last 12 months and its earlier attempts at collaboration is that this is the first time the cooperation has happened at scale, he adds.

The upside to such strict discipline when it comes to maintaining its editorial scruple is the trust this engenders with The New York Times’ 3m subscribers*, as well as its extended audience.

It was this rationale that helped form the core narrative of this year’s NewFronts messaging. Reports since the campaign kicked off earlier this year are that it has had a positive effect on subscriber growth (although he is unable to report exact numbers) as well as advertisers, says Tomich.

“It was very much a conscious decision, and I think there are elements of it that are renewed by elements of the brand safety conversation,” he adds. “We’re touting the resurgence of brands and how it’s important for marketers to partner with established and culturally relevant brands, and The Times has a moment right now.”

All these developments demonstrate how the New York Times has become a creative business in its own respect, an emblem of the shifting dynamic between the traditional media buyer and seller, and one that is more akin to a meeting of equals.

It goes beyond approaching marketers and pitching a set roster of products, or bespoke creative ideas particular to that brand, according to Tomich. He adds: “Those models don’t necessarily work any more. We’re much more collaborative and we bring agencies into the building to figure out how we can customize something specifically to them.”

This process involves co-writing pitches and a lot “problem-identification”, or “problem-matching”, where the title’s advertiser solutions unit looks at how it along with its team embedded in The New York Times newsroom, can work with advertisers to identify solutions.

“This is where we look at problems that brands are facing that The New York Times might also be facing. So, we together as two brands can go on a bit of a research sprint to figure out some potential solutions and figure out a marketing campaign around it,” Tomich says.

He adds: “We’ve heard a lot from the advertiser community that they want to do more of this as well. They don’t want to get the deck fully-baked and dropped on their desk, they want to work with us.”

Brand safety concerns and the uptick for trusted media

With terms such as ‘brand safety’ and ‘fake news’ emanating beyond media circles and into popular parlance over the last 12 months, brand safety also took center-stage at yesterday’s proceedings.

Advertiser concerns over such risks are yet another driving force behind this eagerness to experiment with outfits such as Story[X], further altering the perception that established (and trusted) media brands can perform in brands' communications efforts, especially in the digital era.

“Marketers are buying less-and-less distribution from publishers, that’s becoming much more of a platform game,” he says, referring to how the likes of Facebook and Google are seen as volume-plays.

“The things they are relying on us for are creating context for their message, so getting people to care, or becoming creative engines, and building something creative just for them,” adds Tomich.

Google acknowledged how this outcry had prompted advertiser requests over how it aimed to minimize such risks, albeit its numbers seemed to show that the resulting advertiser boycotts bore little effect on its takings for the first quarter of 2017.

A boost for its programmatic business

Tomich points out that Google’s DoubleClick technology stack, such as DoubleClick Bid Manager, or DoubleClick Bid Manager, are likely to cultivate many of the relationships between advertisers with premium publishers.

Therefore, the fallout of such controversies is unlikely to significantly shift the needle in terms of such a behemoth’s overall revenues, but it has produced a boost for The New York Times’ own programmatic offering.

“You’ll see a brand go from one DSP [demand-side platform] to another, and you are seeing a little bit of that (not enough to move a market) but that’s definitely happening,” he says, recounting anecdotes he has heard since the controversy.

Tomich goes on to cite how US bank Chase Morgan drastically reducing the number of sites it advertised on with little material impact on its campaign results, as an example of how he sees brands readjusting how they employ adtech in the wake of such public controversies.

“But we’re definitely hearing anecdotally with marketers renewed enthusiasm to do big programs with us in terms of upfront buys,” he adds. “The most tangible impact is in our programmatic direct business."

Unable to provide specific numbers, Tomich does testify that such inquires are "up significantly". He adds: "We’ve had a huge amount of advertisers looking to do direct deals with us on programmatic this year over working with us on the open market.”

See here for more reporting on NewFronts

* An earlier version of this story claimed The Times had '3m+ digital subscribers', however a spokesperson for the title has since clarified this number

Media NewFronts New York Times

More from Media

View all