As automated media buying becomes more intrinsic to a publisher’s business, businesses are having to come up with new innovations and collaborations to solve the issues they have been facing in putting their prized inventory onto programmatic.
Ahead of The Drum’s Programmatic Punch APAC, we speak with Ian Hocking, vice president of digital, of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) about the challenges facing publishers in a world of automated media buying.
How has SCMP innovated in the past years to become more digitally transformed?
Since our digital transformation began, we have grown our audience by more than 424%, to about 25 million monthly average users (MAU). The digital team now works to a 3-month innovation cycle allowing us to concentrate on short term goals while building to a long term vision. Core to that is building a considerable amount of our own AdTech, from pricing algorithms to a data studio for insight and activation.
We also launched three new digital-native publications - Abacus, Inkstone and Goldthread - to reach a broader audience of globally-curious international readers.
What lessons have you learnt along the way on your digital transformation journey?
The most important thing is giving our global community of readers the best possible experience across our brands through award-winning journalism, infographics, video and site design. Our editorial, sales, product and data teams all work closely to ensure there is a great value exchange between readers and advertisers.
How does this translate to benefits for brands?
We focus on quality, transparency and innovation. In practice that means we have developed a brand new version of SCMP that launched in February this year with a beautiful, uncluttered layout that allows a brand’s message to stand out and drive engagement meaning. We get an average 0.34% CTR across all display, 6.8 times higher than the industry average (Smart Insights, April 2019).
With the new SCMP.com, we switched to lazy loading for faster load times, a smoother reading experience and better viewability for advertisers where we now reach an average of 68.35% for mobile campaigns versus an APAC average of 52% (Moat, APAC Benchmarks, Q2, 2019).
We also invested significantly in AdTech and data ensuring we have partnerships in place to deliver content that is brand safe (Grapeshot) and accountable (MOAT) media with deeper insights and better optimisation through data using our new DMP (1PlusX).
What do you see as the big trends for publishers in terms of innovation for the future?
From an AdTech point of view, we are concentrating on two things right now. Video and identity. Video views grew by 4,200% for SCMP in the last 12 months, so our users are telling us they want to see more from us. We love telling stories with video so SCMP is investing into our capabilities to deliver better editorial and commercial content across all platforms. With 5G on the horizon, we only see this opportunity growing.
Data and identity is another area of focus. The industry is facing tighter regulation around data collection and the heavy suppression of third-party cookies that is the foundation of programmatic advertising and insight for most brands. More than ever, owning the relationship with the user and being able to leverage first-party cookies and declared ID’s is top of mind.
We are creating our own data platform based on first-party declared and observed data that will allow clients detailed insights that can be used to create better-branded content via Morning Studio (our content solutions team) or display activations with fully transparent and scaled data.
Do you see a need to collaborate more as a publisher due to the changes to digital demands?
Collaboration is key. We aim to create strategic partnerships with our clients and technology vendors, sharing long term aspirations whilst working in cooperation to drive greater efficiencies. To that end, we recently reduced the number of demand partners we work with from over 40 to just 8 - this gives us the ability to focus on developing our proposition with them and create more direct relationships.
We are also active members of the IAB, WAN-IFRA and other trade organisations that help us to share and learn from others in our community.
What’s the future of collaboration for a publisher like SCMP?
I’m sure we will hear a lot more about publisher cooperatives and collaboration in the coming months and we are pleased to see publishers tackle industry issues such as identity and transparency together. SCMP is also excited to help drive this collaboration directly with brands and agencies via initiatives like Masterclass and client immersion days.
Hocking is a panelist on the ‘Publisher Collaboration and Innovation’ panel at Programmatic Punch APAC on 3 October 2019, of which South China Morning Post is a partner. Tickets are available now for the one-day event serves as a wake-up call about the revolution this industry is going through.