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Media powerbrokers: let’s rethink how we treat our publishers

Every week there are new stories popping up about which media owners are digitising their offerings, which are letting go of their print publications or buying up new local ones, which are partnering with agencies on branded content… The list goes on, as do the opportunities for publishers to expand their businesses and cater in new and better ways to their audiences.

I see media owners working hard to understand digital on a deeper level all the time, either through developing their in-house teams or by partnering with digital agencies and tech brands. Trinity Mirror has developed its Trinity Mirror Solutions team, we’ve seen ITV revamp the X Factor with digitally interactive elements, the Daily Mail partnered with Snapchat and WPP at Cannes to launch their Truffle Pig content agency, and NewsCorp announced its acquisition of one of the most successful London startups, Unruly Media.

The rules are as clear as they ever were for publishers: know your audience, and provide them with what they want. Although when it comes down to it, we sometimes underestimate the huge role that publications play in giving users what they’re looking for, and to what extent that content itself drives consumer decision-making.

Advertisers have long supported the publishing world, for almost as long as it has existed. Given that the two are intrinsically linked, there is a complexity to their relationship that sometimes intermediaries and onlookers can only surmise. And thanks to digital media, this has become even more complex. For advertisers, the value of any publisher is in its audience, and as the automated trading of audiences become standardised, publishers are in a rush to understand how they can benefit more fairly from this “new normal” way of marketing to their users.

Publishers have a few interesting questions on their hands: what if someone from my readership buys something from an advertiser, directly, because they read a piece of content on my site? Is that tracked? Do we get rewarded? Currently, this is a really grey area. We’re able to track which ad clicks ended up in a sale through banner advertising, affiliate, video, and a host of other channels. Then through this tracking we can reward those sites that drive traffic and conversions.

But for publishers, their content is the most captivating and persuasive way to engage their audience. They know this to be true because they’ve been receiving real-time feedback from readers on things like quality of articles, tone, length, formats, and so on, for years. The fine art of creating digital content that people want to read – and which drives intent to purchase – is something that has not yet been harnessed for marketing purposes. Or at least purposes that benefit everyone in the loop.

Without doubt, publishers who trade their audience segments with brands and agencies in this new era of big data should also be rewarded for providing a strong link in the chain when it comes to the customer’s path to purchase. The measurability of advertising has arrived at a stage where agencies funnel money into what delivers clicks, simply because it is measurable – but the holes in that logic are unmissable. As human beings, we know that content helps shape our thinking immensely. We rip through content at a pace that would have been unthinkable when the first printing presses were built, and all of that content weighs heavily on our decision-making as consumers.

By returning power to publishers, the triumvirate of data, technology and content becomes a more harmonious one and doesn’t simply cater for advertisers’ needs without regard for the publishers’ properties, formats, audience and so on. By helping publishers to successfully leverage commerce-related content, (or as we call it, ‘comtent’), such as image galleries, product reviews, lists, gift guides, deals and sales or ‘get the look’ advice, advertisers are able to build a better picture of who is interested in those products.

In my opinion, the first step is to start recompensing publishers for using their audience segments, then we’ll start to see the tides shift.

Alicia Navarro is CEO and co-founder of Skimlinks