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What are advertisers looking for in a publishing partner?

Published: 12 Apr 2021

Advertisers and agencies are waking up to the power of their marketing spend. With misinformation and disinformation rising, advertisers are re-evaluating the impact of their advertising dollars, and the importance of funding diverse voices and quality journalism online. “From everything we’ve seen in the last 12 months (and several years), the Internet has proven itself as an environment where real and fake blur the lines significantly,” shared Dan Hagen, EVP MD & Global Head of MX Development at Havas Media Group. “As a major funding mechanism, it’s important that advertising supports a healthy ecosystem, and doesn’t just focus on the big players where a lot of reach can be achieved quickly.”


Advertisers and agencies are becoming increasingly more selective about who they work with. “We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard,” declared Deborah Harper, Global Network Leadership & European Lead for Mindshare Worldwide. “Part of that is making sure that every ad dollar is supporting publications that care about the information they put out.” With relationships in the ecosystem evolving rapidly, we reached out to our buy-side judges for the AOP Awards to understand exactly what qualities they look for in a publishing partner.


First-party data is important, but audience insights are king.

From a practical level, with the eradication of cookies, good quality first-party data will be the future for creating relevant and impactful advertising campaigns,” outlined Laura Wade, VP of Content & Innovation – EMEA at Essence, as she stressed the importance of being able to tap into the trusted relationships quality publishers have built with their audiences across the years. “It’s a priority for agencies to invest in collaboration and explore how we can deliver the best work now and in the future for our audiences and clients.”


With the demise of the cookie, publishers are sitting on a veritable goldmine of information – but it seems that for many of our judges, the true value is not in the audience data, but in the insights that publishers have around their readership.


Chasing the quick click might make a dashboard look good but it seldom ever leads to medium and long-term growth for a brand,” explained Scott Somerville, Head of Brand & Marketing at E.ON UK. “That’s why it’s important, I think, for publishers and advertisers to work in genuine partnership by respecting what each other brings to the relationship. It’s important that us advertisers remember who’s the real expert at connecting with that particular audience and not to start into tinkering with a winning formula – it’s what’s brought us to their door in the first place – and for publishers to understand the commercial challenge we’re trying to solve with our ads.”


Jo-ann Fortune, Head of Content at iCrossing, echoed Scott’s sentiment as she emphasised the importance of a collaborative partnership between publishers and those on the buy-side: “For example at iCrossing our unique access to Hearst digital audience insights allows us to identify emerging trends and run reader surveys. In turn we feed topic-based social, search and content insights into digital Hearst projects and also support with paid promotion.”


The use of data is also continuing to evolve. “The past year has seen a change in the way data is treated and regarded,” explained Femi Taiwo, Data & Technology Strategy Director at OMD. “It’s no longer a peripheral after-thought for ‘somebody’ to work on, but a central pillar for a brand will succeed in the years to come.” With consumer attention on data collection and usage, poor management strategies will create a negative impact whereas working with a publisher in a more considered manner can drive greater returns; as Femi explained, “agencies are having to evaluate, create and deliver messages that reflect the consumer’s heightened awareness of diversity, inclusion and equity, all underpinned by an increased data competence.” If their audience data is leveraged correctly, publishers have a lot to bring to the table and it will be interesting to see this conversation continue to grow and emerge.


Long-term strategic and collaborative partnerships deliver greater returns for advertisers.

The advertiser and agency judges we reached out to were all clear that they were looking for partnerships that provided mutual benefits to all parties. “There are also fantastic creative opportunities that come from working in direct partnerships with publishers and tapping into their rich editorial muscles,” mused Jerry Daykin, EMEA Senior Media Director for GSK, as he cited their ongoing partnership between Voltarol and Gay Times which looks to better represent and engage LGBT+ communities. “Their job day in/day out is to shape content that these communities will read, digest and enjoy so of course they are perfectly placed to unpack which parts of your existing content are likely to land, or together help shape new stories to tell.”


For a partnership to be successful though, there has to be trust between the partners, and transparency is critical to building that trust; both Dan Hagen & Laura Wade cited transparency and openness as key factors they look for when selecting a publishing partner. “Transparency is key for us to have confidence in a partner,” explained Laura, “and indicates an openness to continual learning which is a value Essence holds strongly.”



Values are critical.

This transparency is critical in understanding the common values between organisations as well. “When collaborating with a new publisher partner, I always ask them to outline their editorial values and show how this is reflected in their content and design,” shared Laura Wade. “Having clarity on a publisher’s values helps us to understand how we can deliver the best work together.”


As advertisers look to understand the impact of their advertising dollars, they’re also looking for publishing partners who can help them leverage this media spend to deliver on positive social outcomes. As Emma Stacey, Brand & Marketing Director for TSB, told us, “trusted brands have an important role to play… Recognising our relevance as a source of information alongside being custodians of consumer trust can’t be taken lightly.”


The media ecosystem is facing a number of challenges which we will struggle to solve in our individual silos; it is for this very reason that the AOP are hosting a discussion on connecting the dots between ethical advertising, the programmatic ecosystem and positive business outcomes at our next CRUNCH event later this month.


There are already a number of players making headway on some of these challenges. For example, Sarah Mansfield, VP Media – Europe & LatAm Global Operations for Unilever, outlined how Unilever evolved from their Trusted Publisher Network to founding the Global Alliance for Responsible Media. “While we made significant progress [through the Trusted Publisher Network], it was clear that if we really wanted scaled, sustainable impact, the only way was to mobilize the industry at large,” she explained. “The only way to make change is if we all truly embrace and drive the GARM manifesto together – fragmented efforts will not work.”


While the phrasing varied, our buy-side judges were clear that rebuilding consumer trust, taking a stance against fake news, and taking a more ethical approach to marketing that prioritises quality journalism with quality audiences over clickbait were top priorities for advertisers – and this has only become more pressing following the events of the past year. As Laura Wade said, “2020 accelerated the conversation; 2021 is where we need to follow up with action.”


The AOP Awards are open for entry until May 6. Find out how you can share your success story and impress our judges here.