Blog

January 23, 2017

Publisher Spotlight: Advance Local

We caught up with Jeff Sutton, Vice President of Audience Targeting, Programmatic and Data Strategies at Advance Local, on viewability, Private Marketplaces, and other innovative programmatic offerings.

What do you do as a great content leader?

Like everyone else, we’re trying to figure it out, and we’re constantly trying to improve. But there are a few things we’re proud of, one of them being our rich history of serving the communities where we have published for, in some cases, more than 178 years. Readers within our core footprint value our ability to connect them with their communities and each other, and that responsibility informs every decision around content strategy that we make. And it works – when we operate with the community in mind we’re rewarded with an audience of informed readers who are deeply interested and invested in their communities.

We also challenge ourselves to broaden appeal beyond hyperlocal readers, and to create content that resonates beyond the core footprint. One way to think about that is understanding what’s relevant to both the cities we serve and then beyond to a statewide level. This way of thinking produces richer content to work with in terms of audience growth and monetization.

We deeply value the readers we attract. As a company that doesn’t have a paywall, it’s on us to create content that people value and want to read. For example, in northern New Jersey we own the Star-Ledger, but we have reporters in every county in New Jersey and as a result our reach is deep; NJ.com is the largest news and information site in the Philly DMA even though we don’t have a print publication there.

The benefit to advertisers is that we have audiences in unlikely places and they’re real people who return to our sites to read content that is relevant to their daily lives.

How important is the partnership with your exchange and SSP partners?

Incredibly important. We have the luxury of choosing who we work with, and we pay careful attention to ad quality and the type of demand we accept. We understand if we create unwelcome experiences for our readers we’ll lose them, and it’s our responsibility to have the best relationships with our partners from an SSP perspective. If we align what we do best with what our partners do best, we create a great experience for both sides, and it’s a win-win. Finding partners who believe in us, who will work with us to create a good outcome is important.

One of the things I’ve been excited about with OpenX is that you guys are thinking about this differently than any of our other partners. You’re out of the box and you understand that programmatic is both a technology and a new way of people working together.

How do you educate and defend against fraudulent traffic?

We haven’t had a real issue with fraudulent traffic. Because our audiences are mostly local, we see the same people on our sites over and over again. And we’re producing real content that’s relevant to real people, so we don’t use click-bait to drive page views – we don’t try to get traffic by being outrageous. Folks who live in our communities come back day after day. Our readers use our mobile apps the same way they use Facebook by checking in multiple times during the day.

But we still do a couple of things to safeguard against fraud. We analyze all of our traffic – if we see IP addresses coming from unexpected places, we investigate. We also identify for fraudulent traffic by looking at header bidding auctions and metadata around those auctions.

What are you doing to ensure viewability standards?

We’ve been focusing on viewability for the last 6 months, and we plan on releasing new technology embedded in our pages to improve viewability. A number of these improvements came from conversations we’ve had with OpenX.

We’ve also learned that in many cases viewability is less about the position of the ad on page, but that device speed and connection speed are broadest indicators of viewability. On an iPhone 4 we’ll see different viewability numbers than an iPhone 7 or Google Pixel. Viewability is about more than ad tech strategies, more than how you paint ads onto a page – it’s about how the user is connecting with us. We’re trying to figure out what that all means so we can package inventory based on device and connection as well.

What are some unique Private Marketplace opportunities you’ve built?

We think of ourselves as being audience builders first and foremost, around 85-95% of our local direct sold campaigns are all targeted using 1st and 3rd party data from our DMP data across multiple platforms and devices. We extended that same capability to Private Marketplace deals, and if you have a client that has a very special need that they can’t fill with standard data, we can do a PMP deal built on custom audiences tuned to their specific needs. We provide a transparent look into our inventory and audiences, and increasingly diverse range of buyers are finding their high-value prospects by cookie matching their CRM data against our audience.

In both cases OpenX has been a great partner in terms of helping us grow and refine this strategy.

What innovative things are you doing with audience data?

Years ago our tech leaders implemented Lotame to manage 1st party data gained from user interaction with our content. We don’t enable section targeting in a number of our programmatic structures because we prefer to target people who care about the content. We’ve developed a competency around using 1st and 3rd party data to create defined audience segments on just about any topic.

We know a lot about our readers based on how they interact with our site. We create cookie pools of 1st party uniques around several dimensions including IP address and geo-location – whether they’re at home or work, content sections they visit, and what they read about. For instance, readers who consume topical news can be mapped out into audiences. It gives us a pretty cool look at what folks are interested in reading, and it helps us do a better job as we more deeply understand what our readers care about.

We also help advertisers ingest CRM data into our DMP on a regular basis. We often enrich their 1st party data with 3rd party data to create corroborating audiences. Combining multiple 3rd party audiences to enrich 1st party data is powerful because we can take a real audience with multiple disparate data points that suggest a behavior and qualify that person for that behavior. For example, if one of our advertisers is a luxury European auto brand, we can take a look at the data and see that a user is interested in the car, and then look beyond that to ask, does their household income or other factors support purchase intent?

What else can buyers expect from Advance’s programmatic offerings in 2017?

We are continuing to optimize toward making our inventory efficient to buy, always thinking about how to make it easier for the buyer. We’re also creating more high-value ad units and IAB rising stars. We’ll be building packages on device and connection speed to create viewability models. And we’re also focused on programmatic outstream video. That’s our to-do list, and anything we can do together to partner to do that would be great.

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