The symbiotic relationship between advertisers and publishers dates back hundreds of years to the rise of print mass media when branded advertisements emerged as a means of funding the handbills and newspapers that educated the general public, both in the U.S. and abroad. Throughout the centuries, the relationship between advertisers and publishers has evolved gradually. But with the rise of digital and programmatic media buying, we’ve seen this partnership undergo a dramatic upheaval as algorithmic ad-buying replaced the formerly strategic, relationship-driven nature of brand-publisher alliances.
These days, more than 85% of digital display ad dollars in the U.S. are bought programmatically, and the resultant downward pressure on ad prices weighs heavily on publishers’ minds. Further, social media and search have also affected the relationship consumers have with professional content creators, applying further revenue pressure.
But publishers are responding in aggressive ways, working to restore the direct relationships they once held with advertisers by creating new sponsorable products and buying models that they can better control. Those moves are beginning to pay off.
Brands and progressive publishers are realizing that strategic, bespoke relationships are key to truly unlocking the value that they seek from one another. A few have been very aggressive in this area, while others are still dipping their toes in these new relationship forms. Here are some of the opportunities that can restore strong and highly productive relationships between publishers and advertisers.
Exploring Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)
Traditionally, high-quality publishers have charged for presence and impressions, not results. But programmatic has contributed to a decline in CPM for many such ad placements. And fewer advertisers seem to recognize the value that a high-quality publication lends.
Further, as a couple of companies take an ever-increasing share of CPM dollars, media properties are far more willing to consider pay-for-performance as a core buying model. While some media companies consider CPA scary – because it is seemingly less of a sure thing than impression-based buys – many are finding that they can actually make much more when they allow advertisers to pay for results.
Creating Powerful Product Integrations
Bespoke advertiser-publisher partnerships open up many creative possibilities when it comes to presenting an advertiser’s product or services to the publisher’s audience. Authenticity makes these presentations resonate.
In selecting strategic partners, advertisers would do well to think of publishers much like influencers, who have made such a mark on brand-building over the past several years. Do the publication and its editors have a natural alignment with a brand’s products? And if so, how can that alignment be brought forward and accentuated in a way that serves the publisher’s audience? In many cases, the answer lies in product integrations by which a publisher and its team use, implement, or otherwise experience the brand’s product or service, and then speak to their experiences in a straightforward, credible way.
Developing Creative Content Alignment
In addition to substantive product integrations, brands should also look for opportunities to integrate themselves into a publisher’s core product: it’s content. Some of the best-branded content projects are ones in which an advertiser directly funds the high-caliber reporting, writing, and other content production that a publication’s audience values above all else.
Of course, to truly throw a halo around the sponsoring brand, the underwritten topic must be carefully selected with input from the publisher. But when this type of partnership is executed well, it results in the type of content that gets people talking — not only about the story itself, but also the brand behind the journalism.
Producing Advertorials That Add Value
Of course, not every advertiser-publisher alliance needs to be gunning for a Pulitzer. Traditional advertorial content, smartly envisioned for the digital age, can still resonate powerfully with the right partner’s audience. In executing such content-driven sponsorships, publishers need to work closely with brand partners to ensure the content — both in substance and format — meets the expectations of their discerning audience.
In this new era of partnership, advertorials shouldn’t just be paid content placement that is executed like any standard ad would be. They should represent a collaborative endeavor in which publications and their editors help to ensure the content delivers true value to consumers.
The age of programmatic doesn’t mean we should lament the loss of advertiser-publisher relationships within today’s media environment. Digital media and audience-based media buying via programmatic don’t have to undermine these deep alliances. With the right mix of creativity and clear objectives, these partnerships will know no boundaries.