Prospective publisher partnerships: Leveling the programmatic advertising playing field

The sunsetting of third-party cookies gives publishers a new opportunity to reset their relationship with advertisers, create new partnerships and to level the playing field – with first-party data strategies at the core, writes Wayne Allen, Head of Publisher Sales and Client Services, IPONWEB.

Although the third-party cookie has been given another stay of execution, the shift to a post-cookie, privacy-first digital economy is undisputed; with that comes the opportunity for a reset – a leveling of the programmatic advertising playing field.

It’s no secret that, for much of the ecosystem, programmatic trading suffers from complexity – with publishers usually drawing the short straw.  (They receive 51% of ad spend on average according to the 2020 ISBA and PwC study – with a recent Adalytics study finding that the technology intermediaries in the supply chain take 35% on average.)

But with the changing landscape, media buyers will need new ways to partner with publishers to gain preferential access to inventory and all-important first-party data; the right supply potentially offers a route to competitive advantage and differentiation. The status quo is shifting as advertisers and buyers increasingly recognize the importance of close relationships with publishers, who are, after all, the guardians of supply, and the trusted conduits to their sought-after audiences.

The market is also reflecting this – early in 2022, The Trade Desk launched its OpenPath tool to connect advertisers directly with premium publishers, and many of the major agency holding companies went public with their own major supply path optimization initiatives, with some even creating strategic partnerships with SSPs (typically the domain of publishers).

And many players are already primed; Deloitte’s 2022 Global Marketing Trends Executive Survey shows that the majority of high-growth companies (61%) are shifting to a first-party data strategy, while only 40% of negative-growth companies say the same. This is an important message for those tempted to drag their feet (the IAB recently found 53% of data leaders feel their first-party data assets are not being leveraged in advertising and marketing).

Publishers have unique insight about their audiences – the knowledge generated by their first-party data is akin to programmatic gold-dust. In effect, this first-party focus is seeing a swing to the sell side – which in turn opens the doors for publishers to create innovative new commercial agreements with their buy-side partners.

But what might these publisher-driven initiatives look like?

Supply path (re)optimization

Supply-side optimization (SPO) is hardly a new topic – but its ongoing discussion is an indication of its significance. It is continually evolving as the importance of bringing advertisers and publishers closer together is increasingly acknowledged and the tools and technology to do so get better.

It is in everyone’s interest to reduce the complexity that has built up in the programmatic trading process and make buying more efficient. However, SPO has usually been focused on buy-side initiatives to reduce costs, cut down the hops in the supply chain, improve transparency or obtain preferential access to supply, with information usually provided by demand-side partners. Solutions are far from perfect.

But as the industry looks for new ways of working, media owners are ideally placed to use their wealth of data and supply intelligence to share insights with agencies – details on fees, optimal clearing prices, header density and loss rates for example. Plugging these gaps in the buy-side data landscapes opens the door to new supply paths and various predictive models that deliver ROI on advertising spend. At the same time, in connecting more directly with buyers and streamlining the supply chain, publishers can improve their own revenues.

New commercial agreements

SPO – and its capacity to narrow the gap between buyers and publishers – is the start.  It also lays the groundwork for new styles of commercial agreements between the two.

These agreements can be developed to align with the interests of both parties; options include publishers swapping first-look inventory access, post-auction discounts, data sharing agreements providing media buyers with lucrative first-party data, and/or reporting intelligence and measurement support in exchange for larger spend commitments from media buyers or agencies.

Research and testing

The use of third-party cookies goes deeper than providing audience data; key tools that support advertising, such as surveys, market research and brand uplift studies, also rely on them.

While we might have another momentary reprieve on the demise of the cookie, it’s fair to speculate that determining the effectiveness of campaigns will be even more imperative in a post-cookie world, as advertisers and agencies explore and experiment with new ways of targeting their audiences.

This is another area where publishers can help to assess the impact of campaigns, offering additional services such as panels and proxies, and providing media buyers with the tools to execute A/B testing for alternative IDs or different creatives. As well as contributing to the brand strategy, it helps to build stronger ties in the relationship between the publisher and the agency and, in so doing, opens further opportunities for collaboration.

Centre stage for publishers

With direct access to their users, publishers have always held the keys to audience insight, but as the number of ad tech players has proliferated, the value this brings has often been lost.

However, the increased governmental focus on user privacy, combined with consumer expectation, and the restrictions being introduced by technology companies is seeing the tide turn.

Publishers are ideally placed to take center stage in the programmatic ecosystem in the next phase of its evolution as media buyers look for new ways to access and integrate first-party data into their strategies. Driven by necessity, this industry reset has the potential to deliver advantages all round.

Wayne Allen
Head of publisher sales and client services, IPONWEB

The MediaGrid, from IPONWEB, is a programmatic supply platform that helps publishers drive incremental revenue through advanced yield tools and curated marketplace access. Working across display, native, CTV, video and in-app, The MediaGrid connects media sellers to unique demand from top agency holding groups and premium data owners. The MediaGrid gives publishers full control over the demand partners that can access their supply, and full reporting visibility into where and how demand is being sourced.