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The Digerati discussions: what are the greatest challenges to the digital media sector?

The Drum Digerati is our celebration of the world’s top digital marketers. We asked top international marketers working in the media space what their biggest challenges are and how they aim to tackle them.

The technological disruption across marketing and advertising has revolutionized the ad-dependent media and news brands at a time when their businesses are becoming more complex than ever. 

"The rate and scale of change in marketing is greater than at any time in living memory,” says Mel Edwards, global chief executive officer of Wunderman Thompson. "Disruptive tech companies continue to impact consumer expectations and business environments are constantly changing. Megadeals are trending. Agencies going after data. Consultancies swooping up creative shops."

Nigel Vaz, global chief executive officer of Publicis Sapient summarises the marketer’s plight: delivering growth “against a backdrop of relentless change". Agencies and media are having to "transform ourselves in order to help our clients reimagine and secure the future of their business."

Adding to the complexity facing media marketers is the growing need to deliver digital-friendly, brand-safe, at-scale propositions all while diversifying revenue away from flagging display advertising rates. Some titles outsource data or talent. There have been wide-scale attempts at pivots to video and third-party platforms adoption and some companies have created consultancies or bolted on ecommerce offerings and events. 

First-Party Data

Programmatic advertising, the bedrock of publisher income, is under duress. Legislation like GDPR in Europe is uprooting the third-party cookie. Similar rulings are now being introduced or considered across parts of the US too. 

How this will upturn the status quo is up for debate, but Josh Peters, director of data partnerships at BuzzFeed says that publishers could be a good source of scalable audiences.

"They are compliantly collecting data and should be able to provide not just the audience a marketer is looking for, but also able to give advice on related audiences to increase scale”.

Luke Davies, senior manager of global yield at Reuters, says a lot of publisher inventory is “going to waste or being undervalued” due to poor match rates and difficulties in targeting. “Buyers are missing out on viable opportunities to reach their target audience.”

It is clear that publishers must better gather, process, and activate upon audience data. Currently, publishers need a 360-degree view of the consumer to better monetise them claims Alysia Borsa, chief marketing and data officer at Sports Illustrated and Time owner Meredith.

“You can use this data to dynamically understand, activate, personalize and measure against that is both transparent and provides true value to consumers.”

Ray Soto, director, emerging tech at USA Today-owner Gannett says the most important thing is “to respect a user’s time and evolve with tech to deliver a unique, relevant, and seamlessly integrated experience that fits within their busy lives”.

There’s no quick fix. With the web experience slowing due to GDPR consent pop-ups and saturation of ads, there's work to be done to streamline and improve user experiences. 

Brand context

Paying to play on a publisher platform usually comes at a premium. Many argue the benefits of appearing next to quality, trusted content.

But it is not enough to chase an audience to a trusted brand, marketers will increasingly need to consider the context they are talking to audiences says Oliver Deane, director of commercial digital, Global.

He adds that personalisation through audience targeting can be incredibly effective and the ability to "measure effectiveness instantly is powerful" but warns “if we plan exclusively to audience data and ignore context, we do so at our own peril...”

Deane adds: “The brand that leverages data to identify contexts that are most effective for their ads and finds a way to optimize towards the outcomes it drives at scale, will thrive.”

Perhaps this is activating a teabag ad via a broadsheet title's cooking podcast at tea time or using machine learning algorithms to identify that ads for virus protection perform best integrated with news stories about large-scale data hacks. 

Adam Singolda, founder and chief executive officer of Taboola (which recently bought Outbrain), “publishers don’t generate enough revenue for the hard work it takes to create the content” - he blames the prominence of the digital ad duopoly. 

While there is no quick solution (for some it is by installing content recommendation providers like Tabloola), news brands should stage “long-term investments in building a strong loyal relationship with readers”, he adds. 

It is about building something more than a news site where news is procedurally generated on a daily basis.

"This may mean having direct interaction with readers on the site, offering newsletters, notifications, and personalisation to encourage them to return," continues Singolda. 

Another way to attract readers is by having a message, a platform, a strong tone or a purpose. The Guardian is pursuing its second million supporters with the 'Hope is Power' marketing campaign for example. 

Building purpose platforms has commercial implications. Pippa Scaife, commercial director of CNN says that news brands need to consider what they can offer to brands.

“CNN is homing in on positive, emotional storytelling as a route to helping brands create genuine and lasting connections with their consumers. We want to offer a platform where marketers can be transparent about who their companies are, and how they are trying to work towards a better future.”

Virtue, Vice’s creative agency does just that. Morten Grubak, its executive creative director for northern Europe, believes that publisher-owned creative consultancies “need to focus on the one that no one can beat us at ideas — and making them stunningly clear to even the most uninterested audience”.

Digital media is built upon gathering mass attention, this talent is already inhouse and it can be offered to brands.

Grubak concludes: "We are an industry with an infinite supply and no demand: Our audiences do not notice ads anymore — let alone talk about them. However, the world is hungry for solutions. We need to add value to culture, not just create noise. Concept and craft are what built this industry — and will keep it alive.”

Fake news, trust and evolution

Diminished trust in the media - and in advertising - can hinder the effectiveness of everything from display ads to creative partnerships.

Guru Gowrappan, chief executive officer of Verizon Media is well aware of the damages these trends are causing the industry, be it "fake news, deepfakes, alternative facts and twisted truth".

"People are wary of the media and marketing industry, which has a direct impact on advertisers’ and marketers’ ability to meaningfully communicate with potential consumers."

Gowrappan's solution is to "close the loop" and serve premium content alongside relevant advertising in a brand-safe environment. Verizon Media reaches across brands like Yahoo News, Engadget and HuffPost. It hopes to connect the dots between its vast readership and deliver solid results for partners.

Kyoko Matsushita, chief executive officer at media agency Essence agrees that the biggest challenge facing the industry is in "building trust in advertising in the age of disinformation, privacy breaches, and brand safety".

As a result, the media needs more risk and even bolder-thinking. Linda Yaccarino, chairman, advertising sales and client partnerships, NBC Universal says "there’s too much legacy thinking – and it’s absolutely stifling transformation.

"Incrementalism doesn’t cut it anymore. You can’t go an inch; you must go the mile."

The Drum announced the full list of this year's Digerati earlier this month. To learn more on all of the Digerati's thoughts on advertising, subscribe to our magazine.

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