B2B Programmatic Ad Sales & the BPA Media Exchange
Programmatic advertising accounts for more than 80% of digital advertising sales today, and rising, according to all reports. Yet only a virtual handful of B2B publishers have been making or accepting programmatic sales.
Is this a giant missed opportunity hiding in plain sight?
Programmatic is an inevitability, whether or not an unqualified opportunity. The overwhelming bulk of programmatic advertising is purchased for CPMs at a fraction of the rates B2B publishers charge. For that reason, it has widely been looked at only as a way to fill remnant space.
With programmatic forecast to account for $65B in advertising sales by 2020, there are good reasons to consider testing the waters.
A B2B Industry Solution
Market-leading B2B media auditor BPA Worldwide did a soft-launch of a programmatic platform for B2B publishers in September 2017. After some upgrades, they launched BPA Media Exchange in earnest in August 2018. There are nearly 20 publishers and more than 100 websites initially offering ads through the exchange, with many others in the process of joining.
I was invited to attend a BPA Media Exchange Summit in the Washington, DC area last month, one of a series held for current and prospective publishing partners. Most of those attending were just about to get started in this new programmatic world and there to learn from vendor partners and current publishing participants. The mood was upbeat.
“There is tons and tons of demand” for audiences of highly credible niche business publishers, according to Miles Dennison of 33Across, a sales and technology partner. The result is a marketplace of quality media brands that, for the most part, are not otherwise available to programmatic buyers. Because BPA audits all participating sites, advertisers are assured they are buying inventory that is “clean, high-quality and fraud-free.”
That said, the mean payment publishers will see unless they are selling directly is in a range of $5 to $7 CPM. You get a higher fill rate if you set your floor rate at $2 per thousand. Most B2B direct-sales pricing I see is in the $35-$135 CPM range, sometimes more for those selling time-based sponsorship programs instead of CPM. If you don’t have mega-traffic with empty impressions, accepting those prices can be a short conversation. I have had it many times. Just before the dawn of programmatic I ran an ad network similar to the BPA’s, peaking at 400 publishing sites. It is interesting for me to see the rates have not changed.
“95% of publishers I talk to think programmatic equals RTB,” shared Scott Roulet, VP of BPA Media Exchange, referring to open real-time bidding exchanges. RTB is typically done through open ad exchanges and platforms where price is determined, per impression, based an auction for the individual who has arrived at a page with an open ad spot. This is done in milliseconds. Those $5-$7 rates are only when using the exchange’s open RTB option. The kind of rates publishers are used to come from direct sales.
There may be billions of dollars in the wind, but plugging into the unfiltered world of Big-Data-programmatic can be dangerous to your brand’s health. You are never going to have more data about each of your readers and customers than Google, LinkedIn, Blue Kai, Acxiom and other data sellers that compete with you directly and indirectly. Your advantage is in Deep Data, more nuanced and market-specific than the big boys. If you expose your website to broad ad placement by programmatic buyers, some of them will siphon off your audience data via data leakage, surreptitious code, digital fingerprinting and other techniques “beyond the cookie.”
A big thing I like about the BPA Media Exchange is the layer of protection it provides from data theft. BPA partner 33Across manages the SSP (supply side platform) and they assure me it acts as a wall between publishers and those DSPs that might otherwise be sniffing around for your audience data.
Direct Sales Tools
Some agencies are starting to demand programmatic buying tools. Mike Ring, digital business development manager at Endeavor Business Media, said they have advertisers pressuring them for programmatic access. With the control BPA Media Exchange provides, you can set different floors for advertisers to avoid cannibalizing your rates. You can also whitelist and blacklist advertisers, among other settings than enable you to manage which accounts see what inventory at what rates.
Upon receipt of an RFP from an advertiser asking to use your programmatic tools, publishers issue a “Deal ID” based on the parameters specified. This ID allows them to access the inventory you have permitted them to view. It enables you to make a sale you might not make without the SSP technology. Publishers can even set up their own private marketplaces. Time-based ad sales models are also supported by the exchange.
It was acknowledged in the room that introducing programmatic sales can instill fear in your sales organization. For your ad sales staff this ranges from fear of advertising clients seeing lower rates than they are offering to fear of losing their jobs. Ideas were shared as to how to make this positive for everyone. Sales reps spend a lot of time managing operational tasks that can be automated by the exchange, which frees up time to sell. It was suggested to use programmatic as a prospecting tool for bigger sales. There was agreement that programmatic budgets are often separate from other budgets. In those cases, exchange buys would theoretically not diminish direct buys.
Informa executives present were enthusiastic about the exchange’s ability to power their audience extension campaigns. Audience extension is often accomplished by selling retargeted impressions to your site visitors on other sites and/or selling by personas based on buyer profiling of your site visitors. With the BPA Media Exchange, publishers will also have the ability to place ads by market segments on other sites.
Informa, one of the largest B2B publishers, has about 300 company websites and has since joined the exchange. Joann Kropp, VP of global data strategy, said they sell audience extension impressions at the same rate as company-owned inventory. In fact, they have seen better response to extended ads, even from their core audience members by using first-party data to target the right individuals and stay in front of them, rather than dropping a cookie on anonymous traffic. With these results, extension sales were up 35% year-over-year. Others who sell extension campaigns talked about discounts for outside inventory, or selling at blended rates.
For publishers without unsold impression tonnage, in addition to direct sales and audience extension, the next best reason to consider trying the BPA Media Exchange is their data partnership, which gives members enhanced targeting capabilities. BPA calls Bombora “the leading provider of B2B intent data…. which monitors the consumption habits of 2.8 million companies.” In particular, this might open up account-based marketing (ABM) sales to publishers. ABM sales would be high-value and should command far higher advertising pricing than your standard ROS rates.
Programmatic sales have been a race to the bottom for consumer publishers. With thoughtful usage and programs like the one BPA created, hopefully B2B publishers can avoid those pitfalls.
Related story: Could the B2B Media Exchange Be One Answer to Ad Fraud?
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.