Q&A: The Wall Street Journal programmatic sales executive Brendan Cleary

Brendan Cleary is Programmatic Sales Executive at the Wall Street Journal and was one of the speakers at a recent Rubicon Project Marketplace Summit. We caught up with him to find out more about WSJ’s automated advertising strategy, the role of direct orders and first party data:

Can you give an overview of your automated advertising strategy so far and what your aims have been in implementing it?

In the first instance, we launched Audex in October 2012 as an effort to monetize our unsold inventory, and to capitalize on the growing trend towards automated advertising on the part of ad agencies and their trading desks.

Since we typically have a high sell-through rate, our initial approach was a conservative one: we decided to work with a handful of advertisers as we experimented in the space. As we learned the ropes, treading lightly was the best approach for us, as we began to gather insights and revenue through real-time bidding from advertisers that had previously not been covered by our direct sales team.

As buyers’ attentions shifted towards direct orders in Q1 2013, likewise we began to focus more on these one-to-one agreements. Direct orders were particularly beneficial to premium publishers like WSJ, bringing higher yields and even more granular pricing controls to this channel.

What were the main reasons for partnering with Rubicon Project on your automated advertising strategy?

At the Wall Street Journal protecting our users and their data has always been paramount. After shopping around, it became clear to us that Rubicon Project provides the highest levels of publisher controls in the market. That hasn’t changed since we started working together.

Additionally, the customer service Rubicon Project provides is top notch. I couldn’t imagine a better team being at hand for us, as they are 24/7, all year around.

What are your views on publishers’ first party data and its place in your approach to direct orders?

We currently have 25 audience segments available on the Rubicon Project platform. We see 1st party data as increasingly important within automated advertising – after all, everyone can access third party data, but 1st party data is scarce, therefore buyers are prepared to pay a premium to access it.

As a publisher with a paid content model, this offering becomes even more compelling when you add in subscription data into the mix.

What steps do you take to ensure this data is passed securely?

Data security and privacy are a critical part of the trust and relationship we have with our audience.

This is why each trading desk buying from us must first sign up to our data policy – we’re not comfortable with pixel dropping.

How do you see this market developing in 2014?

The growth rate of automated advertising speaks for itself, and we believe our strategy so far puts us in a great position for next year: both to hold onto the value of our direct deals, as well as capitalizing on the increasing importance of direct orders.

The other big trend we see alongside the growth of automated advertising is the increasing shift of news and media consumption to mobile devices. While our tablet inventory is already well monetized, we are currently scoping out the best options around selling inventory across mobile web and app traffic.

Another significant trend we see is in the number of advertisers that are using a combination of automated advertising and direct buying within a single campaign – for instance, pushing high impact formats through direct sales, and combining those with direct orders, traded programmatically.

We expect to see many more examples of this dual approach in the coming year.


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