Breaking Down the Risk of News

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Written by: Allison Schulte, SVP, Product, Dentsu Aegis Network

In the summer of 2001, I worked at a local newspaper in Mississippi. I covered school board meetings, Walmart openings and little league tournaments. My first day there, I thought I couldn’t possibly come up with enough to write about. But every day as we put the paper to bed at 5pm, I had scads more information I wanted to put in the day’s stories and a thick outline for the next day. It seemed as if nothing happened during my time there, and everything did.

I love local news.

I moved on from it in my career, though. I stayed in journalism for a while, then on to politics, then advertising. I learned about cookies, ad exchanges, and how to build models that tell you how much to bid for every ad impression on the internet. Much of this technology has been great for advertisers’ budgets, but hard for the news industry. It simply takes money to fund a quality newsroom, and when an advertiser can reach the same user for less money on other websites, they’ll often take that choice.

This technology helped the ad industry become remarkably dynamic and efficient, but it makes it a troubling place for journalism. Advertisers with huge budgets and great reputations can get away with NOT supporting news outlets – sometimes without ever addressing it – using technology like my models, and real-time keyword blocking to avoid negative or polarizing topics.

And while advertisers may treat news as risky or expensive, the consumers we’re talking to treat it as vital. The events of 2020 underline this point, but it’s always been true. Breaking news affects our daily choices, while the deeply reported investigative work brings insight to our moment, and how we got here. No wonder levels of trustengagement and dwell time are higher in news than other verticals.

All of this led me to a question. How can we use all our sophisticated technology – our terabytes of data, our real-time targeting, our modeling and data science – to lead marketers more confidently into news?

This question led us to build an initiative at Dentsu (where I work now), codenamed ‘the Fourth Estate Project.’ Some efforts take a village, this one has taken a whole city. We pulled together folks from across the industry; The New York Times, NewsCorp, The Washington Post, Vox Media, CNN and others brought their perspectives, their sophisticated modeling, and trading technologies. We’ve also had support from publishers, verification companies, buyers, and marketers, who’ve all contributed with enthusiasm.

There are four components of our approach:

Aggregate High-Quality Supply – a universe of quality news publishers who create their own content, stand behind it, and pass technology-led quality filtering

Strategic Content Adjacency – to surface some of the outstanding work being done by key news outlets on semantic analysis and content classification

Proper Use of Brand Safety Layers- more appropriate use of blocking and monitoring technology; keyword blocking isn’t the only tool, but it’s still got a place in the toolkit

Measure Performance Holistically –because advertising reflects a brand’s values through its partnerships

The result? We’ve helped our advertisers audit their current news footprint, find their successful strategies and expand. We’re already seeing higher recall rates and stronger engagement, and we’re just getting started.

This deeply unusual year has put in stark relief how differently advertisers and consumers value the news. It’s exciting where we can use technology to bridge this gap and bring advertisers closer to content their audiences care about. When quality news is appropriately valued, it is good for advertisers, good for consumers, and yes, good for the newsrooms.

The homepage of my Mississippi newspaper today has an article on free mask distributions in the area. I know that cost-per-thousand ad impressions won’t make-or-break their year, but I’m proud we’re working to be part of the solution.

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