Why Cookies Are Better Than Crumbs

November 29, 2017

Publishers need to stop chasing crumbs and start focusing on the cookies. While publishers are now competing against platforms and networks, many still believe they have to beat other publishers to ‘win’.

When a senior publisher leader tells me why they are (marginally) better than another publisher, I have to remind them you’re talking about crumbs, let’s talk about the cookies. I have observed a legacy issue occurring of all the media companies I walk in and out of globally. Leadership and sales teams are focused on the wrong competitor.

Making the shift involves a reset in sales, which I outline below some strategies for. First though, having awareness for how budget is being allocated is a prerequisite.

How Brands Invest In Content

Content continues to be one of the hottest segments of digital advertising, as brands look for meaningful ways to engage with their target customers (and let’s be honest, no one is excited about display banners these days). The way brands are investing in content though has changed and publishers are starting to really internalise that they do not have a monopoly on content anymore.

A simplified view are three segments (with some examples) of the market of where brands (or their agencies) direct investment in content.

Social and Video Platforms: Facebook, YouTube, SnapChat and others have become a key distribution channel for today’s content-led programs, with brands able to easily access massive scale with deep targeting capabilities on most platforms.

Ad Networks & Exchanges: Teads, ShareThrough, Outbrain and literally hundreds of other companies are aggregating ad inventory (supply) across the web and offering it at “wholesale rates” to brands to promote content. More attention is paid to price versus quality; there is often a lack of transparency on where a brand’s content will actually run.

Premium Content: Oath, Conde Nast, News Corp and Gannett are just some of the publishers providing brands with a variety of content solutions, with quality content and trusted audiences as the key benefits. Premium publishers also add credibility to the content creation and experience which in turn lets brands attract audiences they may not be able to on their own.

Here is another look at the three segments, mapped against quality and reach.

Answer The Question Already

If you run a publisher today, you have to answer an important strategic question for your business: ‘are we going after the crumbs or the cookies’. This one answer has major implications to how you run, structure and incent the organization.

This starts with recognizing the real threat to the premium content business. It is not other publishers but rather brands and their agencies to execute content in-house (or with help) and then buying distribution across platforms and networks themselves, cutting out publishers altogether.

Helping brands understand the value in premium content is an effort that will rise the tide to lift all ships. Trying to educate and influence buyers as to why one publisher is better than other publishers will soon be received on deaf ears.

The Reset Sales Needs

The legacy issue most publishers face though is that their sales organization, including marketing, pre-sales, post-sales, client services and insights teams, have all been trained on how to sell against other publishers. Who is writing the playbook for how a publisher sales person sells against Facebook or Outbrain?

This is the major reset that is required in the sales organization to have a chance at getting the cookies, otherwise you’ll have to continue to settle for the crumbs.

Here are 5 strategies (and some tactics) you can take:

Market Awareness And Education: A big ask but a needed one. The bar is now higher in digital advertising and any content seller needs to understand how ads are bought and sold on their real competitors.

  • Tip: Give each seller $50 and tell them to run a Facebook ad campaign, Google AdWords campaign or Outbrain content campaign.

Sales Kit Upgrade: Buyers who are hearing a publisher pitch are consciously asking themselves ‘do I really need a publisher or should I just do this myself?’. Knowing this, build into your kit why they should partner with you as a publisher versus doing it themselves (not versus doing it with another publisher).

  • Tip: Run a head-to-head experiment with an agency or brand, where they run an in-house content program alongside a publisher-driven campaign. Compare the differences and case study it.

Objection Handling: Prep and arm your sales team with a more relevant FAQ focused on why premium content vs platforms or networks.

  • Tip: Assign an internal expert whose job it is to understand your real competitors inside & out, who can act as a ‘safety blanket’ for sellers.

Listen First: Take the time to really understand what works for brands within platforms and networks. And go deeper than reach and efficiency.

  • Tip: Go take 10 clients out for lunch or dinner in the next 30 days and try not to sell them anything. Just ask good questions and listen.

Provide value: Just as publishers feel lost and confused at times, brands and agencies equally are struggling to make sense of how to invest, how to measure if it worked and how to stay on top of the ever changing landscape. Help them.

  • Tip: Run content marketing programs focused on education (not selling). Add value to clients that does not involve them buying media from you but genuinely helps them do their job.

Stop Calling It Native

You are selling content, not native. Why? Because your competitors are selling native (as a format), and you are selling content (as a strategy). A strategy is far more valuable than a format. Formats in digital are commodities, they are easy to buy and sell through automated pipes and are generally lower-funnel focused. Content is an upper-funnel strategy, that while may be executed and distributed via native, display, video formats, you need to anchor your position on premium content.

Enjoy The Cookies

Set the vision that you are focused on the cookies, and set expectations that it will be challenging, involve change but in the end cookies are better than crumbs.

They also allow you to feed your editorial staff who are creating content to help inform, inspire and educate the world. And I can’t imagine a world without premium content, that is why we are focused on helping enable a business model for it.

Kunal Gupta is the Founder & CEO of Polar. Follow his leadership blog at findfocus.today. At Polar, Kunal leads a talented team transforming the media publishing industry with technology. He is passionate about leadership and finding focus in a modern era. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Medium or Twitter.



This benchmarks report presents a detailed look at global aggregate performance data, as well as specific performance across Australia, United States, and the United Kingdom.