Challenge accepted: Identifying the key to the Agency-Publisher relationships at Key Biscayne

What are agencies’ main concerns when they work with publishers, and why do they sometimes feel like Sherlock Holmes?

Time and place: 19–21 September 2016, Key Biscayne, Florida.

The Digiday Publish Summit 2016 — Key Biscayne, Florida.

This week in sunny Key Biscayne Florida, Digiday hosted a few hundred media executives at their Publishing Summit. This event brought together publishers and ad tech companies to share insights, network and find opportunities to work together.

The two-and-a-half day conference consisted of a series of townhalls, sandbox sessions and 10 minute meetings. The event was kicked off by Paul Rossi, President of Group Media Businesses for The Economist, who spoke about The Economist’s unique business model and our ability to be successful in today’s very complicated media landscape.

Confessions from anonymous agency executives

One of the most engaging sessions run by Digiday was the “Confessions of an Agency Executive.” For this activity the host invited three executives to join via conference call, gave them code names and disguised their voices so that they could give candid, unedited answers about their work with Publishers in full anonymity.

Panel: “Confessions of agency Executives”.

The executives described how the biggest challenge of working with sales executives was their “obvious lack of knowledge about the technical aspects of what they are selling”. An added challenge was that most publishers are not mindful enough of the fact that their proposal is one of anywhere from a dozen to one hundred that they could be evaluating at the time.

Another key takeaway from this session was the fact that agency executives appear to be told conflicting information all the time. Everyone who pitches to them is telling them that they have the most reach, best viewability, and verification.

Executives end up feeling like Sherlock Homes as they try to verify and validate the various publisher’s claims themselves.

In spite of some negative confessions, this was a generally positive session wherein executives shared that they work best with brands they trust, who are flexible when their idea is not quite right and needs to be adjusted and they can provide them with an idea that resonates with both their core audience and the audience their brand is trying to reach. The anonymous executives also stressed the notion that results and insights matter and that first party data is key.

Other trends across the conference

A few key trends came up in many of the speakers’ presentations. Ad blocking, viewability, header bidding, latency and fraud were central to most discussions.

One of the most apparent themes has been the importance of building a loyal user base, engaging them and putting them first. Publications like The Economist that have an active, paying subscriber-base as a key part of their business are well positioned to deliver on this promise.

Another thing that was discussed in most panels is the rise of different platforms and the importance of understanding that content needs to be delivered in new and different ways that resonate with the users engaging there. Brands need to speak in image on Instagram, vertical video on Snapchat, etc. The key to doing this is a strong brand identity and sense of editorial mission, which makes it easier to tie a consistent thread through a publisher’s presence on multiple platforms.

This was one of the many events Digiday hosts every year. Its next Publishing event will the Digiday Publishing Summit Europe 2016, the next 26–28 October in Nice, France.

Christina Fanelli is Director of Business Development for Ideas People Media at The Economist.