Minneapolis' Star Tribune has been a relatively early and aggressive adopter of programmatic ad sales. The newspaper site has just finished a re-installation of Google DoubleClick's DFP system as part of a wider effort to expand its own Advantage program, which covers real-time biddable inventory and targeting.
The basic promise of Star Trib's Advantage is to automate direct sales so marketers, agencies and demand-side platforms can skip RFPs, insertion orders and negotiations. The system's latest enhancements include video, email, mobile and e-newsletter inventory.
"The re-installation of DFP Premium was a significant moment for us, in terms of how we monetize our inventory," said Ray Faust, the Star Trib's VP for emerging media. "It was a six-month process of…rethinking all the digital inventory we had. Imagine yourself being a grocery stocker. It's like restocking every shelf in a way that everything has optimum turnover – stuff doesn't sit and expire. We see this as a way to redefine what 'premium programmatic' represents for us."
It's often said that "premium" is in the eye of the beholder. In Faust's view, premium begins with guaranteed, reserved inventory.
"It can, but doesn't have to be defined as higher value, larger ad formats," he said. "True 'premium' are ad units that go beyond the Interactive Advertising Bureau basic threshold, if you will. We need to get away from the 300x250s, 160x600s, 728x90s. They're so ubiquitous – and that's a big factor behind ad blindness. Those units are a commodity – and I don't know what's premium about a commodity."
Still, there is the problem of scale. So the Star Trib does rely on some of the IAB's Rising Stars ad units – particularly the IAB Portrait, which is 300x1050, and the Billboard, which is 970x250.
"Larger format ads create a more dynamic, more interactive opportunity that can be more viewable," Faust said. "Being able to buy and transact those ad units in a seamless fashion without a lot of middlemen is what will make the idea of premium programmatic more meaningful to publishers like us."
Along with adding the majority of its digital inventory into programmatic systems, Faust said the Star Trib is constantly managing the mix of ad tech partners.
In addition to Google's AdX, the Star Trib uses Rubicon, not Google's AdMeld, for its yield management and as its supply-side platform. And it works with iSocket for its self-serve ad sales for local targeting, while it employs AdSlot for out-of-market ad sales. The newspaper is currently evaluating some new data management partners to improve its targeting options, which Faust hopes to have done before summer.
"By shifting the mix of ad sales tools we've used, we've seen strong performance on the direct and indirect side," Faust said. "We've had more opportunity to sell contextual adjacencies or audience adjacencies. It allowed us to set up some standards in how our inventory is set up. We have four areas of monetization for our site: homepage, section fronts, sub-sections and article pages. We're refining a standard across those four areas that establishes a baseline for the inventory we have. While we're almost complete with that process, it's really one of constant reevaluation. It's never-ending, but that's what works."