"Failing" never felt so good.
The New York Times is riding a wave of goodwill from loyal readers in the early months of the Trump presidency. Rising subscriptions and audience engagement have created momentum as the company strives to grow digital revenues to $800 million by 2020. (They were just under $500 million in 2016.)
"The vibe among people in sales and business functions at The New York Times is extremely positive," said Sebastian Tomich, the company's SVP of advertising and innovation, in the latest episode of AdExchanger Talks. "The newsroom is invigorated."
But it's not only the harrowing national political moment that has created new energy. Tomich says there's a palpable sense, among staffers and in the industry at large, that consumers want direct relationships with independent media outfits, unmediated by social algorithms.
A few years ago, he said, "You had a lot of hot new digital publishers – like BuzzFeed, Vice and Vox – and there seemed to be this pervasive narrative that they were the future, and all millennials and new readers wanted social-first news, and the future of all news consumption was on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter."
"That narrative has shifted," according to Tomich. "People are sold on the fact that high-quality journalism and destination publishers like the Times and the Post and The Wall Street Journal have a pretty vibrant future."
From an ad sales standpoint, that future includes copious automation, supplemented with high-touch brand partnerships such as the company's work on 360-degree video, and its new podcast, The Daily, launched in partnership with BMW. "You're seeing for the first time big newsroom and business-side collaborations … projects that we never could have gotten done three years ago," he said.
Even as it doubles down on brand partnerships, the company is looking to offload day-to-day tactical media sales.
"What's going away is that tactical middle where you had media agencies sending us RFPs for $250,000 or $500,000, saying, 'Can I sponsor your home page next week.' That kind of business is going away and that's moving more into programmatic,” he said. “All of the sponsorships are becoming much more high-end and much more involved on our side."
The Times is proudly "subscription-first," a fact that benefits its ad sales efforts.
"If you look at the ad business, it benefits from us being a subscription business first," Tomich said. “The more engaged readers we have is a lot better for our ad business. You know a lot more about them. You get better data. You end up with more engagement broadly. … It plays very well for us.”
Also in this episode: Do brands really care about fake news? Is the Times home page undervalued? And does the company care about data leakage?
This episode is supported by Acxiom.