The Fibs That Publishers And Political Buyers Tell Each Other

jordanlieberman"AdExchanger Politics" is a weekly column tracking developments in the 2016 political campaign cycle.

Today’s column is written by Jordan Lieberman, politics and public affairs lead at Audience Partners.

Political and public affairs digital buying is exciting, dynamic and terrifying. There is real innovation and gifted salespeople, and the two do not necessarily overlap.

There is a single lesson that political buyers need when navigating this space: You get what you pay for.

I’ve published about 60 print editions of “Campaigns & Elections” magazine, as well as the website PoliticsPA.com about 15 years ago. PoliticsPA.com generated a few thousand dollars per month in revenue because we charged monthly rates for standard banner ads to an elite audience, regardless of site traffic; “Campaigns & Elections” generated a bit more.

In today’s market, that same traffic would generate, at most, $1,000 in exchange-based ad revenue if I did it right. If bots blew out my traffic, I could approach that original few thousand dollars per month figure.

Therein lies the problem. The vast majority of digital publishers must choose between being profitable and offering only high-quality inventory. With a handful of exceptions, that’s it. Otherwise, you're fibbing to each other.

Publishers, here are the fibs that political and public affairs buyers hear you saying:

“We deliver only to likely voters who are uniform in terms of ideology.”

“Our traffic is so high in your target geography that you don’t need to audience target programmatically.”

“Based on entertainment selections and ZIP codes, we know that your voter is a Democrat or Republican.”

“You can only reach this unique audience on our site.”

Political buyers, here are unreasonable demands that publishers hear you saying:

“I have a large budget, small target universe and only a 30-second pre-roll. Go!”

“I want every impression to run above the fold on your home page.”

“I would like to pre-buy all your inventory, but it should be 100% refundable up until the time I might need it.”

“Even though election season coincides with Q4 digital marketing spend increases, my candidate is more important than your auto ad.”

I understand the nature of the publisher – political requires some creative marketing. Publishers need to remember that most political buyers are new at this. Many will believe publishers’ fibs the first time and get burned with low viewabilty or poor reach into their specific universe.

Political buyers need to remember that the publishing industry is in crisis, and programmatic buying is starving any publisher who doesn't have massive scale or isn’t willing to commit a wee bit of fraud to boost page views. Header bidding will help improve the economics for publishers, but it doesn’t change the fact that the market rewards the BuzzFeed business model (but not its partisanship) and relentlessly punishes your regional newspaper.

We know that political and public affairs buying will soon be in crisis as the 2016 cycle winds down and the weakest players evaporate. With that, the remaining players are going to get smarter about quality inventory.

We also know that poor ad inventory will be punished in the marketplace and we’ll approach that nirvana of a transparent auction for audience where inventory quality can be properly quantified. But in the absence of the perfect platform, let’s recognize that in digital targeting there are lies, damn lies and salesmen.

Follow Audience Partners (@AudiencePartner) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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