During the 2016 US presidential election, news publishers experienced an uptick in engagement. The Trump era has kept that engine going. Politico is no exception, where traffic is up more than 30% year over year.
That’s one of the reasons why Politico overhauled its website on Tuesday, showing more stories above the fold and optimizing the layout for advertisers, said Politico’s VP and GM of audience solutions, Cally Stolbach Baute.
“We’re building to be flexible,” she said.
Despite the redesign and the traffic increase, Baute acknowledges that some advertisers just want to stay away from news or political content.
But for those who embrace it, Politico’s new look is built to create more opportunities not just for its own content, but for brand advertisers as well.
AdExchanger spoke with Baute.
AdExchanger: How have Politico’s ad products changed following the relaunch?
CALLY STOLBACH BAUTE: The site has more opportunities now to showcase brand content, which has been a real growth engine for us. We had organizations asking us to create content of value for them or to run content they themselves had created – but the canvas for that is very different than the canvas for a 300x250 ad.
At the same time, we needed to create a balance between these deeply engaging opportunities to showcase brand content and capitalizing on our programmatic revenue. Some of our business is cyclical and tied to recesses when there’s less legislative activity going on.
What do you do on the programmatic side?
We have a very robust programmatic offering that we started to build out at the end of 2011/early 2012 when we onboarded a DMP and created our own DSP to drive a deep understanding of our audience.
We have a programmatic sales team that handles direct and private marketplace deals and we have a programmatic operations team that works on increasing our yield by onboarding things like header bidding and Ads.txt.
Despite increased readership of political news since the 2016 election, some advertisers steer clear of polarizing issues. How does that impact your ability to attract brands?
I understand why brands feel like they’re at a crossroads here. They don’t want to be on the wrong side of a debate or associated with something that could make them be seen as political one way or the other.
If people are worried about being near news content, they cut themselves off from being relevant. The NFL wasn’t political in its own right before, but now if you go to the front page of ESPN, it’s riddled with political content.
Politics are unavoidable – just be smart about who you’re reaching. Be smart about what you’re saying, really think about the story you want to tell and do it in a way that’s genuine to your brand.
With the caveat that all the news on Politico is political, how do you provide a brand-safe environment for your advertisers from a programmatic perspective?
We’re very upfront. Our site covers politics and policy. If your goal is to reach a person and that person is on Politico, you should work with us. We haven’t had programmatic partners pull back or not want to run with us anymore because of our content. They need to follow a cookie to get the acquisition they want.
We provide keyword targeting, though, because some folks don’t want to be visible around something like a natural disaster, for example. But we’re also very clear: If something is driving the news cycle in a particular way, be aware that the opportunity to reach your audience might be limited if you’re not comfortable being around this kind of content.
Which types of advertisers form your base?
Any corporate or company in a highly regulated industry is a fit for Politico. We have Fortune 50, 100 and 500 companies, as well as associations that channel a lot of their lobbying and communication efforts through DC, whether that’s a business roundtable association, the American Petroleum Institute or the Environmental Defense Fund.
And large group of consumer advertisers on the programmatic side that want to reach our educated audience of business travelers and community leaders with a high household income.
What’s Politico’s revenue breakdown?
Half of our advertising revenue is digital and the rest is evenly broken up between the other tactics we deploy, including our content studio and events.
It might be shocking, but print is also still incredibly robust in DC. We distribute a print newspaper and magazine six times a year when Congress is in session and it represents a healthy portion of our revenue.
And thanks to Facebook for taking out print ads with some big publishers last week to showcase that, print still has a lot of value.
Speaking of Facebook, has the Cambridge Analytica scandal made your advertisers nervous?
What’s happening with Cambridge Analytica is something we cover and something we pay attention so, but it’s not something that makes us vulnerable. We’re very protective of both our own data as well as consumer data from people coming to our site, one, because it’s the right thing to do, and two, because we have an incredibly valuable audience and there’s a lot of risk in being exposed to data leakage.
But this is a canary in the coal mine for all of us to be judicious about how we handle sensitive information and very upfront about what that data is being used for.