A call to action for mobile investment
If you’re not investing in mobile, you’re already behind.
That was a consensus point among a panel of mobile media executives speaking at Mediapost’s OMMA Global conference in New York earlier this week. The panelists shared their insights on the opportunities and challenges publishers and advertisers are facing amid the rising popularity of mobile devices.
"Everything is there in terms of reach, and data, and the number of devices that are getting smarter buy the day," said Jason Gruber, senior director of mobile business development with Microsoft. "Any publisher or advertiser that isn’t taking mobile very seriously will be a substantially different or smaller business in about 24 months, or they may not even exist."
How much is mobile permeating the publisher mindset? During the latest upfront period, when networks and advertisers negotiate deals for the upcoming TV season, the Weather Channel led with mobile as part of its pitch, said Beth Lawrence, executive vice president, ad sales and media solutions for the Weather Channel Companies.
"There was a lot of mobile data in a TV [presentation]," she said. "The agencies like that we’re leading with mobile – it’s a massive priority." Lawrence added that mobile is the No. 1 priority in her group and one of the top 3 in the company as a whole.
The advertising demand is certainly there. Jeff Tennery, senior vice president of business development for mobile ad network Millennial Media, says he’s seeing pockets of demand outrun supply for the first time in Millennial’s four-year existence, and he estimated that 300-400 advertisers are coming into the company’s ad marketplace monthly.
So what’s keeping publishers from investing more heavily in mobile? There are two main obstacles: resources and skills.
The fragmentation of the mobile market makes it difficult for publishers to determine where to place their bets. Should they develop just for the iPhone/iPad? How will the Android’s momentum affect the market? The market is not at a point yet where mobile media buys can scale because there are too many moving and often incongruous parts.
"Platforms within the mobile ecosystem all have nasty little complexities – different browsers, devices, even country builds of different operating systems," said Ernie Cormier, CEO of Nexage, which sells mobile optimization solutions.
This makes it hard to create a comprehensive cross-platform strategy – but it should not keep publishers from experimenting with different solutions.
"It would be shortsighted to look at just one platform," said Tennery. "Don’t shortchange the investment in mobile, because the demand is coming – even for platforms that are not being heavily invested in now. At the end of the day, advertisers want reach."
The key is to identify the platforms that deliver that collective reach, and then find ways to share resources (content and creative) across those platforms as efficiently as possible.
"We have to constantly educate our sellers on how many ways you can slice the pie," said Lawrence. "The more you can seamlessly send a message that says the same thing across all platforms, the easier you make it on the buyer."
Dan Hodges, head of mobile sales for Associated Press, said his team makes mobile investment decisions based on three filters: What are we good at, where is the consumer demand, and where can we offer a superior consumer experience?
"You have to make choices," he said. "If you follow the behaviors of your users, the chances are your choices will be right."
Amid the frenzy over developing new smartphone and tablet apps, publishers would be wise not to shortchange ongoing efforts to optimize their websites for all mobile users.
"You can’t forget about the ‘dumb phone’ audience," said Jordan Greene, principal with MellaMedia, a media services agency.
Sales teams see the opportunities for high CPMs with mobile campaigns but have trouble monetizing their programs because they don’t understand the platforms or advertisers’ objectives, said Tennery, who called mobile "a slow moving ship for traditional media companies."
Lack of education about how the mobile market differs from traditional print and online selling is a big challenge.
"Media companies are still trying to sell mobile on old models," said Greene. "They’re putting their sales forces out there without any additional education. Doing that is pointless."
The Weather Channel has hired mobile specialists to advise the sales team on emerging technologies and creative solutions. "They are very helpful," said Lawrence. "Their assignment right now is to do a lot of evangelizing."
Cormier sees a large disparity among publishers’ sophistication in the mobile market – similar to the Web in the mid-1990s. "Some are extremely advanced, and with others, you get the sense they are hoping it’s a bad dream and will go away," he said. "It’s incumbent for us to acknowledge this disparity, without being disdainful of it."
Co-existing with mobile ad networks
Publishers should be able to craft mobile strategies that focus on premium value – based on engagement, for example – that advertisers can’t get from mobile ad networks. The AP, for example, launched a World Cup Soccer app that was downloaded in 202 countries. Heavy users of its news app are accessing AP content 10 to 15 times a day. The Weather Channel found success with its iPad app by putting special packages together for retail, automotive, and financial services advertisers. It sold out its inventory in 36 hours.
As with online sales, however, publishers must understand that they will need to coexist with the ad networks. "The sponsorship deals should go direct [through the publisher], but [ad networks] can help optimize their second-level inventory on a CPM basis," said Tennery. "They should complement each other."
"The days of the exclusives are gone," added Cormier. "Anyone competing in this space has to be flexible and get along with others – because you’re not going to have this space to yourself."