Publishers Are Aligning to Move Ad Dollars Away From Walled Gardens

They’re collaborating more than ever with advertisers and clients

Clockwise, from top left: Sara Jerde, Allison Murphy, Edwin Wong, Stephanie Layser and Jarrod Dicker. - Credit by Adweek
Headshot of Mónica Marie Zorrilla

Key insight:

Given all of the coverage related to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and other diversity and inclusion initiatives, record-setting highs in online traffic have been seen across all major digital news outlets and platforms in recent months.

Media executives from News Corp, The New York Times, Vox Media and The Washington Post spoke with Adweek publishing editor Sara Jerde during Adweek’s NexTech 2020 Virtual Summit about the trials and tribulations of advertising technology and publishing during this historic moment and how it has evolved business operations. Together, they discussed climbing walled gardens, demanding transparency and what the future holds for the digital media landscape.

Stephanie Layser, vp of advertising and technology at News Corp, said that when the novel coronavirus first hit, while keyword blocks were certainly an issue, messaging lacking social tact and relevance was more of a pressing matter. With the news cycle rapidly changing, marketers had to pause their campaigns to ensure that they appropriately addressed the current moment.

“But, from an advertising perspective, I think that it has exacerbated an issue that we’ve had for a very long time: understanding that news publishers, which are incredibly important to the backbone of our society and our democracy, oftentimes get hit as being non-brand safe during these times,” Layser added.


Allison Murphy, svp of advertising innovation at The New York Times, echoed Layser’s sentiments about “binary brand safety”—meaning users need the information, but advertisers are sometimes scared away from the content—and the importance of being able to help brands think about a more expansive presence in publications during moments of crisis.

“What’s been positive about it is that we got a huge demand for help in understanding where consumers are right now—what do they care about? What do they want to hear from brands?” Murphy said. “And, because we’re publishers who have relationships with our readers in a high-quality way, we were able to answer those questions.”

“I would say that the last two decades of media was really about virality and helping us escape reality,” observed Edwin Wong, vp of insights and innovation at Vox Media. “When you see what a pandemic and systemic retooling and what racism has actually done, we really need to think about the role of journalism and how it actually helps with redefining and rebuilding society.”

Per Wong, Vox Media found when aggregating self-reported and survey data that 70% of consumers said journalism has helped them pivot their lives, and 65% indicated that journalism is helping them make real-time and real-life decisions. “As we think about this notion of brand safety, if we don’t have the larger context of what our properties and what our media is actually doing for the consumer, we can’t retool what brand safety means as well,” he continued.

In the midst of not just Covid-19 and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, but also dealing with ad tech in a post-third-party cookie world, many publishers have had to spend time educating clients and bringing them along the learning curve to tackle the seismic shifts of 2020 in a way that is manageable and flexible.

Jarrod Dicker, vp of commercial at The Washington Post, has also noted that because these unprecedented discussions are being accelerated to keep the ball rolling, publishers are being more collaborative than ever with advertisers and clients.

In the digital advertising realm, Facebook and Google have always reigned. But as the need to build better connections and products has been prioritized, conversations are taking place with collaboration and cohesiveness at the forefront, leading to more action than Dicker has seen before.

Murphy agreed with Dicker, noting during the virtual summit that if agencies keep saying that they’d like to move budgets off of Google and Facebook and would like to start investing more in publishers, then publishers must center themselves around this idea and align on common frameworks to move dollars away from walled gardens.

“We need to start aligning on common taxonomies because we could then at that point start to offer things at scale, if all of us agree on how we can offer things out in the market,” Murphy said.


@monicroqueta monica.zorrilla@adweek.com Mónica is a breaking news reporter at Adweek.