Online Publishers Push for AcceptanceNEW YORK -- Michael Zimbalist, president of the Online Publishers Association and session moderator, asked the publishing executives at ad:tech New York a simple question: Anyone heard of the Apollo Group?
He looked around the room. No one had an answer. Not even the panelists he was moderating.
Apollo Group was the largest online advertiser last month, Zimbalist told the audience.
"We're grateful for Apollo Group, Expedia and Travelocity," he said, "but when is GM going to take out Apollo Group from the top spot?"
Mainstream acceptance from major advertisers is what Zimbalist seeks for his association's members: the nation's leading publishers. Such recognition is being won one battle at a time.
One way is pushing the Web's value as a branding medium. Thus, Zimbalist asked his panel: Are we getting a view of the Web that's less direct response-focused? Or are we going to see more Netflix and LowerMyBills.com? Answers varied.
"We've gone from a reactive marketplace to a proactive marketplace," said John Trimble, senior vice president of sales at FoxSports Interactive Media.
That said, publishers need to meet with agencies and advertisers to devise online campaigns that synchronize with the overall marketing.
"We need to shift focus from the remnant ad model to more significant advertising sales," Trimble said.
Caroline Little, CEO of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, was seeing more clients buy on an upfront strategy basis. Demand for video and RSS ads is up. And one advertiser is even going to take over the entire Post site next month, she said.
Beth Lawrence, vice president of Eastern sales for Yahoo Inc., sees more interactive executives working closely with broadcast media buyers. Internet budgets often are being considered before allocating for other media.
For its part, the Chicago Sun-Times saw an increase last year in automotive industry commitment to integrated Internet media buying as part of a long-term strategy. Even companies like McDonald's have realized online marketing's value.
"For us, big-box retailers still have to understand [online marketing]," said Jack Barry, vice president of online publications at the Chicago Sun-Times and RogerEbert.com.
His co-panelists agreed. Lawrence noted the benefits of running online ads via ZIP code-targeting, adding that consumer packaged goods marketers are "really coming out of the gates with spending."
Zimbalist focused next on the evolution of metrics. Lawrence said her company still has to guide advertisers. Barry saw a lot more brand awareness campaigns. Trimble talked about a "return on objective." His idea was to position the right ads next to the appropriate content to generate awareness.
"For us it's really difficult to compete in the direct response world," he said.
Inventory management was a mixed bag for panelists.
"We're so big, I don't think we're ever going to run out [of content inventory]," Lawrence said of Yahoo. "The premium inventory does move fast, but we scale constantly." Yahoo draws 400 million unique users a month, she said.
The Sun-Times faces inventory pressure with its travel and business content, Barry said, "but I see it getting worse in the coming year."
Little admitted she felt inventory pressure. However, publishers have grown savvier in packaging content differently, she said.
Trimble mentioned an unexpected candidate: "The one place we can't get fast enough inventory is in the video space. Perhaps I can speak for most publishers."
Lawrence agreed there were more opportunities with sight, sound and motion. But simply slapping a prepared TV spot online was not the answer. Yahoo now advises marketers differently.
"When you shoot the commercial, make the creative for online as well," she said.
One reason people aren't watching video online is they don't know it's available, Zimbalist said. Even Yahoo didn't make it easy until six months ago, Lawrence said. Now the site has a universal video player and a camera icon next to each video.
Multichannel publishers like the Washington Post not only have their own video player, but also send print reporters to events armed with a small video camera. The Chicago Sun-Times runs video classifieds on its site. It outsources production of the videos, turning them around in a day or two. But it still has to create the video for the clients.
"Only one advertiser has submitted its own video," Barry said, alluding to the lack of familiarity in this area.
FoxSports relies instead on 50 TV stations nationwide to supply Web video footage. The company also can localize and personalize the experience.
Advertisers often trail on consumer trends. Fox saw the value of Web communities and user experience, demonstrating that through its purchase of sites like MySpace, IGN and Scout. Cross-channel marketing and content delivery are next.
Yahoo recently hired two NASA scientists to develop a critical formula: where to find the right user at the right time with the right content on the right device. It helps that Yahoo knows its users' declared interest when they sign on for Yahoo Mail, for instance. Still, Barry and Little think publishers have more educating to do to convince advertisers of behavioral targeting's benefits.
"A lot of categories we're not seeing the demand for behavioral targeting," Barry said.
Surprisingly, cookie deletion is not a major worry. Three panelists expect to hear less on that subject next year. Some don't believe that consumers are deleting cookies in droves.
"I'm still skeptical because a lot of smart people don't know how to change their home page," Barry said. "Most people don't know what a cookie is."
And even if cookies are being deleted, continued heavy traffic replenishes the lost users.
"Our user base is so huge, it's a fraction of a huge number," Lawrence said.
But Little feared congressional legislation.
"There's just not a clear understanding of cookie-ing and spyware," she said, "and we have a huge job of educating people on the Hill about that."
As for user-generated content, how did panelists feel about blogs? The Chicago Sun-Times, for example, benefits from the ratings and the resultant user chats posted on RogerEbert.com. Still, Barry is wary.
"User-generated content really bothers me," he said. "We've got to be very careful of our brands."
Lawrence said user-generated content will increase over time. Yahoo Music has millions of user-generated ratings. Such content need not be words. Photos qualify, too, as Lawrence cited flickr.com.
"Also, millions of blogs have four readers [apiece], and they'll fall off over the years," Lawrence said.
But recent purchases like Fox's acquisition of MySpace are evidence that online communities are in demand.
Each executive had a different worry for the next year when asked to name one. Barry was worried about inventory management. Lawrence had concerns over finding the right talent to tell Yahoo's story at the client and agency levels. She also worried about fast-changing technology and how to explain it to clients. Little's issue was holding on to talent. Trimble's was "managing expectations."
The one topic neglected in this session until a reporter asked was the third rail in online publishing: paid content. Barry and Little had no plans to charge for content online. Lawrence said Yahoo was charging for Yahoo Personals. FoxSports, too, was wary.
"In a lot of cases, the market's still coming back," Trimble said. "It's a tricky experience."
Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters