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Ad networks on the rise

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Publishers find value of aggregating audiences goes beyond selling space As more advertising dollars flow to the Web, more opportunities arise. One opportunity business publishers are exploring more actively these days is the vertical ad network. As their numbers burgeon, ad networks are, in general, growing controversial. If more networks are selling excess or remnant inventory based on price, how low will prices go and how will networks survive? Business media companies, however, are playing a different game—with two different models. One type is a network that aggregates audiences by demographic type—most commonly small and midsize businesses (SMB)—for nonendemic advertisers, such as credit card companies and office products retailers. In this model, publishers seek to earn a higher CPM than they would in a big, undifferentiated network because their audiences have relationships with respected b-to-b media brands. In the other type of network, business media brands are extending their reach in their verticals by connecting with outside bloggers and independent publishers. Although such networks won't achieve CPMs as high as display advertising on a leading industry site, they can command a premium over a more general network. Forbes.com offers both types of networks. The Forbes Audience Network, launched in November, aggregates about 27 million unique visitors across its company-owned sites that are top business leaders and/or affluent people. With the April launch of its Business and Finance Blog Network, Forbes.com is extending its reach beyond its own brands. “With a single insertion order and a single bill, we allow advertisers access to more than 500 blogs that we have determined are reasonably well lit and good places for advertising to exist,” said Jim Spanfeller, president-CEO of Forbes.com. IDG has similar intentions with its IDG Tech Network, announced in early March. However, IDG is going a step further by offering an array of benefits to the bloggers and other publishers. Kevin Normandeau, the network's VP-sales and business development, explained that technology advertisers are moving their business online so aggressively that “we need to grow in scale. We can grow a network faster than we can increase traffic and inventory on our own.” The IDG Tech Network is starting with about 100 sites with a collective audience of more than 4 million. IDG will help the sites with search engine optimization, content syndication, Web site design and analytics. By exposing content from these sites to IDG users and visa versa, Normandeau said, “we'll be moving qualified traffic around within the ecosystem.” IDG's interest in the network goes beyond the placement of display advertising. The network will play a valuable role in maintaining a fresh pool of qualified buyers for lead-generation programs. Less than two years ago, Reed Business Information-U.S. created a centralized online sales force that sells programs across the company's brands. “They effectively are selling an ad network” comprised of Reed audiences, said Jeff DeBalko, RBI-U.S.' chief Internet officer and president of Reed Business Interactive. “They are selling horizontally against our strong demographics in areas like SMB, CEOs, IT and finance, where our particular audiences index very well against the mean,” he said. They also sell programs in verticals where Reed has multiple sites. Because these buys are not as targeted as advertising placed on specific sites, DeBalko added, “they have lower CPMs by definition.” The newly announced BBN network of b-to-b sites (see story below) is the latest entry in the marketplace, but other business publishers have ideas percolating. BusinessWeek Online partnered with Federated Media to launch its SmallBiz Blog Ad Network last fall. “As a first experiment it has done very well,” said Roger Neal, senior VP-general manager of BusinessWeek Online. He added that he is in the midst of “recasting the nature of our partnership with Federated.” At Penton Media, Prescott Shibles, who had been VP-new media, is moving into a role where he will be exploring new ideas for online going forward. One of his first projects, he said, will involve a network “we've been selling in stealth mode.” He said he's exploring the possibility of opening up the network to other b-to-b publishers. M
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