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Glossy magazine publisher Conde Nast is tightening its ties with Google as it attempts to transact more of its ad sales through automated, or so-called "programmatic" technologies.
The publisher of glossy magazines like Vanity Fair, Allure and Self was an early-adopter of this kind of technology, setting up an ad exchange with Google in 2011. But now they're doubling down, betting that brand advertisers are ready to jump in.
"We are merging programmatic and direct digital sales together," said Conde Nast's head of digital sales Alanna Gombert. Previously the magazine publisher's programmatic head, Ms. Gombert's promotion to head of digital sales earlier this month coincides with sales org union.
Some may see the combination of programmatic and digital sales as one step closer to completing the hand-over of ad sales duties to computers and handing severance packages to direct sales teams. Ms. Gombert said that's not the case.
"Programmatic...really just frees up time as a workflow efficiency," Ms. Gombert said. With the programmatic pipes in place to channel an ad buy, Conde Nast's sales teams can "focus on what actually matters. I'm having lots more phone calls about creative and how to tell the story to the consumer to accomplish the goals of the campaign. I think we've kind of lost that in digital across the board."
An ad tech veteran, Ms. Gombert had worked stints at Yahoo and most recently Google before being hired by Conde Nast in March 2013. She joined the search giant in 2011 after Google acquired ad-tech firm Admeld, where Ms. Gombert served as director of platform and analytics. Admeld provides the backbone for the private exchanges Google operates for publishers such as Conde Nast.
Ms. Gombert said Conde Nast was "slow to market" in automating its ad sales. When Conde Nast announced the Admeld-powered private exchange in November 2011, it was more promise than product. That's changed. The exchange is "fully operational now. We have been for a year," Ms. Gombert said.
Conde Nast has been pushing more inventory programmatically over the past couple years. At first those ad slots were run-of-the-mill banners that the sales team hadn't sold directly and so were auctioned off in a private ad exchange. But now Conde Nast is putting more valuable ad units into the system to attract brand advertisers.
Conde Nast and Google have begun hosting what they've dubbed "media days" to jointly sell advertisers on buying the publisher's premium ads using Google's ad tech products. The companies have since hosted other sessions with roughly 15 to 20 buyers each in Paris, London and Los Angeles, and they plan to hold the next one in San Francisco.
"The notion of programmatic historically has been very [direct-response]-focused. We wanted to educate the market on how we can run bespoke units and branding campaigns through the medium for high-impact results," Ms. Gombert said.
Conde Nast and Google are specifically pitching advertisers on programmatically buying Google's expandable Lightbox ads, among other ad units. These ads appear like a normal banner but expand when clicked to show things like YouTube videos or product galleries. The ad units themselves and sales partnerships with publishers like Conde Nast are part of Google's ongoing push to attract brand advertising budgets.
"At Google we want to make programmatic more easy for top brands for their digital advertising. So if we do it under a controlled environment partnering with premium publishers, we do see it as a big opportunity in the next couple of quarters," said Laurent Cordier, who heads Google's magazine and newspaper partners business in the U.S.
Conde Nast and Google share revenue from the ads sold using Google's technology, but both sides declined comment on the specific split.
Unlike a typical auction-based programmatic ad buy, Conde Nast is selling the Lightbox ads through a process called "programmatic reserved," which is reserved ahead of time rather than the millisecond it becomes available. Ms. Gombert said Conde Nast has separate pricing, or "rate cards," for its programmatic reserved and programmatic non-reserved ads.
"Each meeting that we did [during the media days] we actually gleaned budget from it, so it was successful in the way that we approached it," Ms. Gombert said.
Many publishers including The New York Times, Time Inc., Hearst and Business Insider also run their own private exchanges in partnership with Google or ad-tech companies like PubMatic. Conde Nast's exchange is limited to the magazine publisher's inventory, and Conde Nast is able to control which advertisers had access to that inventory.
Google declined to specify how many publishers are running private exchanges using its technology but said the number of impressions running through the private exchanges it operates on average doubled for each quarter over the past year.