The Economist Plans for a Digital Future

Stephane Pere, chief data officer at The Economist, shares the company's strategy for leveraging data insights to drive subscriptions and ad revenue.

The Economist, the 173-year-old London-based news publication, is ramping up on digital data management as it prepares for a future where most of its readers could come from digital channels.

Although the majority of readers subscribe to the print version of the publication (as of October 2015 its print circulation was approximately 1.2 million compared to nearly 304,000 digital subscribers) these numbers may soon flip.

Two years ago, The Economist selected the Oracle Data Management Platform to help it gain new subscribers and drive ad revenue. Data management platforms (DMPs) are data warehouses that store and sort information to make it useful for marketers and publishers to complete tasks like managing cookie IDs and audience segments. Additionally, data can be fed from a marketer's DMP to a demand-side platform (DSP) to help inform ad buying decisions. For publishers, DMPs can be linked to supply-side platforms and other technologies to optimize their inventory.

1to1 Media caught up with Stephane Pere, chief data officer at The Economist, to discuss the company's strategy for leveraging data insights to drive subscriptions and ad revenue.

1to1 Media: How has your advertising strategy evolved with the use of a DMP?

Stephane Pere:
There are many dimensions to how we can use a DMP. If we just talk about advertising clients, our job is to sell them advertising solutions. Before, we would basically say, "hey, we've got a great publication, do you want to advertise with us?"

Now, thanks to the DMP, we can do things like granular audience targeting on our platforms, including audience extension, i.e., retargeting. Which means that we can let the advertiser target audiences in more connected ways. It's not just about display ads, but also display to social, display to search, display to mobile, or video. That's one of the great things about a DMP; that we can create audiences and activate on these audiences in any marketplace.

As a publisher, how do you find new potential subscribers?

One of the benefits behind Oracle's DMP is BlueKai (a data services and technology platform acquired by Oracle) which has wide access to third-party marketplaces. In the past, we used to portray our prospective audience by gender, age, income, education, etc. and we told agencies to go find these people.

Now we can combine our first-party data about our core customers with the third-party data that's available on the marketplace through BlueKai and create lookalike modeling. What we've learned from doing this is that it's not about finding a certain age, gender, or income-it's a combination of many attributes. So the model takes numerous data points into consideration and then we say we want to reach people like them who are not subscribers. That definitely changed the way we identified prospects.

What is also important is the activation piece. BlueKai does the work of creating connectors with almost all marketplaces. So that means we can conveniently share our audiences with DSPs like Turn and Rocket Fuel. That also means we can spend more time focusing on the creative without worrying about the marketplace.

What are some results that you can attribute to the DMP?

We've seen some great results from a test we ran as a 12-week marketing campaign. From the campaign, for example, we were able to identify more than 3.2 million new prospects and gained 9,500 new subscribers.

Where do you stand in the debate of whether or not DSPs and DMPs should remain independent of each other?

To me, a DMP is where everything starts. From there we want to be free to push our audiences wherever we want. We want to be able to work with any DSP and other partners. That's why having a separate DMP from a DSP is great for us.

Going back to what you mentioned about using lookalike modeling, do you still segment your audiences?

Yes, good question. We're still segmenting audiences based on their editorial interests. From there we personalize our creative based on the editorial interest and contextual information. For example, if we have creative about a special report we did on data and marketing, and we know there's an article about the NSA, we might have an ad on it that says 'this ad knows everything about you-how do you feel about that? Learn more in this report.'

Every week we're creating a new batch of creatives because the creatives point to an article we've just published. So we created some broad buckets while some are very specific, like the NSA or espionage. Either way, we want to be sure that we're calling attention to things like an interesting piece of content that we're pushing.

Are you seeing an impact from ad blockers?

We haven't seen much of an impact, but it is a concern in the industry. We believe that our strength is in what we can offer to our customers. And so we're always trying to find a balance between an ad experience that marketers want without being intrusive. Also, we believe that a lot of people install ad blockers not because they don't want to see ads, but to have a faster experience.

The challenge that many websites have is there are so many ad units with different specs that the site takes a long time to load. That's why we're working on a revamp of our website that will include a much faster upload speed. Right now, we don't prevent people who use ad blockers from accessing our content, because we believe it's our responsibility to first deliver the best customer experience possible and then educate our customers on the importance of ads.

What else are you working on to drive revenue?

We're about to close on a pro license with Oracle which means we'll have access to more connectors and a larger volume of page views that we can track. We may also begin investing in more ID synchronization. The key is to be able to sync IDs from CRM ID to cookie ID, device ID, to social ID, etc.

But we're approaching it step by step. I'm keen on showing the value of the DMP first and then scaling the syncing of the device ID. The first thing for us to do is sync CRM [data] with cookies. That lets us leverage our whole audience based on touchpoints and then we can do things like sync subscribers from print to social. That's pretty cool. We can start to reach print subscribers who maybe didn't go to our website, and we can contact them over social. Something like that has a strong value proposition for advertising clients and ourselves.