Huffington Post CEO on native ads, content personalisation and UK plans

Marketing Week caught up with Huffington Post CEO Jimmy Maymann at this year’s Guardian Changing Media Summit. He discussed how the site is looking to move from talking with advertisers about engagement to time spent, its ambitious native advertising revenue forecast, the importance of content personalisation and UK plans.

Jimmy Maymann
Huffington Post chief executive officer Jimmy Maymann.

“When I talk with advertisers about engagement, it’s about the time users spend on the site and whether they comment [rather than clicks]…

…That’s obviously a much more valuable user because, from an advertiser perspective, that user is spending time and being part of the community. They are not just browsing and reading two or three things and going away so that actually means their ability to be receptive to what’s going on content wise and advertising wise is much higher. If I was an advertiser, I would want to get in front of him, rather than get in front of someone that didn’t even mean to click on a banner.

It’s very important to talk about visitors [that know what site they are on]: it’s a currency the industry is not talking about right now, it’s not valued. But if you buy CPMs on the Huff Post, it’s the same as any other generic site so there’s not an added benefit or value to our billage.

We’ve done a lot of research on that in the US, looking at all our key categories – politics, lifestyle, business, entertainment and tech – and across all those categories, our engagement levels are higher than any other publications. Right now I don’t get any value out of that but over time I think advertisers will hopefully pay a premium.”

“One of the ways to break out of the race to the bottom [world of online display advertising] is to focus a lot more on content marketing and native advertising solutions…

…I see a trend where brands today need to act like newsrooms, they need much more content out there to be relevant and you can’t do that in a banner so you need to find ways and platforms to do that if you want to engage an audience.

Those are programmes that are more embedded into the site, you’re moving out of the advertising space and actually into the content with relevant narratives, stories where you can reengage with the audience. Accept that your brand takes the back seat, and buy advertising around that if you wish.

We’ve recently done some studies with Nielsen on specific programmes, which found that native solutions deliver better results and awareness lifts when you deploy commercial units as well. You are re-engaging with the audience, that’s not where you sell the USP, but they remember the USP and what it was you wanted to do much better.”

Huff Post partner studio
The Huff Post partner studio launched in the US last year to assist brands with their native advertising and content marketing.

“This year we are budgeting for a third of our advertising revenue to come from native advertising and content marketing…

…Native and content is not a volume game, if you want to do it in a serious way then it’s an ‘always on’ approach. You’re not flighting like a campaign, you want to be there every day, day in day out, and you have to have enough stories and content.

That’s why it puts a lot of pressure on advertisers. It’s easy to create a couple of banners, it’s difficult to create five news stories every day for a year.

That’s one of the biggest challenges organisationally and a lot of advertisers are not set up to do that, that is why in the US we have launched the Huff Post Partner Studio, which is a strategic and editorial team that works with the advertisers and help them shape their content strategy and shape their stories.

Often they want to talk about themes we have already covered one way to give it more legs is through the tagging system we have resurface some of the great content we have on the site that has been created in the past to make it more relevant.

[Huff Po is different from other publisher content marketing offerings such as Guardian Labs, for example because] nobody has the scale we have. We are getting close to 100 million comScore unique visitors on a monthly basis.

Johnson
Johnson & Johnson’s Global Motherhood content marketing campaign with the Huffington Post.

Our second [differentiator] is the amount of content we have on the site. In the US on any given day we create about 1,600 stories. We tag all stories, so if you want to curate an expression around global motherhood, which is what we have done with Johnson & Johnson for three years in the US, content already on the site will resurface in their programme as well.”

“Advertisers need to invest in the ongoing process of native…

…Even though our team can do a lot with Johnson & Johnson, the client has had to change the way they work on their side as well. And obviously if we hadn’t been able to deliver the results we had then they would have gone back to doing things they did before, but they have renewed with us for the third year now.

We are seeing more big advertisers starting to realise that they need a new way to reconnect with an audience, especially with millennials. That will only come with great narrative, great storytelling and that’s why I’m a big believer in it. And that’s why I think we are seeing engagement rates [with native advertising campaigns on the Huffington Post] that are almost as high as we are seeing on our other pages.”

“We are just about to roll out a service in the US for advertisers to share their native advertising across mobile and desktop…

…Mobile is always on, you always have your phone on you and you can do very different things for the platform that are distinct and location based. We can offer those services on our platform but it needs to be something that advertisers want, we shouldn’t drive the solutions, they should come to us.

The first thing is to get mobile revenue to a meaningful level, as mobile CPMs are quite a bit lower than desktop. Then it moves to reframing that discussion around audiences, not the device users are getting the experience up. Those discussions will drive overall CPM and build a healthy ecosystem because if you’re just selling mobile as a standalone it will be very difficult to fund the things you are doing going forward. You need to invest and put more resources in it.

I think some of the banner solutions currently are not ideal for the size of mobile. But I think we will see much higher engagement rates with video and native formats on mobile.”

“Our big bet in video is starting to pay off…

…We launched Huffington Post Live 18 months ago and hired about 100 people, not just four people in the corner, to work on that. It goes out 12 hours a day, five days a week. It’s been huge investment but now it is starting to work. Since we launched we have had more than 1 billion video views and we are starting to get scale.

The other thing it allows us to do is put more video on our site because we cut 25-minute segments down to 2-minute VOD, which journalists can insert into their stories where relevant. Now 60 to 70 per cent of our pages have video on, which creates a better experience and magnetisation.

Huff Post Live
Huff Post Live could soon make its way to the UK.

We expect Huffington Post Live to break even this year. Then hopefully, as we go through this year, we will look at what that looks like internationally. We want to do more video and are very committed to that but we want to find a way to do that in a meaningful way internationally – be that regional, local or curated.”

“Our UK business is on track to breaking even…

…Native something that works and resonates well with advertisers in the UK and we are able to facilitate and help with marketers’ plans here. It helps in the UK when you talk about content marketing because we have the original Be On team [as part of the Huffington Post owner AOL’s portfolio] to help offer solutions around video. We have also done some bundled [AOL] solutions where we have tried to leverage them as well. That’s a differentiator and something that others aren’t able to offer. The mobile native solution will come to the UK as soon as we have tested it in the US too.

I think UK is one of the most competitive markets outside the US without any doubt. It has one of the world’s best publicly-funded companies, the BBC, and in a market like that, it’s very challenging to charge for your news content.

The businesses performing well in that [paid-for digital content] area are the Economist and the FT, but they have niche businesses. That’s difficult when you’re a news site as you have 10 things you want to be good at, you want to charge for everything, but you need to find things that have an added value for the audience that people can’t click and find elsewhere for free.

I do believe over time people will be prepared to pay for quality journalism. I believe that right now because we have information overload and quality journalism delivers a complex thing in a good and meaningful way. We will need more of that because there will be more information overload as the internet matures.”

“I don’t believe [in the fourth estate] any more, I believe in personalisation…

…Media has been democratised and you have to accept that, it’s not going to go back. People want to have a voice and they want to be able to decide what they see and when they see it. So I think that is the mantra we need to create our business around.

We are big believers in personalisation because otherwise for us development can’t continue. We’ve gone from 5 years ago creating 200 pieces of content every day in the US, to 1,600 and that can’t go to 3,000 because our business would not be a viable one. The way to avoid that is through personalisation or passive personalisation: using technology to make sure you see the 10-12 articles most relevant to you based on your behaviour

AOL just acquired Gravity in the US because it excels at exactly that. Right now Gravity is running a big test on the Huffington Post to see how we can do better at personalisation and what that means for us and our users – particularly mobile users because they don’t want to have to click or scroll to find the content they want.

I hope that means we can [charge a premium] for advertisers on that personalised content. Time will tell but that would be a meaningful development.”

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