Q: What are your top priorities at Chegg and where are you planning to focus your energy over the next 12-18 months?
A: Programmatic monetization has become a very mature technology, unlike what it was even three to five years ago, so I look at balancing defensive initiatives (i.e., protecting our revenue) with growth investments. On the defensive side, we’re preparing for third-party cookie deprecation. To do that, we’re adopting programmatic open market solutions like The Privacy Sandbox, engaging in seller defined audiences, and testing identity solutions — including working on building out our own first-party data graph.
For growth, we’re heavily invested in value differentiation. Programmatic monetization has become so commoditized that publishers have very few options to truly increase value. For example, there was a time when you could market yourself based on good traffic, quality inventory, and high viewability—but now that’s table stakes. We’re looking for ways to deliver new formats, new experiences, and performance metrics to stand apart. An example of that is introducing ads within our new AI-based chat platform. It’s still too early to discuss in detail, but it’s something we’re very excited about.
Q: From your perspective, what are the top challenges facing publishers today?
A: There’s one overarching challenge, which is gaining a balance of influence as Google sets the future of the industry through third-party cookie deprecation. When it happens, we’ll be operating in a totally new environment, and I believe the buy side and sell side will endeavor to gain as much influence as possible.
Conventional wisdom says publishers will gain leverage post-third-party cookie deprecation, because they will have the best asset: information about their readers. While this may be true, this will be a new muscle to flex for many publishers as we’ve relied on header bidding and third-party cookies for monetization.
Publishers have been able to maximize value and gain control in the open market without relying on a robust sales team and a first-party data graph. But once cookies go away, we’re not all equipped to demand a premium for our inventory using our data.
The second part of the challenge is that publishers are not a unified, cohesive group. We’re all working to keep our day jobs and it’s difficult to create a new protocol together. We will naturally need to adopt solutions created by the buy side, because they exert more influence over where the money goes. Even if those buy-side solutions — addressability, for instance — are totally transparent and fair to publishers, the situation still isn’t ideal because publishers still aren’t controlling the mechanisms of how our inventory is valued.
Q: What should publishers be doing right now to meet those challenges?
A: First, optimize your strategy by leveraging what you have. And second, have a vision of what your monetization looks like when third-party cookies are gone. If you’ve made the decision that you’re not going to stand up a sales team and create a first-party data asset that’s compelling enough to charge a premium, then be prepared to adopt every possible industry solution.
For publishers that do have resources to invest, the best thing you can do is prepare your own strategy. Don’t rely solely on what the industry provides. Use this as an opportunity to reframe how you differentiate your value. Some publishers will have a leg up in the types of engagement and data they get from their users; others will have an advantage in the formats they can provide.
Q: As you look ahead, what are you most excited about for the industry?
A: I’m excited that we’re being forced to move away from all the waste we’ve created through programmatic. The sunset of cookies is one example of that; so is made for advertising (MFA) and supply-path optimization (SPO). Fundamental change like this always creates opportunity, and I think the industry is mature enough to learn from our past. We have a real opportunity to create lasting change by reducing waste, eliminating support for bad actors, and creating mechanisms that are more sustainable and better for privacy. Ripping the band-aid off is hard, but change is good.
Q: What made you want to join Sovrn’s publisher steering committee?
Publishers need advocates, and I’ve always said that supply-side platforms (SSPs) are a publisher’s only friend in this industry. We’re at an interesting inflection point where SSPs are beginning to align their goals with the buy-side. It’s more important than ever that SSPs and publishers work together to create a balance of influence in the marketplace.
I’ve worked with Sovrn for almost 10 years, and from the beginning they were asking for our input what more Sovrn can do to help publishers. Not every SSP engages with their clients this way, to get feedback on the strategies they should pursue.
I’ve seen how willing Sovrn is to influence policy and technology that helps the sell side, so I was happy to join the steering committee.
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