Forget technical expertise. It might be the right relationships that get your digital ads in front of the right voters this cycle. And forging those relationships could require working around the industry’s digital ad resellers.
In fact, Mike Adam of the GOP firm National Media advised buyers concerned about quality inventory to cut out those in the middle this cycle.
It’s better to go “to the source and [try] to buy the best impressions they have, the best inventory,” Adam said during C&E’s CampaignTech East conference on April 7.
Now, for agencies who need to weather a guaranteed-to-change digital ad environment, working with multiple trusted DSPs is critical, according to Beth Clayton Pierce, a partner and COO of Turn It Blue Digital.
“Because at the end of the day, there’s a lot of this that we’re going on faith that we’re all being good actors here,” she said.
Trust is even more important for down-ballot clients who don’t have the budgets to hire third-party verification companies to ensure that their ads are getting placed effectively.
“They’re relying on us to say, ‘We promise we’re getting good inventory — this is what you can get for $1,000.’ That’s the cap on a lot of our clients’ ad spend,” said Clayton Pierce.
While in previous cycles campaigns and groups with small digital budgets could find success on platforms like Facebook, that’s no longer the case, said Clayton Pierce.
“One of the first assumptions we make right out of the gate is that Facebook is trash and we’re not using it,” she said. “Once we have agreed on that with our client, we move forward into taking what their budget is and working backwards so that we can hit those reach and frequency goals.”
As more political ad dollars navigate away from Facebook and other walled-garden platforms, another challenge that digital practitioners face is navigating the different metrics that other companies or vendors return. This is especially difficult when measuring the effectiveness of persuasion spots, the practitioners said, where the end result isn’t the bedrock metric of a voter clicking to make a donation.
“We’ve never had more data and metrics and audience insights available that we can collect back from the sell side,” said Adam. “We try to pull as much insight as we can and try to equalize the metrics in house, but what the KPI [key performance indicator] is isn’t always the same — so we work with a host of providers that do brand lift studies and surveys.”
Still, Adam noted that a voter recalling an ad isn’t the same as, say, the spot increasing a candidate’s name ID, so his shop favors the platforms that are “actually converting voters and driving the metrics that we care about.”
“Often times the voters that we care about from a political perspective are the hardest to reach,” he added.
Molly Smathers, director of advertising at Democratic shop SBDigital, said she listens to clients’ needs to determine the KPIs for their buys.
“We want to look at the targeting and see how we’re really going to meet folks,” she said. “I like to see where the best match rates are, see where we’re going to get the full-view rates — typically that’s connected TV.”
While she still places ads on Facebook and other social platforms, she admits that they’re not the best value in the current environment.
“If you don’t want really high engagement, and you can pay a high CPM, go on social media networks,” she said. “But if you want to take advantage of the vendors, and good inventory and reach people wherever they are on the platforms, make connections [and] ask [vendors] where and how they’re buying their inventory.”
Matthew Dybwad, who’s on the sell side for political with Xandr, said it’s up to agencies to “waterfall” through strategies to determine which one is the most effective for the type of campaign that they’re running for a client.
Cutting out the middleman, as Adam suggested, can give the buyer access to better inventory, but without the scale needed to widen out the targeting to similar voters as the ones reached through one publisher’s inventory.
“Ultimately, the most valuable way and the most efficient way to reach someone is often going to be the most expensive way to do it, and the way that probably has the least amount of scale,” Dybwad said.