Media Voices

This interview appeared on in August 2016


What does your role include as Head of Commercial Insight at the Guardian? How has this role changed over the past 6 years?

My role is all about harnessing the power of data of all shapes and sizes and transforming it in to compelling narratives for brands, agencies and advertiser partners. This includes building the tools and planning systems to get data-driven insight in to the hands of our commercial teams and partners as effectively as possible.

The work my team does touches all stages of the media planning cycle: from opening doors for the sales team through thought leadership research, to “traditional” media planning, to tracking and measuring campaign performance.

The market has transformed at such pace over the past six years that it’s hard to know where to start when it comes to thinking about what has changed! I think overall though, there are probably four key trends I’ve seen:

1. A real shift towards measuring true campaign effectiveness.Measuring ad impact is nothing new, but measuring it using the correct metrics – particular in the digital space – is. Our industry has built an entire advertising ecosystem upon acquiring clicks: clicks on content and clicks on ads. Such a binary measure might be fine for a DR campaign, but it does a huge disservice to the effectiveness of a brand or content campaign and that’s what we look to address with our research.

2. A focus on first party data. Everyone has access to the same off-the-shelf planning and research tools these days. They’re simply a hygiene factor now and are no way to really differentiate your audience from a competitors. First party data absolutely is though and we’ve been using it more and more to inspire creativity and campaign plans amongst advertisers.

3. Cross platform campaign planning: Print and digital planning and buying in agencies and publishers used to exist in splendid isolation from each other which was an incredibly inefficient way of doing things when you think about it. We’ve built tools like our award winning “Audiences Not Platforms” planning system to allow agencies to plan in a truly audience centric multi-platform way. The third iteration of ANP is being released later this year.

4. Internal truths vs external narratives: I think a lot of organisations are sometimes guilty of confusing their externally facing sales bluster with their own internal truths. Keeping the two separate is really important and over the past half-decade, a culture of using strategic insight in the commercial decision making process has noticeably evolved.

How do you use first party data to cooperate with your advertisers?

Through a system that we call Audience Explorer we are creating an advertiser audience-centric, rather than Guardian-audience centric view of our data. The Guardian reaches over half the UK online adult population each month so arguably has more information on the nation’s quality content consumption habits than anyone else.

We use this data to inspire branded content. For one educational establishment about to launch a forensic science degree, for example, we were able to see that their audience was really engaged with crosswords and “Scandinavian Noir” content (all very “Guardian!”). What better way to raise awareness of their new degree than through an online interactive crime scene perhaps—sating the desire to solve both puzzles and crimes simultaneously?

And of course our data can be used to make planning decisions on the delivery of display campaigns. We have data scientists using our data to build audience segments that are delivering far more efficient results than those that can be bought from third parties. This is the sort of stuff that agencies and brands are getting really excited about.

How is the data then filtered through the rest of commercial team? For example, do you have a feedback system?

We attempt to democratise data as much as possible at the Guardian. Everyone in the business can access our live Editorial analytics dashboard “Ophan” – and this is how we aspire to deliver all insight. There are also plenty of cross-functional and cross-departmental working groups or huddles that have been brought together to solve specific business issues and it’s proven to be quite an inspiring way to work.

What measurement tools do you use to evaluate return on ad spend?

It’s a mixed bag. For years we’ve partnered with the Swedish ad effectiveness research company RAM to assess the brand impact of campaigns across all platforms: web, print, mobile and app. We’ve got to the point now where we’ve built up a really robust normative dataset that we can use to unearth new insight. For example, evaluating the value of context in digital display. You can see the results here.

Over the years we’ve worked with Aimia and Kantar to prove ROI and there’s now a noticeable shift towards proving that advertising prompts action in our audience. We’ve commissioned YouGov to track the online and offline impact of one of our largest branded content deals from Guardian Labs this year and are also talking to a number of vendors about using geolocation information to measure store visitation after campaign exposure.

What is the purpose of Facebook advertising for publishers if they are already publishing content on Facebook?

How a publisher’s content appears in user’s news feeds is always rather at the mercy of the Facebook algorithm, so I suppose with advertising you have more certainty! That’s not really the point though. Facebook is a vital source of traffic for many publishers and initiatives like Instant Articles just make that content even more accessible in a mobile first world.

What are your thoughts on Facebook paying media companies/celebrities to create Facebook Live videos?

Facebook needs content just like everyone else. Who better to produce it than the experts? With fewer people sharing personal updates on Facebook these days, it makes sense to constantly be looking for new ways to keep audiences engaged. Facebook obviously benefit enormously from the engagement that content brings with it but I suspect in the long run a more sophisticated model of reimbursement will need to be found.

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