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CNN’s Rob Bradley on why audience insight is better than CTRs for publishers

When Rob Bradley, Global VP of Digital Commercial Strategy at CNN, joined the media company in May 2015, he was given the mandate to embrace the digital world further and grow the digital revenue at CNN International Commercial in a creative data and tech driven way. Since then, the publisher company has taken a collaborative approach to maximise CNN’s data and digital proposition. Digital Market Asia spoke to Mr Bradley on how he leveraged data and what the future looks like for the company.

The Ipsos Affluent Survey for Asia Pacific for 2016 shows that CNN is one of the leaders in the region with 36 per cent monthly reach via TV and digital. CNN’s performance in Asia Pacific compares to a 35 per cent reach for the same period in 2015, with growth driven by an 18 per cent increase in digital reach.

Mr Bradley is no newbie to the world of programmatic and data as he had four years of experience working at IDG UK, where he was Head of Business Operations. Bringing his programmatic expertise to the publishing platform, he explains, “I got a very early start in the ad tech and programmatic world five years ago. It helped me understand how programmatic fits in within a premium publisher’s strategy. Programmatic and digital isn’t one single department it touches every part of the business. You can’t have a digital strategy now without technology and data being a huge part of that.”

Data, data, data!
Data lies at the heart of CNN’s policy as in 2015, looking to provide deeper reporting beyond click-throughs, CNN launched CNN AIM, Audience Insight Measurement. AIM makes data targeting possible for the platform and allows the advertisers to have a customised outreach for the audience segments they target. “We don’t sell a campaign without data being at the heart of it. So data influences every single campaign we are working with. For CNN, data proves that we have the right audience, it proves the success of a campaign and allows us to learn and optimise. Data driven advertising has brought in accountability; it has ensured that we are directing the ads to the right audiences and proves successes which ultimately drives more revenue and meets client goals.”

Mr Bradley feels that now there is an opportunity for the industry to move beyond CTRs and ‘last clicks’ and use traditional metrics that the industry has been built on and is relying on for many years. “Campaign reporting and audience insight is very constructive. We now have the capabilities to give real insights not only for the success of the campaign but also to help the clients in what they are trying to achieve in a broader way. The insights piece, the reporting and the detailed nature of what we can deliver from a digital campaign is very important and we should be embracing all these insights to move away from the traditional metrics. It’s not just about how many clicks there are, but about whether they’re from the right person and what that can inform you about the campaign and indeed the business being marketed. This is why we developed CNN AIM.”

Content is King
The company also has a branded content studio Create which looks to deliver the right message to the audience. Combining with CNN’s data capabilities, Create helps reach the audience in an impactful way. “All campaigns start with the audience and data allows us to define that audience. So it is really about striking the right balance between data and creativity which means that CNN AIM works very closely with Create to say: ‘we know the right audience for this client and this campaign, we know how we are going to use this information to target audiences on our website, on our platforms and also off platforms and we also use Create to form a message which allows an impactful and original way in delivering that message to this proven audience’,” explains Mr Bradley.

The second part of CNN AIM is analysing how these Create messages are being delivered and who have interacted with it, he highlights. This will bring real insights and will help in making real business decisions for the client or to optimise the campaign further.

Competition on the rise
Mr Bradley recognises the challenge for a digital media companies are more now as it is a very competitive marketplace now. “We are not only competing against traditional media brands anymore but also against technology companies, which means that we have to be smarter than before, we need to think more about our audience and think out of the box with regard to the solutions that we deliver. So the current conversation is way beyond just being a platform for advertising.”

He outlines that there is a need to not only understand the marketer’s and client’s but also the audience’s needs. This he says can be done through data, creative messaging, social media campaigns, cross-platform TV and digital campaigns working together in a smarter and more creative way than ever before. “We must prove the value of every dollar invested by advertisers to make sure that there is a return on investment and that the campaign’s success is proven,” he adds.

With the likes of big tech companies such as Facebook and Google in competition for the same ad dollars, any business that sells advertising or marketing solutions is a competitor. However, Mr Bradley highlights what qualities set them apart from these companies is their focus on content. “Facebook and Google have their own powerful and unique solutions we compete against. However, we also see them as partners and work with them in a way that works for us to drive revenue in smart and unique ways. At the core of its business CNN is a core content company. Thus our prime focus is creating great content and all of our commercial teams in markets offer really smart content-led solutions with first-party data, driving the audience targeting and insights. So we are about selling high quality and impactful branded or sponsored content that is authentic and this really differentiates us from Facebook or Google and other big tech companies. It’s about understanding their role in the industry and working with them and then ensuring your own strategy is unique,” he says.

The APAC focus
APAC is CNN’s fastest growing digital market and one of their largest digital clients comes out of India. Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Australia are also important markets for the company because they buy globally and regionally from these hubs. “Overall, we see very advanced media buys from APAC and they fully embrace data as well as creativity so we are not only selling traditional advertising in these markets but also solutions like we would do out of the London or the New York office,” Mr Bradley explains.

He highlights that programmatic in APAC is vital for CNN’s business now. “We really embrace programmatic advertising and it works well for us to use it to sell traditional ads and pre-roll. Within Asia we do operate on a very large scale. We try to encourage markets like India, Indonesia to take on programmatic further and they will. Programmatic ultimately allows us to connect with more buyers in an efficient way. And that has freed up our time to do the more creative solutions on the branded content side. I have no doubt that the rest of the world will catch up with the advanced markets quickly when it comes to programmatic,” he says.

Giving the three big trends to watch out for digital for 2017, Mr Bradley outlines the continued disruption of the media space from technology as the first one. Secondly, he says business consultancies and tech companies will continue to become buying agencies and content creators. Lastly, he concludes that brands will continue to move towards content being their most important form of marketing.

Shubhi Tandon

Shubhi Tandon is the Assistant Editor at Digital Market Asia. Fascinated by the evolving digital media industry, she has focussed on tracking developments in the Asia Pacific market since 2014.