Let’s face it: Condé Nast hasn’t always been a trailblazer when it comes to digital media. The magazine publishing giant, by all accounts, was slow to appreciate the need for a robust online presence. But in recent years Condé Nast has made huge progress on the digital front. The best evidence? Condé, the company that publishes The New Yorker, among other venerable titles, is now emerging as a leader in programmatic.

Condé’s embrace of programmatic is surprising, in part, because it wasn’t all that long ago that premium publishers were nervous about programmatic. In the eyes of these publishers, programmatic appeared to be a threat to the direct sales operations that placed more value on great content. But those concerns are quickly fading into the past. In fact, Condé has been ahead of the game for some time now. In 2011, the company launched a private exchange, and, though it took a few years for Condé to get into a programmatic groove, the exchange has been fully operational for several years now.

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One Programmatic Size Does Not Fit All

According to a recent report in Digiday, Condé continues to favor an exclusive approach to programmatic that takes advantage of the brand’s premium content. It’s a useful reminder that programmatic isn’t — and never has been — a one-size-fits-all marketing tactic. While many brands will do best on open exchanges, there’s no reason a brand can’t succeed by keeping much of its programmatic inventory private.

Condé made a particularly smart move in 2014: it brought its programmatic and direct digital sales teams together into one cohesive unit. According to AdAge, bringing the two teams together saved a lot of time for both the publisher and the buyers. In order to attract more brand advertisers to its exchange, the newly unified team has been making much more of its valuable inventory available programmatically. “The notion of programmatic historically has been very [direct-response]-focused,” Alanna Gombert, who was then Condé Nast’s head of digital sales, told AdAge. “We wanted to educate the market on how we can run bespoke units and branding campaigns through the medium for high-impact results.”

To further entice brand advertisers to go programmatic, Condé also teamed up with Google to offer expandable Lightbox ads that can show galleries and videos. “We look at this as a powerful new medium,” Gombert told Digiday. “Programmatic opens up the industry to new and innovative ad technologies, which is what we want. We’re in advertising, after all.”

More Data, Better Targeting

Still, perhaps the best sign of all that Condé truly appreciates the power of programmatic is that the company now clearly appreciates the power of data. In 2013, Condé launched Catalyst, its own audience targeting tool that’s designed to take advantage of the enormous amount of data Condé is able to gather on its millions of readers.

Better yet, Condé is strengthening its programmatic targeting operation by bringing offline CRM data online. And, recognizing that mobile targeting is now a must, Condé recently updated its Catalyst system for mobile. “The idea is it’s 360-degree access to the consumer,” Christopher Reynolds, VP of marketing analytics for Condé Nast, told AdExchanger. “We’re excited about the progress and we’re hoping that mobile data targeting is a really significant development.”

If there’s a single lesson other marketers should take away from the Condé story, it’s perhaps this: Programmatic is no longer on the outside looking in. It’s become a core tactic for major brands like P&G and a core offering from major publishers like Condé Nast. Condé marketers have figured out that programmatic saves time and money. Expect the few remaining holdouts to follow their lead.

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Ben Plomion
- Ben Plomion is VP of Marketing & Partnerships at Chango, where he heads up marketing and is also responsible for expanding the company’s data and media partnerships. Prior to joining Chango, Ben worked with GE Capital for four years to establish and lead the digital media practice. Before GE, Ben held a variety of Marketing & Business Development roles in the e-payments industry, while working at Gemalto in London. He writes frequently for Digiday, CMO.com and Search Engine Watch.