Advertising Digital Innovation Top Stories
4 mins read

‘A journey we’re on with our readers’: How Reach is tackling the post-cookie future

In January of this year, Google’s cookie announcement prompted WNIP to explore the implications for the publishing industry, which we presented in our report, How publishers can swap out the cookie jar in 2021. In another dramatic twist, Google has rolled back its decision to delay cookie deprecation from early 2022 to late 2023, essentially a two-year delay. On the face of it, this extended period is needed for Google to implement commitments to its proposed privacy sandbox replacement, but a key reason is that publishers simply aren’t ready with alternatives.

In a recent survey, ENGINE Media Exchange (EMX) found that while 98% of publishers plan to implement cookieless solutions, less than 50% have yet taken steps to do so. Google itself admits, “its become clear that more time is needed across the ecosystem to get this right.

So how is Britain’s biggest national and regional news publisher, Reach plc – with one of the biggest monthly multi-platform audiences in the UK and over 5 million registered customers – facing a challenge that has massive implications for its group ad revenues?

Speaking to WNIP, Terry Hornsby, Group Digital Director at Reach, says that the move to a cookie-less future offers the industry a chance for a reset and an opportunity to think about new products publishers can offer customers, “While the deadline has now been extended, we shouldn’t be resting on our laurels; it’s nice to feel prepared, but we’re using this extra time to grow the strategy and build our customer relationships further.”

Local and regional press is one area Hornsby feels particularly passionate about, “As a large publisher, we have multiple platforms and ways for our readers to come to us, but one that’s really come to the forefront recently is local press. The importance of local papers and news has become even more clear in the pandemic era, with people constantly looking for updates on the Covid-19 situation in their area.” 

It’s important to me that we’re able to provide free news and entertainment to millions of people, especially when they need it most. However, if we’re going to provide free quality news in a sustainable way, we need to make our advertising work as smartly as possible.

Terry Hornsby, Group Digital Director, Reach

Identity, targeting and Mantis

In WNIP’s ongoing research on the sunsetting of third-party cookies (NB: new report released next week), it’s become clear that publishers will need to continue with a portfolio approach to identity, double down on first-party data, and focus on combining data sets. Hornsby agrees, saying, “The demise of the third-party cookie encourages publishers to use first-party data and contextual data, which hugely boosts targeting accuracy. At Reach around 90% of our campaigns use behavioural data, so we’re now developing this further and working on more advanced segmentation.”

“One way we’re strengthening our positioning is by exploring further how we can use Mantis, our AI-powered contextual tool that takes first-party data to the next level (which we also license to other publishers). Bigger publishers have the necessary scale to use contextual first-party data on their own, and they should be thinking about how to collaborate with other publishers to do this on an even bigger scale.”

For smaller publishers, with far reduced data sets, Hornsby says that teaming up and joining forces with other publishers is the logical next step, “Smaller publishers, in particular, should consider teaming up in collectives to improve their first-party data position. If they are concerned about this transition away from third-party cookies, I’d advise them to be open and seek support and ideas from their fellow publishers.”

I hope all publishers see this moment as an opportunity to work strategically together.

Terry Hornsby, Group Digital Director, Reach

First-party data, partnerships….and British weather

Like many larger publishers, Hornsby feels that first-party data should be at the heart of any strategy to counter the sunsetting of third-party cookies, not least because of the enhanced user experience, “Our ads are relevant to internet users because we use first-party data, which is much more reliable and accurate than that obtained from third-party cookies. This makes the whole user experience more useful and enjoyable, rather than users seeing ads that might be outdated, irrelevant or even irritating.”

“We want adverts to feel like a natural part of every consumer’s experience, and one that makes life easier for them. Let’s say an internet user is off to a festival in a few weekends. We can help them by placing useful ads for tents, camping supplies, and essentials like Wellington boots or sunglasses– as the British weather is unpredictable at best.”

Hornsby concludes that by partnering with ad tech suppliers who work with first-party data, Reach has been able to adapt better to a highly dynamic situation, saying, “As we develop solutions for replacing the third-party cookie, we like to partner with companies who use first-party data already. We’ve been working with Quantcast as a partner for quite some time; they offer a unique buying point in terms of inventory with the Quantcast Platform. They’re on the journey with us and they help us to understand our customers better.”

It’s crucial to partner with companies that give you that additional expertise to add value to the customer experience.

Terry Hornsby, Group Digital Director, Reach

As for the future, Hornsby says that whilst Reach is as well prepared as it can be for the ending of third-party cookies, he emphasizes that this is a great opportunity for publishers to deepen and strengthen reader relationships, “Reach is prepared for a post-cookie world: if it happened tomorrow, we’d be ready to go. But this is an exciting chance to optimise and explore ideas before third-party cookies are officially banned.”

The transition to a cookie-less world is one we’re going on with our readers, ensuring that we can provide them with useful content and advertising at every stage of their online journeys.

Terry Hornsby, Group Digital Director, Reach