#PublisherPriorities: Data-Informed Decisions and Absolute Authenticity


It’s no secret that publishers are constantly having to re-examine core elements of their business — everything from how they deliver their content to how they define what engagement with that content actually is.

And while methods of delivery are ever-developing and becoming more technologically innovative — be that video, live streaming, or podcasts — the biggest focuses for publishers, and my biggest takeaways from MediaPost’s Publisher Insider Summit, are less technical.

Perhaps in being congruent with the host city of Austin, a town renowned for its distinct character and role as a tech hub, my un-tech ad-tech takeaways from the summit are:

  1. Publishers need to utilize data to inform human decisions.
  2. Publishers need to embrace authenticity in everything they do.

Interestingly, the way these two topics were multifaceted in and of themselves was emblematic of the need for a dynamic approach to content creation and measurement in order for a publisher to be successful in their ever-changing environment.

Data as Your Passenger, Not Your Driver

If I had a dollar for every time I heard the word “data” during this conference, I’d be returning to Austin for another weekend of Austin City Limits.

Not a new focus, and definitely not a new trend, but a constantly evolving theme. For publishers, this is not only a question of tools, processes, and measurement, but also for what decisions data is being used to make.

Perhaps the most self-evident part of this data focus for publishers is still the most technically oriented: the online experience and reporting on it need to constantly be moving towards real-time and automation.

We hear a lot about data informing automation and this is a clear focus, especially in relation to providing the most nuanced and timely experiences for their audiences. However, more time was spent talking about the way data needs to be hosted in accessible and actionable formats to inform human decision-makers.

Chris Park, the Director of Revenue and Operations for Cheddar Inc., talked about the value of being proactive with your data, and letting it inform not necessarily your ultimate decision, but what risks you are comfortable taking. Risks are inherent in the publishing industry, so be willing to make them while allowing data to help ease some of this risk, such as what content you’re creating or how you monetize your site.

This idea of risk-taking was intriguing, in a time where outwardly, it seems the content creators of the world are preoccupied with mitigating risk, they are actually embracing it — assuming the data says it can be worth it.

💡Brainy Tip: Do your data homework, and let it aid what you test, rather than everything you decide.

In addition to data informing how publishers are navigating their external environment, utilizing data to bolster internal operations was an omnipresent focus. Disseminating data internally is crucial to publishers, shown by the constant feedback surrounding the largely inefficient way it is being done across the board now.

Ensuring all internal teams have the data they may need readily available — from whichever team within the business, be it 1st party or 3rd — was a point everyone agreed publishers need to be better at doing.

Be Authentic. Be-e Authentic

Another core message discussed time and time again was how inherently crucial it is for publishers to remain authentic to themselves. This was a message that carried relevance no matter what element of publishing was being discussed — content creation, site style, media used, or defining engagement.

Publishers are laser-focused on delivering authentic experiences to their audiences, understanding more and more that it is essential to the type of engagement they are looking for. They are now beginning to create a sense of community.

Gone are the days of eye-balls on an ad being a sufficient metric to define an engaged reader. Rather, publishers know that what comes after the click is so much more important, and much more valuable.

Numerous engagement metrics were shared, but there were two points that all conference-goers explicitly agreed on:

  1. Engaged and returning users are not more valuable, they are the value.
  2. Engaged users don’t need to make up your entire audience for you to be successful.

Interesting that audience volume was not a focus here, rather ensuring publishers are providing the opportunity for a community that is true to their brand message is proving more valuable in the long term.


Data-informed decisions and absolute authenticity: two messages, not embedded in being technologically superior to the industry at large, and certainly not unrelated to one another.

Publishers know their audiences are smart and know that if they’re to keep their audiences returning, they need to avoid falling into generic provision of theoretically scalable content — instead, remaining true to their core messaging and brand.

All the data proves that when publishers remain generic, they don’t drive or capture audiences. As one speaker mentioned the summit, “it’s the internet, you can’t drive anyone to do anything.”

Look beyond engagement, and truly delight your users — you won’t be disappointed with the results. And shameless plug, you can do this all natively. Discover how.

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