Inside Forbes’ plan to scale its native ad business across Europe

forbes expands advertising to europe

Forbes’ native ad program BrandVoice is well-established in the U.S., though it’s got a way to go before it can boast the same scale internationally.

That’s the mission of the publisher’s London-based commercial team, led by European director Paul Mikailhoff, who stepped into the newly created role after former managing director of international Charles Yardley left for City AM four months ago. Seven clients from Europe are now signed up for BrandVoice, among them Philips, and another two are on the verge of being signed, though they didn’t want to be named. Digital ad revenue has grown 20 percent year-on-year in the U.K, while 80 percent of the publisher’s global revenue is from digital ad deals — both native and regular digital.

The publisher has scaled its U.S. native ad platform through a mix of methods, including letting ad clients run content featured on rival sites. BrandVoice now has 115 brand partners, all of which can publish branded content directly through the Forbes platform. But to expand its partners internationally Mikhailoff recognizes it must share more of its data with clients.

“We’ve noticed for a while now that BrandVoice has been all about scale, and increasingly marketers are interested in the right people being exposed,” said Mikailhoff. “That’s a big thing that keeps coming up.”

Agencies agree that Forbes needs to sweat its audience data harder — for both regular and branded content campaigns that run via BrandVoice. Erfan Djazmi, head of planning and mobile at Essence, said Forbes has decent international scale (4.5 million monthly U.K. visitors compared to 46 million in the U.S., according to comScore). But he added, “Where we’re a bit frustrated is how they use that scale. They don’t use their audience data in clever-enough ways to target that audience. Important data signals like how mobile location data can be used to tie to an audience’s passion points for example are the kinds of things we look for.”

Forbes’ branded content model, which lets advertisers pay to publish directly to the platform, has done well in the U.S. but is not necessarily the perfect formula for overseas, some agencies have said. “Sometimes with these kinds of products — when it’s clear the brand is speaking — it feels more like advertorial. We’re trying to get away from that. In some cases, that can work, but we favor native products when it’s clear the editorial and marketing functions have worked more closely to create a more meaningful experience for the client,” said Djazmi.

Forbes is freeing up more data-driven, quality content opportunities on BrandVoice, at least for Premium package partners, which pay a minimum $600,000 for a six-month period. This gives them access to key “influencers” defined as journalists, bloggers or any other content creator publishing on a specific topic (like cloud computing, for example) on pre-determined categories, courtesy of Forbes’ partnership with social media analytics firm Traackr.

Traackr mines 20,000 social platforms and websites to identify these influencers, who are themselves prolific content producers in their areas of expertise. Forbes will then approach them to see if they would publish on the client’s BrandVoice content series. Forbes has one major brand signed up, a deal being led from the U.S. office.

David Goodall, managing director of Havas Media International, said that expanding the influencer program to a European audience is a good move, though it will be a tough sell due to the publisher’s reliance on U.S.-based clients.

“It’s interesting and a smart package, well-targeted at advertisers, but in all honesty, we can already do this at scale with other tools and technology, so they’ll find it tough outside the U.S.,” said Goodall. “The interesting piece will be if they can somehow get deeper understanding of audience behavior.”

This article originally appeared on Digiday.

Yahoo Finance getting in on the real-time game

who will buy Yahoo Finance?

Thanks to the ever-vigilant Felix Salmon (he’s a hawk, actually) who tweeted a job opening at Yahoo Finance.

From the job posting:

We’re looking for an experienced, versatile, high-motor blog editor specializing in business news targeted at both sophisticated and mass-market audiences. The successful candidate will write and report his or her own stories, as well as hire and manage a small team of professional bloggers to curate and create original content for the largest audience on the Web. This person will set the strategy for and oversee the publication of financial blog content for programming on Yahoo! Finance, the Yahoo! network and consumption on the Web at-large.

The move in context

So, like Forbes which recently announced its intentions and strategy to unload its Investopedia property and embark on a more real-time blogging/curating model, Yahoo Finance is moving towards its own real-time financial content aggregation model.  Whether you agree with Fobes’ decision or not (and Paul Carr most certainly doesn’t calling it the “death of a thousand hacks”), Yahoo Finance’s move is different.

Forbes and have always been about content.  Forbes has always employed professional editors in a mixed outside-inside model for content, blending its own staff reporters with content contributed from asset managers and thought-leaders in their field.  Never known for its ability to break stories, Forbes really was about highlighting interesting opinions from experts in their verticals.

But Yahoo is different than Forbes

Yahoo Finance is a different animal.  While Yahoo Finance hasn’t changed much in the past 10 years (much to my chagrin), this move changes its tack.  Remember, Yahoo Finance, as a giant financial portal, has always been about aggregation of both data and information, taking feeds from tens of information and content providers.  By the way, check out ValueCruncher’s CEO’s, Mark Clare, great breakdown of Yahoo Finance, its past, its business and potential to disrupt providers like Bloomberg in the future.

Yahoo Finance is still the 800-lb gorilla in online finance as evidenced by its majority of traffic in the online finance category (see graph to the right). What’s made Yahoo Finance so strong was an early-mover advantage and a site that just worked quickly and had enough information on it to act as a proxy for a research terminal (Why Google Finance still sucks at its news offering is beyond me).  With a deal it consummated with Seeking Alpha in 2007, Y! Finance dipped its big toe into the wild and woolly financial blogosphere.  Now, with the job posting mentioned above, it appears that Yahoo Finance is changing its strategy.

How this may play out

This is a risky strategy.  In essence, the financial portal is pitting itself opposite all its content partners — many of whom pay the portal for the firehose of traffic it throws off.   I’d be less willing to partner with a company that is introducing a product to compete directly with mine.  And this is a common problem with channel marketing for any platform — and Yahoo Finance is certainly a finance platform — in that the platform, given where it sits in the whole matrix of supply-demand, can always just mimic other offerings that are working.  This is the fear of developing any tools that work on Twitter of Facebook – that the social media platform can quickly just put you out of business.

Such is the life now for Yahoo Finance content partners.  If (and this is a big IF) the Yahoo Finance offering is a combination of serious, professional editorial oversight with smart curation with a good understanding of what’s important to Y! Finance readers (a-la Abnormal Returns) with thought-evoking and decision-supporting articles, Yahoo Finance can evolve itself from a financial resource to a must-see, must-read site for both individual and institutional investors.

What if it doesn’t work

If, however, Yahoo Finance doesn’t do this right and takes a half-assed, half-baked approach, the results could be pretty serious: both for the company/site and for content, in general.  As Steve Lubetkin argued with me yesterday in the comments on PRNewser’s article Is Steve Rubel the Future of Forbes, aggregation using free, contributed — outside content — risks turning everything into an “echo chamber” where the biggest voices (those voices appearing everywhere) drown out newer, more creative content by people who take content creation really seriously.  If Yahoo Finance’s own content offering isn’t managed well, it could cause other partners to leave the site, taking their money and their contribution to the estimated few hundred million dollars in annual revenue Yahoo Finance generated.

What this all  means for aggregation sites?  We’ll have to see how it plays out.   There’s most likely room for multiple aggregators if they end up focusing on slightly different readerships (a retirement investors reads different content than a day trader).