Q&A 

First-party data: 5 minutes with… Philip McMullan

First-party data will be one of the main talking points at next week’s AOP Publishing Tech Talk event. Ahead of that, Philip McMullan, Head of Insight and Data at The Evening Standard, answers our questions about the cookieless future…

By Philip McMullan

First-party data: 5 minutes with… Philip McMullan
Photograph: Jenny Ueberberg on Unsplash.

Q: How can publishers prepare for a cookieless world?

A: Third party cookies are so completely embedded in the digital ecosystem that it is going to be a huge challenge for the entire industry to make the leap to a cookieless future. While Google have put back plans to shelve third party cookies until 2023, it’s really important that publishers use the time productively to formulate their strategy now rather than wait until a few months before the change. Whether a publisher is a large newsbrand, magazine or a smaller pureplay operation, first-party data will be key to understanding who is consuming their content and making sure their commercial partners can effectively reach different sections of their audience. Publishers should definitely be talking to their tech partners about ways to supplement and enrich first party data assets. This change will see lots of innovation in the market so the more conversations that publishers are having with tech vendors and clients the more they are likely to benefit from new ideas and ways of working.

Q: How can publishers use their first-party data to retain loyal readers?

A: It will largely depend on the publisher’s business model on how they deploy their first-party data to retain loyal readers. Broadly speaking it is about using insight on the audience’s behaviour to make sure that loyal readers get to the content they want and value. It might be that some content is only available to readers who have given access to their data – that’s particularly relevant for those publishers who have unique content or industry data assets. Other publishers might want to create personalised user journeys or curate their best content into email newsletters or other direct comms channels. We’re still near the beginning of this journey so I’m sure new channels and strategies will emerge!

Q: How can publishers use their first-party data to increase commercial revenues?

A: Premium publishers have fantastic content and environments to create a strong contextual sales story for clients. But there is no doubt that agencies and brands will want to continue with the efficiency of audience targeting even as third party cookies leave the ecosystem. Publishers’ first-party data is going to be a really valuable asset helping partners to reach the appropriate segment of the audience for their particular campaign. The technology is also developing for publishers to work with clients and their CRM data to target existing customers in a GDPR and privacy complaint way through data clean rooms. There are huge revenue opportunities for publishers with the right tech stack.

Q: What role do publishers play in educating consumers on data and privacy?

A: Publishers took a bit of a wrong turn when the internet first emerged in the 1990s. By giving access to online content for free, we created an anchor point and expectation in audiences that content would remain free. Perhaps that also devalued content in the minds of some audience members. You can see why it happened, the technology was new and it was hard to take payments online back then. Fast forward to today and the publishing industry spends lots of money on creating content as well as managing consent and data privacy for our audiences. It’s up to us to make sure that audiences understand that our content is valuable and that they are getting value for their data with access to that content. We also need to be better at communicating everything we do to ensure that data is held securely and in a privacy-compliant way.

Q: What do you see as the main opportunities and threats facing publishers?

A: How long have you got? I think there are huge opportunities with first-party data, growing digital audiences and new technology. But new technology and platforms can also be a threat! There seems to be a rebalancing of the relationship between publishers and the big social platforms, which I think is welcome, but that will always be something the publishing industry needs to monitor.

Q: Why do you think the AOP’s Publishing Tech Talk event initiative is timely?

A: This is a hugely timely initiative. There is no one size fits all approach for publishers to the death of the third party cookie but it’s certain that all the solutions will be about the smart application of technology. So, listening, talking and collaborating with all the clever people at the AOP’s Tech Talk is going to be really useful for figuring out the way ahead.

About AOP’s Publishing Tech Talk

Over four days from 11-14 October, the AOP’s Publishing Tech Talk event focuses on the tools and technologies that support publishers in growing their business. Through articles, videos, podcasts, roundtables, and webinars, the week is designed to give publishers the information they need in a time-effective way – and all the content is free!