Making the Case for Ad Portals
Driving automation is key, but for some, portals have been slow to take off.
The basic definition of an ad portal is a technology that allows advertisers and agencies to submit files electronically. In reality, though, ad portal technology varies widely from Web-based to application and software-based systems; from portals that simply handle the submission process to ones that are fully integrated with trafficking and billing systems. Here, Folio: takes a look at some different examples, as well as how ad portal technology in general is evolving.
Varying Forms of Ad Portals
Some publishers use an ad portal provided by their printer or third party pre-press vendor, which is especially helpful for companies that don’t manage their own ad production, according to Peter Meirs, vice president of production technologies at Time Inc. His company, which does manage its own ad production, uses a standalone portal provider called VIO. Currently, the portal is application-based, which means advertisers need to download and continually update software. However, he says the company plans to switch to a Web-based portal once the technology becomes available through VIO.
“If [publishers] have a large number of ads coming from a relatively small number of sources, an application may be a better choice than a Web service,” Meirs says. “If their suppliers are far ranging and include international advertisers, it’s wise to consider a Web-based solution.”
Cathy Merolle, director of production operations at Hearst magazines, says more and more publishers are adopting Web-based portals. Her company launched its Web-based portal with its pre-press provider HudsonYards this February. After six months, she says some titles have almost 70 percent of their ads coming in through the portal with the goal to make that 100 percent for all magazines by the end of the year.
“Driving automation is the mission,” she says. “We consider the portal as a major first step in the pursuit of our ultimate goal of proofless printing.”
According to Merolle, it’s important to keep it simple. “We wanted the ad submitter to go through a minimal amount of clicks before actual uploading, and not have to navigate through multiple screens.” Since launch, Hearst has added enhancements such as links to the SWOP site, a downloadable G7 color bar, alerts on proofing requirements and a Pay-Pal-type offering in case advertisers want to purchase proofs.
Niche Media recently signed on to the SendMyAd service, which allows advertisers to see and fix problems with their preflighted ads right away, instead of receiving a rejection e-mail later. “Day-to-day productivity has increased, and as the ad volume has increased, the portal has absorbed a great deal of the workload,” says Niche’s director of manufacturing Shawn Lowe. “Only the good ads come in, the bad ones are the advertisers’ problem.”
Since launching a portal, Lowe says the company has saved 25 percent in cost and time. Since signing up for the SendMyAd platform, he says savings have increased to 40 percent.
Paula Gordon, director of manufacturing at Reed Business Information, says her company has also seen significant savings with its portal, developed with printer Fry Communications. She says RBI has eliminated five to 10 positions related to preflight specifically.
Who Is Using It?
Ad portals allow publishers to reduce cycle time, minimize expense and gain control of—while taking a step back from—the ad submission process. Yet, 76 percent of publishers are still not using them, according to Folio:’s 2008 Manufacturing and Production Trends survey [see page 44]. Why the hesitation?
“Basically, cultural and control issues,” says Scott Pellicone, vice president of business development at Quebecor World Premedia. “Publishers are still very protective of their advertising clients and are extremely cautious when deploying any customer facing technologies.”
At Fry Communications, less than 1 percent of its total number of clients are working with ad portals, but that number jumps to 30 to 35 percent among larger clients with 7 to 10 publications, according to senior pre-press manager Mark Stoner.
Where It’s Heading
At Hearst, the next step is developing a system to automate the process through the supply chain using JDF. “Also, we will want to develop a system that will capture and embed additional metadata to help publishers manage their files for digital asset management and digital rights managements,” says Merolle. According to her, more and more publishers will be looking to connect their portals to other internal systems.
Meirs says this is a big area of opportunity for portal companies, which could someday help facilitate the digital exchange of both production and insertion order information along with the ad files themselves between ad suppliers and publishers.
TechInsights Launches Online Portal for Ad Buyers
Up next: Preflight checks.
United Business Media’s TechInsights group, which includes brands such as EE Times and TechOnline, has launched an online portal that allows customers to independently search and buy ad packages among its more than 80 products.
The portal, called TechInsights Direct, was developed in partnership with Balihoo, a company that sells advertising productivity tools. It is designed to be a “one-stop shop;” a site where marketers can search and browse inventory, purchase advertising and upload their creative directly. Though TechInsights CEO Paul Miller says he is “loathe to say it is the Expedia of the media space,” he says it is similar in that it puts research and transaction capabilities into the buyer’s hands.
“This will help us with the long tail of customers we can’t reach,” Miller told Folio:. “It’s a way for these customers to come in and begin that process of interacting. It’s good for small customers and great for incremental spends from existing customers.”
The portal is also designed to free up salespeople’s time. “Our sales people don’t need to be used on a smaller $3,000 sale,” Miller says. “That can clog up a whole week if you’re not careful.”
TechInsights pays Balihoo an annual renewable licensee for the software itself and offers some revenue share. The group has also created two positions dedicated to TechInsights Direct.
“Our expectations are that revenues are going to grow,” says Miller. “By how much? I don’t know quite yet, but this will expose our product lines to more clients and make it easier for them to do business.”
According to Shane Vaughan, vice president of marketing at Balihoo, the technology isn’t quite an ad portal just yet, as it isn’t able to preflight check files, but those capabilities are on Balihoo’s roadmap. For companies that already have ad portals, he says, “the two systems are integrated and work in conjunction.”