The Globe and Mail’s Phillip Crawley: Why Are We Asking People to Pay for Advertising Blindly?

May 24, 2019

AAM’s Joan Brehl recently hosted a panel discussion focused on digital marketers. Learn what she thought were the five most insightful comments.

Joan Brehl, GM/VP, AAM Canada


(l-r) Joan Brehl, Phillip Crawley and Ted Boyd

I recently moderated a panel as part of DMAC’s Think & Disrupt Digital Marketing series where I joined Ted Boyd, AAM chairman and CEO of Current International and Magnifi, and Phillip Crawley, AAM Canada’s Board Committee chairman and publisher and CEO of The Globe and Mail, to discuss new ways for marketers to improve returns on their media investments, why it’s critical for marketers to drive media assurance, and the connection between accountability in advertising and accountability in journalism.

The event was full, and the conversation was lively, so I wanted to share my five favorite moments from the discussion.


1. Quality Audiences Exist in Quality Environments

Early on in the panel, Boyd delivered a passionate statement that helped drive our entire conversation. He focused on the connection between the digital audiences marketers hope to reach and the quality environments with quality content in which they exist.

“Audience is about environment,” Boyd explained. “This notion of buying audience as a standalone concept has led the industry into places that aren’t good. The value of environment is extremely high. As we sort out digital, environment will become far more important. Quality of audience, quality of journalism and quality of inventory are inextricably linked.”


2. Trust Drives Business

Crawley explained how the largest part The Globe and Mail’s revenue comes from subscriptions—120,000 print subscribers and 110,000 digital subscribers—and credited those numbers to the newspaper’s credibility and the relationship they’ve built with subscribers as a trusted source of news.

“The business of subscriptions depends on people’s desire for insight, and they want that insight with a sense of trust,” said Crawley. “They will not keep buying you if they doubt your integrity, if they think you’re not being straight or if they think you have a hidden agenda. Trust is the basis of our business.”


3. Trust Does Not Exist Without Accountability

Crawley continued by explaining that a lot of people are turning a blind eye to the fakery, falsehoods and lies occurring in digital advertising and the need for audits.

“It’s very frustrating when you’re sitting in a room full of publishers who are saying, ‘We don’t need to have audits anymore. Nobody asks for them. The advertisers are not interested in them,’” he said. “In our industry, there are a lot of people just putting out their own numbers and saying, ‘Here they are. Trust us. Believe us.’ There’s a lot of turning a blind eye to what’s going on in our industry and we all need to face up to it. Why aren’t we delivering trust to the same degree in advertising and measurement? Why are we asking people to pay for advertising blindly?”


4. Agencies and Advertisers Need to Demand Proof

Crawley also explained how machine learning drives content placement on The Globe and Mail websites. He said that humans only touch three pieces of content on the newspaper’s homepage; everything else is chosen by software. Journalists, he said, have bought into the idea because it supports their instincts and the data gives them the confidence to justify their gut reactions. He expressed confusion that this same technology isn’t driving digital advertising accountability.

“We’ve got all that capability,” he reasoned. “It’s so damn frustrating that agencies and advertisers aren’t saying, ‘Hang on, show me. Show me the proof. Show me that this is real. That this isn’t fake.’ You expect it with your news, you expect it in every other respect and yet we’re not doing it in digital advertising.”


5. Publisher Audits Stop the Leakage and Raise CPMs

Boyd gave an overview of what publishers, agencies and marketers could do to make digital advertising more profitable and create an environment where quality journalism thrives. He said publisher audits that verify the quality of their audiences are key.

“There’s a virtuous circle that should be occurring that isn’t yet. And that is, with every dollar of fraud in the digital ecosystem, less money is available for quality journalism,” said Boyd. “CPMs have fallen through the floor. Data shows that 40 to 60% of dollars aren’t even making it through to publishers. That is just an unacceptable situation. Theoretically, if you had an ecosystem with publisher audits, in addition to all the other things industry players are doing, CPMs start to rise. You close the ecosystem and CPMs start to reinflate. That is a dream that is worth thinking about as an industry. It is possible to make that happen but we have to stop the leakage.”


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