Rapt’s Audience Takes Stock of Online Ads

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By: Jennifer Saba

Not that long ago, newspaper Web sites were really struggling with online advertising. The strategy back in the day was to tuck an online ad into a print buy, practically giving the digital ad away for free ? the Henny Youngman sales equivalent of “Take my wife, please!”

Fast-forward a few years later, though, and online advertising has transformed from a giveaway to the main event. However, a problem persists: Too many Web sites still don’t know the value of online ad space. Sure, online ad revenue is growing, but many sites are still underpricing inventory ? that is, if they sell all the inventory.

Leave it to Silicon Valley to try and come up with some sort of solution. The people behind the San Francisco-based company Rapt ? which bills itself as “The Leader in Media Monetization” ? have developed software that focuses on inventory forecasting and planning, analytics, and product pricing.

“Forecasting inventory far enough in advance is really hard to do,” says Rapt’s Regional Vice President Kevin Considine, who in his former professional life was involved with the Orlando Sentinel’s online launch and Cars.com. “Everybody has developed their own hack systems, and sometimes a really smart person can take a good guess a month out ? but you really need to be able to forecast with confidence way further out.”

Rapt counts a variety of online players as clients, including Yahoo, Fox Interactive Media, NBC Universal, and The New York Times.

For the past year Rapt has been working with Dow Jones and its digital properties, including WSJ.com and MarketWatch. Brian Quinn, the company’s vice president of advertising sales and marketing for the online division, says that Dow Jones sets online ad rates ? usually in three tiers ? on an annual basis (just like print!). Rapt can help with more-dynamic pricing structure. “We’re hoping to get more granular, more real-time kind of stuff,” says Quinn. “Seasonality has changed so it’s very hard to figure it out going on your gut.”

Dow Jones could even be overpricing some space in certain areas and could benefit from a lower cost per thousand (CPM), if it means more buys. When E&P spoke with Quinn, Dow Jones was in the process of integrating Rapt into its systems and was almost ready to go live.

Dow Jones already changed the rate card though, Quinn adds. They are gingerly raising prices. Dow Jones plans to ease into it, changing rate cards quarterly, then monthly to see if advertisers will blanche.

Integrating Rapt wasn’t the smoothest process. “To be honest, it was difficult to begin with,” says Quinn. The sticking point that no one gave much thought to was how Rapt would interface with Dow Jones’ existing billing system ? a potential nightmare, since it maintains 200 rate cards using Operative’s Dashboard. They worked through it, and Quinn was happy that Rapt made the necessary changes and stayed on top of the matter.

“Anyone that signs up with [Rapt] can now thank us for making it easier,” Quinn says. “We went through a lot of growing pains with them.”

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