Nucleus Claims It Now Has Throw Weight to Outperform Platforms on Ads

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Google and Facebook have dominated digital advertising in this decade. But now, two-year-old Nucleus Marketing Solutions says it has the throw weight to tip the balance against the big search and social platforms.

Through its partners, which include major newspaper chains like Tronc (which is reverting to its old name of Tribune Publishing), Hearst, McClatchy, and Gannett, Nucleus offers more than 170 digital daily and weekly newspapers and other editorial products in the top 30 and other markets.

In this Q&A, CEO Seth Rogin details what he says Nucleus has assembled to bend the competitive curve that put the platforms on top in advertising.

The big platforms have been selling precision and scale to advertisers. What’s wrong with that?

Precision and scale are extremely important, but they’re not the whole picture. Environment is just as important. Where a brand is seen defines how a brand is seen.

Precision and scale have been sold as having more value and quality than trust, but that’s simply not true. If that were the case, we’d see luxury advertising in downscale locations. The smart marketers own the responsibility to make conscious choices about where they are seen.

There’s a lot of talk about brand safety, but that’s not enough. You also need “brand smart.” Knowing the kind of content your ad is going to be next to is of supreme importance. In fact, I think it’s a fiduciary responsibility for every marketer.

What Nucleus Marketing Solutions is bringing to the advertising community is the rare combination of scale, trust, quality, and precision.

Is it possible that advertisers just got tired of news as a way to connect with readers as consumers?

I don’t think advertisers got tired of news. They got tired of Scotch Tape. A false equivalency was created when the big platforms sold brands on the idea that scale and precision were enough to rival the impact of running a campaign in a trusted news environment. I understand why that would resonate at first, as buying advertising on regional sites proved sometimes to be a challenge based on disparate systems, data platforms, and ad standards.

Nucleus reverses that trend. By uniting the properties of our partners, we have created a platform of 150 million to 160 million unique visitors that rivals some of the largest platforms in the country, and which guarantees advertisers the quality and scale they expect without sacrificing their own expectations of what quality media should be.

Do you have documentation to support this argument?

We’re in an important second phase of the Nucleus story. Early on, we were auditing all the systems of our partners’ properties, and we ran to market to announce our presence. But the Scotch Tape was still there because a single system wasn’t in place yet at Nucleus, but now it is, and the results are speaking for themselves with global brands seizing the opportunity to secure space while they can. In the last four months, we’ve launched our own SSPs in display and video advertising.

What’s significant about Nucleus having its own supply-side platform?

The technology lets us unite all the inventory of all of our represented properties—no easy lift when you’re talking about multiple owners and affiliates, multiple data platforms, and multiple ad products.

By unifying all the systems into one we are able to speak the language of the largest platforms like Google and Facebook in a way that the individual news properties were not able to do when standing alone.

So, will you be able to “bend the curve” on revenue away from the platforms to the publishers in Nucleus?

Yes. We have reason to believe. We’re experiencing a significant increase in our rate of growth since January 2018, particularly in the last four months since we launched our supply-side platform, but we still have a long way to go.

All Nucleus sales are private — there’s no open-market programmatic activity. What does this mean for your customer advertisers?

Nucleus has a different take on automated buying than most big platforms. Because our premium advertising is secured via direct or private marketplace, and because it is delivered to actual human beings who have registered on news sites, we give an extra layer of comfort to advertisers that want to be sure they are avoiding waste in their spend.

The news industry is uniquely positioned to prove itself as having a direct connection with readers, and Nucleus is poised to bring that message to the most demanding marketers.

Regarding your 150 million to 160 million unique visitors, are you providing advertisers with reader profiles?

The element of trust between new organizations and readers doesn’t end at the newsroom door. We believe that respecting the privacy of our readers/consumers is paramount. While we do use reader data for targeting, we never reveal identifiable personal information.

But what we do that rivals (and potentially surpasses) the most powerful platforms is unite first-party data individually held by many of our organizations with their home-delivery data, and then we unite that information with third-party data when we need to so we can give advertisers the precision they demand.

The Local Media Consortium, with 160 million unduplicated unique visitors monthly, has a reach comparable to Nucleus’. How do the two organizations compare?

The LMC is an important part of the solution. The LMC does an excellent job of automating and streamlining processes for the open-market side of the business. Nucleus isn’t involved in the open market; we’re only interested in private marketplace or directly placed premium placements for premium brands.

In a way, the LMC and Nucleus complement each other well. I welcome anyone who wants to generate revenue to support journalism, particularly those with smart leadership teams and a clear sense of mission.

What is so important about home-delivery data?

What’s key is to deliver premium precision so that advertisers don’t waste any dollars, and to ensure that they receive the premium ROI that makes it a no-brainer for them to return. Nucleus has the rare position to offer a unique combination of online and offline data that, combined, is extremely powerful. It’s something none of the search-social platforms have. That’s a true differentiator that’s never been capitalized on, and that’s what Nucleus is starting to do.

With Nucleus in its new, second phase emphasizing a combination of trust, precision, and scale, is it about to tip the balance away from Google and Facebook, which have been capturing the lion’s share of growth in digital ad revenue?

The proof is in the results. The brands that have been running with us, particularly in the last half year or so, have been getting phenomenal results in consumer response. Many of our advertisers are seeing 80% to 90% video-completion rates [the percentage of reader-viewers who stay with a video instead of leaving midstream]. That’s significantly higher than other sites or platforms.

How is Nucleus achieving such high video-completion rates?

Google isn’t a destination the way news sites are. Readers go there expecting to leave as fast as they can. If I want to read about the news that’s happening in my hometown, I’m going there to stay and spend some time and be persuaded or to understand something new.

Nucleus represents the entire property, not just the hard news. Readers come to their hometown sites to dive deep on sports, lifestyle, travel. The sites Nucleus represents are more than just a platform or a trend, they’re a lifelong connection with our towns and the world beyond. That’s why the stakes are so high in what we’re all working to achieve. That’s why the work of Nucleus is so exciting; we’re representing and uniting sites that are already of the highest quality and esteem. When we work together, the truth will win.

Tom GrubisichTom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) has written “The New News” column for Street Fight since 2011. He is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.