Project Agora is hosting “The Publisher Sessions” on 19th November, a by-invitation, virtual thought leadership forum for sell-side partners. A few days before the event Marilena Manatou, Project Agora’s Customer Success Director speaks with Mahmoud Hamdy, Head of Marketing and Advertising at Argaam Investments (Akhbaar24), about this year’s changing conditions for publishers, the status of programmatic, header bidding and brand safety.
It’s been an extraordinary year with many unforeseeable changes. How have your priorities shifted to adjust to the latest market conditions?
MH: The shifts in priority this year, were driven not only by the pandemic, but also by the changes in technologies. With the lockdown people consumed more digital content than ever before. This gave us the chance to reach a higher number of online users, and to achieve record numbers in traffic. We put a lot of effort in producing more suitable content and we started discovering new ways to drive more traffic to our sites. However, we believe that the forthcoming blocking of 3rd party cookies will drive much more impactful changes to the industry. This is our main concern in terms of changes and we are shifting our efforts to try to accommodate it.
Could you expand a bit more on your audience development strategy? What are the trends you have identified as more efficient?
MH: We are providing more content variety and allowing more ad technologies. As a publisher you create content to be consumed in ads as well, so we are trying to find what is the most trending content, beyond only text and images. I can see video is going to podcast, but how we can monetize that, it’s not yet clear in the region. Also, more interactive content, infographics and simulating the social media experience on websites, building community to retain your direct traffic and boost returning visitors.
It has been reported in the international press that programmatic trading performed better than other advertising streams given its flexibility and adaptiveness. Do you think this was the case in your market? Is it something that will benefit publishers?
MH: Indeed, it seems that programmatic demand is picking up in the region. The salesman role was compromised during the pandemic. We saw it on our part that advertisers started to request our inventory through programmatic and do all the negotiation across the platform and for us, yes, it was beneficial. So, I can definitely see there is a shifting to programmatic and that it is rapidly evolving in the area.
How are you managing the brand safety challenge?
MH: That’s a big question. We have some restrictions here in the country, so we can’t display all ads, just seeking an extra bit of revenue. We need to be careful of the content and respectful of our audience. We use all protection rules that we must for our community, users & audiences, so that we do not expose them to inappropriate ads. Sometimes we feel that technology isn’t supporting us a lot with that and we need to do more. But there are new solutions that can help you control what you display. We are the most commented articles’ website in KSA and we work hard to protect the relationship with our audience.
What is your view on Header Bidding and the various yield optimization practices that are being exercised either internally within a publishing group or via 3rd party providers?
MH: We are currently working with Project Agora to implement header bidding on the web version. What I am always concerned about is the speed of ad calls so we are constantly testing, enhancing and adapting. Tests have gone well and without a doubt, I believe that Project Agora can deliver to that extent.
What are the key services that you will be increasingly looking for in a strategic partner from 2021 and beyond?
MH: A partner to me is someone that always supports me, while I’m supporting him back. What I’m looking for, in terms of ads business is new ad solutions and new ad products that fit advertisers’ budgets and capabilities, more convenient things that display well and have high ROI. Also, we are very interested in ad formats that can be more engaging for the users. So, top of our list is the products a partner can provide and the support. Working with Project Agora, I feel we get the benefit for both us and our advertisers.
Please join us on 19th November at 12.30pm (UTC+4) in a by-invitation event that will bring together digital content brands with leading international experts in their respective field. Project Agora partners will have the opportunity to hear from global advertising brands such as The Coca-Cola Company, premium publishing brands such as El País, and leading trade bodies such as IAB Europe, garnering insights on emerging trends, new practices and key developments in supply monetization. The event will be complemented by discussion and debate from prominent publishers across CEE and MEA as well as an overview of Project Agora’s new offering and near future plans.