Building audience engagement with email is high on every publisher’s agenda. But building revenue with email doesn’t get nearly the same attention.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the renaissance of email as publishers and brands have rediscovered the benefits of a direct relationship with audiences. The power of email can be seen from sky-high valuations of newsletter platforms, in addition to the amount of time that has been spent iterating on existing email strategies.

But at the same time, the format has yet to truly deliver on its potential. A lack of investment and understanding of the technology that underpins the most sophisticated strategies still holds it back. There is also a delicate balance to be struck between monetising inventory and protecting user data that presents ongoing challenges to publishers.

In this special Conversations episode, Chris Sutcliffe is joined by Passendo CEO and co-founder Andreas Jürgensen, CCO and co-founder Anders Rantzau Rasmussen, and Access Intelligence’s VP of Digital for the Media and Marketing division Michael Ring. They discuss how publishers are growing their bottom line by optimising and automating in-email ad serving, and the growing importance of maintaining audience trust and protecting data privacy.

See the full transcript here, or some highlights below:

Why email advertising advances have stalled

Andreas Jürgensen: Email is basically one of the oldest pillars of the internet. As the web and normal advertising on the web has developed in a lot of fronts, email has been standing still.

The technical challenge for doing intelligent ad serving in email, is just different. When you have a normal ad server that works on the web, like we’re all used to, you’re very dependent on cookies, and you’re very dependent on JavaScript. Most of the big platforms out there providing ad serving a highly dependent on these and cannot really work in environments where these are not present.

What you need to do to be able to do this efficiently in email is to solve these challenges in a different way. How do you identify the users without cookies? How do we provide intelligence in the medium inside the page of the email you’re looking at without JavaScript? This is something that is now really important.

Michael Ring: [Email] was never really at the forefront of the product. But as things change, as there’s Apple privacy, as there are other privacy issues, or ad blockers, I think what we’re doing now in the industry is we’re seeing the the email itself move to the forefront.

You’ve got a limited amount of inventory, and you’ve got an engaged audience. So it’s an opportunity to really bring value both to your audience and to your advertisers. It was something that fell by the wayside, and that’s why it was an additive. But I do think – not just us at Access Intelligence – I do think the industry itself is seeing that product, that piece of the puzzle, really become something that is much more the forefront of what the product set is and not so much the additive.

The opportunity gap in email

Andreas Jürgensen: It’s an underdeveloped area. The resurgence that’s happening now is the resurgence for people who are on the forefront. The main body of publishers are still seeing that they need to do something, but they lack the – I wouldn’t say the ideas to do it, but maybe the tools – and it has to come from the understanding that this is commercially viable to do.

We could talk about the decline of the trust off of normal display advertising on the web. People are saying, “I see a banner here, I don’t want to click it, I’m afraid where my user data goes.” These things work different than email. Email is a trusted channel between the sender and the recipient. And when you have your email newsletter that you’re waiting for every morning to see the latest business news, or sport news, or whatever you’re seeing here, that’s a trusted channel.

That channel, not to commercialise it in some way, it doesn’t work in the long term. As a publisher, you need to get paid for whatever you’re building.

Anders Rasmussen: I think maybe a lot of publishers are, maybe not missing the bigger picture, but I think it’s just, how do we move a lot of the money from print over to online subscriptions. I know, a lot of the publishing thought leaders, they really see email, as a very efficient tool to generate paying subscribers and converting them from the email to become either paying subscribers or as just a subscriber on the email, but also on the website.

Then, in general using email, it’s very engaging. What about for the newsletter, that’s about wine, why not make a subscription about that, and then start converting? So I think there’s a lot of opportunities. Obviously, you can always start somewhere and you can start simple. That’s the way to go forward, usually. But I think there’s tonnes of opportunities here.

Low-hanging fruit for newsletters

Andreas Jürgensen: If you don’t have the right tech stack, you’re going to show the same ad to every recipient of the newsletter, which is just a horrible, horrible practice. The more you have people using your newsletter, you will build up an understanding of their preferences of what they want to see, what they’re interested in.

If you don’t have a tech stack that takes that into account and then show you an ad that’s relevant for you, you’re doing it wrong. And this even counts, if you have deeply integrated innovative formats, you need something that’s able to do that. Also, on top of that if you don’t innovate on the formats, you’re doing it horribly wrong as well.

Innovating whilst protecting user privacy

Michael Ring: You have to start internally and say, “Who are the right teams to bring in, who are the right people to understand your tech partners, your stack,” and really trusting those partners themselves.

A big thing for us is when we bring someone into our tech stack, they go through a rigorous process, we are assessing them, we are looking at industry standards, we’re looking at how they themselves present themselves in industry, before we ever bring anyone into our tech stack. So I think really having a trusted technical platform is what’s really important for us.

So when we work with our CDP, or ESP or working with anyone in those industries, really to sit down and understand where there could be data leakage and how you could protect your data. Because, again, it goes back to your brand. It’s not good for you, it’s not good for your clients, if you have your data leakage. So you really want to make sure you’re not hurting anyone. It’s really important to understand who you’re including in that tech stack.


This Conversations episode is sponsored by Passendo. Passendo is the leading European platform commercialising newsletter inventory. Founded in 2016 by two digital advertising pioneers, our award-winning email ad server and SSP provides value for publishers and advertisers worldwide, with over 4,000 premium publishing house newsletter inventories across the world. Partnering with some of the world’s largest media publishers, Passendo helps them activate new incremental revenues in an existing and untapped media channel – in-email advertising – reaching new audiences to unlock new and exciting opportunities.

Learn more on Passendo’s website, or follow them on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

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