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If you know brands like Mashable, PCMag, or Offers.com, then you know the Ziff Media Group (ZMG). Across the technology, culture, and shopping verticals, ZMG produces and distributes a vast array of content across an enviable portfolio of well-known brands and platforms around the world. The multifaceted company is about advertising, performance marketing, audience data, and licensing solutions — but it’s all tied together via partnerships.

Impact’s Richa Dani, Director of Strategic Partnerships, had a virtual conversation with ZMG’s Jessica Spira, VP of Partner Management and Growth, to gather insights about the media company’s successful partnership models.

Richa: First off, let’s get remote work out of the way. Where have you been working during the pandemic and how has that been for you personally? Any surprises? 

Jessica: I have been working out of my apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, in NYC, the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. Typically I wouldn’t say I like working from home. I enjoy being in an office environment, seeing colleagues and clients face to face, and feeding off the energy of the team. Ziff sent our teams to work from home in early March. At the time, I was worried about productivity overall, but I have been pleasantly surprised. Our teams have adapted quite well. I see a lot of active and thoughtful communication, faster connections, better processes, and increased output.

Richa: That’s terrific to hear! We’ve had similar results at Impact. Now, let’s talk about how ZMG does what they do. Ziff is such a large and complex entity with so many sub-brands and moving parts — can you start by distilling down your partnership model, both in terms of how it serves your audiences and fuels your revenue?

Jessica: Our first goal is to serve our readers. At ZMG, we aim to be a trusted purchase companion and provide expertise and perspectives when consumers need them most. Editorial integrity and reader trust are the core of our program. Our editors select and review products independently from any business considerations. When it comes to our deals programming, our merchandising teams curate and handpick only the best deals across a variety of verticals to power our homepages, deals widgets, and newsletters. Because of that trust, our readers will click through to a merchant at a high rate and convert to a sale at a higher rate.  

Richa: Performance partnerships are one piece of the ZMG puzzle, and they are something the Impact community is very familiar with. Can you tell us how you go beyond that to implement what you describe as a “360-degree” marketing solutions approach?

Jessica: There are three major ways in which we derive revenue: performance marketing, first-party and programmatic display advertising, and brand licensing. We work closely with partners to understand their goals. Are they interested in low-funnel traffic, or do they want to capture the entire sales cycle? For example, we can structure a program around a product receiving an Editors’ Choice from PCMag. We will integrate affiliate links in relevant reviews and features, launch a display campaign to capture mid-upper funnel activity, and enable the brand to leverage our award seal in their online and offline marketing activities. We are evolving and expanding our Branded Search (TMplus) Program and creating robust paid marketing solutions. 

Richa: You are known for your trademark plus experience. Can you tell us more about your paid marketing solutions and branded and non-branded search? 

Jessica: We’ve been working in the branded search space for well over a decade. Many in the industry know Offers for our expertise in paid search around brand + promo code terms. We are evolving the strategy and doing more in the non-branded search space. For example, we worked with a credit card issuer that was struggling to drive approvals in the non-branded search space. We were able to craft a solution that leveraged our search capabilities and expertise, merchandising, data, and content marketing chops. We built a robust landing page, captured cookie data, and ran a successful re-engagement campaign. We more than doubled their approvals from what the issuer was doing by themselves.  

Richa: How do you work with Impact to build and manage your diverse partner relationships, and what do you think are the biggest benefits you get from the Partnership Cloud?

Jessica: Over the last couple of years, we have worked more closely with Impact as more premium advertisers were added to the platform. At ZMG we look to develop long-term strategic partnerships with our advertisers. The Partnership Cloud has enabled us to be able to work with a wider range of advertisers, allowing us to strengthen various verticals on our sites. It’s been impressive to watch how quickly Impact has scaled. It’s been really helpful to engage with our partners and grow these relationships. We’re also always monitoring the Cloud for more leads and opportunities.  

Richa: Industry partnerships are your bread and butter, but how does that play out inside your organization?  How do you work together internally so that different silos — say, data and display advertising — are all marching to the same drum? Does Impact’s Partnership Cloud fit into that picture?

Jessica: Over the last two years, we have worked hard to break down any internal silos by cross-training our teams, increasing communication, and partnering for joint presentations to clients. We use the data from Impact as well as our own audience data to craft performance partnerships and full-funnel solutions — this approach resonates with clients and is good for ZMG.

Richa: If I’m a brand advertiser in one of Ziff’s specialty areas, like gaming or some sort of business SaaS, why would I want to work with a diverse-portfolio company like ZMG rather than a more specialized publisher or one-on-one relationship? How is the experience different?

Jessica: You get scale across different audiences and you get a very robust centralized research methodology and service functions. Our solutions serve the readers at all stages of their consumer journey. We worked with a big-box retailer that wanted to shift share away from their competitor and drive incremental sales. We integrated links within contextual reviews across the portfolio, layered on email promotions, and highlighted curated coupons and deals across our deal sites, including our three Black Friday sites (BlackFriday.com, BestBlackFriday.com, and TheBlackFriday.com). This resulted in a 7x increase in gross merchandise volume (GMV) and 10x in share of voice (SOV). Our diverse portfolio allows us to leverage billions of pieces of user data on a daily basis to retarget and re-engage users who are in-market and demonstrate a high intent to purchase. 

Richa: How does content commerce and CPC partnerships factor into your strategy and how have they/it enabled you to grow and diversify your revenue streams? Could you share how you got started, what challenges you faced along the way, and what the future holds in these areas?

Jessica: Content and commerce are central to our performance marketing strategy. First, we start with exceptional, independent editorial content. For example, the PCMag team tests and reviews more than 2,000 products each year. It’s the partner team’s job to figure out monetization. When PCMag started reviewing more business-oriented software, we realized that those marketers were accustomed to paying a CPC. We had already had a few CPC partnerships from the price comparison engines, so this was not a far leap. The challenge with the CPC model is making sure that the tracking is accurate and that there is no fraud. We proactively manage this program and work closely with our partners in the space to ensure that tracking is accurate. Moreover, we manage all of our programs to achieve the ROAS goals for our partners regardless of whether we are working on a CPC, CPA, CPM or flat fee. We find that working with partners across a range of monetization programs is beneficial to both the merchant and the publisher.

Richa: Recent media coverage, like this article in Digiday, suggests major changes in advertising. Do you see ad spend shifting away from programmatic? What do you see in the future for advertising? For partnerships? 

Jessica: I’m not someone who likes to prognosticate about the state of the media. What I can tell you is that performance marketing partnerships continue to grow and are more and more important when it comes to media buys. We are increasingly talking to brands about our full-funnel solutions, and they are receptive to our unique capabilities. 

Richa: How has the crisis impacted your brands differently? I’m guessing Offers.com is experiencing the pandemic’s effects very differently from, say, AskMen?

Jessica: We are seeing some category upticks and downticks across the portfolio. But thanks to the strength of our portfolio and our diverse expertise, we adapted very quickly and were able to take action when we saw surges in a given category. On Offers.com, travel and entertainment are down for obvious reasons. We quickly noticed upticks in home and garden, fitness and wellness, delivery services, and news, and so we reallocated resources toward more merchandising, content marketing, and paid marketing in those categories. On AskMen, the editorial team increased their content output around building a home gym or cutting their own hair. On Mashable, it’s all about online learning, tools, and gadgets people need to thrive or stay inspired in this new normal, like the best language learning apps.

Richa: We can’t close out without discussing the current global health crisis and its impact on your brands and partnerships. At Impact, we’ve seen our clients respond in a variety of ways depending on what vertical they inhabit and how their cash flow has been affected. But there’s definitely a pattern of “leaning in” to partnerships as other sales and marketing efforts dry up. What are you seeing with your partnerships, and what are you learning?

Jessica: The first month or so was frankly a wild ride. Merchants were adjusting their strategy daily. We were all trying to understand in real-time how to manage in an unprecedented crisis. Early on, we decided to lean into partnering with merchants with whom we may not have worked with before and were much more open to experimentation. We found that for some advertisers who wanted to lean in, it is a great time to shift-share. While travel merchants took a step back, we saw major increases in categories like home and garden or online learning.  In addition, a lot of our core verticals around technology, software, and services continue to perform exceptionally well. Across a lot of our brands, we have doubled down on anything related to WFH needs, from routers and mesh extenders to monitors to chairs. I’m impressed with how quickly our teams pivoted and created great content and significant revenue opportunities. 

Richa: Thank you so much for all your incredible insights, Jessica. Such a pleasure to hear how Ziff maximizes their partnership opportunities! 

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