This article was first published as “Yes, publishers can compete with Google (here’s how)” on Digital Content Next, of which Lineup Systems is a supporting member. 

As antitrust investigations envelope tech giants like Google and Facebook, some publishers may be lulled into thinking that their competition with Big Tech is fading. It’s certainly encouraging to see that Google may be held to account for their monopolistic practices. However, it’s unlikely to change the fundamental battle between publisher and platform. Google will continue to profit from news delivery and aggregation, and marketers will still funnel large portions of their budgets to stay at the top of search results. But to say that Big Tech is here to stay is not to admit defeat. This David and Goliath battle will surely rage on, and there are plenty of ways publishers can win along the way.

If Google escapes all 50 state attorneys general investigations unscathed, will the pressure from publishers and legislators be enough to force change? The likelihood of any specific outcome aside, this recent news has led to a fascinating game of “what-ifs.” Well beyond mere speculation, this exercise is helpful for legislators, publishers and tech giants alike.

So, What Changes if Google Loses?

Whether Google faces fines or recent scrutiny leads to legislative changes, most agree that Google will have to make fundamental changes in the coming years. Since News Media Alliance reported that Google made $4.7 Billion in 2018 from aggregated news content, calls for Big Tech to begin sharing a piece of that revenue pie have grown louder and more insistent.

Proposed policies like the Journalism Competition & Preservation Act would enable publishers to collectively negotiate directly with Big Tech platforms to “improve the access to and the quality of news online”. Senators John Kennedy (R-LA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced this legislation in June, a key tenant of which is the establishment of a 48-month “safe harbor” (a.k.a. regulation-free period for Google) for publishers to “band together to negotiate with dominant online platforms.”

One must wonder what is preventing publishers from doing this now, and what would be achieved. You’ve armed David with a slingshot, but where is the stone? For some, it is hard to believe four more regulation-free years for Google would lead them to start paying publishers for their content.

Either Way, Publishers Must Emphasize How They Compete

If the changes on the table are unlikely to move the needle for publishers in a significant way, can publishers compete with Big Tech? Yes! And they should. The challenge for ad sales teams is to learn how they stand out against Big Tech digital advertising and be prepared to clearly articulate this to advertisers.

Too many local publishers are unprepared to compete with Google and Facebook, and believe their only option is to partner directly with their biggest competition. What they fail to realize is that if they could only communicate to advertisers why they should add local advertising into their marketing mix, they could tap into an important revenue source.

In the eyes of marketers, how do publishers differ from Big Tech?  

Here are four difference that publishers can capitalize on:

1. Trustworthiness

DCN has long emphasized the importance of quality, trustworthy content. And this is not just for the sake of readers and the future of journalism, but also because these factors are critical for advertisers. Due to the “black box” nature of Big Tech algorithms, campaigns from trusted brands may end up in distasteful corners of the internet. This is not only embarrassing for reputable brands. It can have a detrimental impact on their bottom line.

In contrast, publishers are not only focused on the quality of their content, but they vet their advertisers as well. Marketers need not fear their ad campaign showing up next to pornography or propaganda. The trust that readers place in a quality publication is extended to the brands that advertise there. And this value is nearly impossible to replicate on Facebook or Google.

Ad sales teams must be prepared with the facts about ad fraud and why trustworthiness is critical for campaign success.

2. Audience data

Advertisers don’t want to purchase impressions or ad space – they expect access to specific audiences.  Google makes this easy. Do you? Publishers have an opportunity to show advertisers that they can leverage their first-party data for a better user experience and higher-quality, audience-driven campaigns.

If your publication is behind a paywall (in full or in part), you already know the value of your first-party subscriber data. Be the opposite of Google’s algorithmic black box. The more transparent you can be, the more value marketers will see in your audience.

3. Omnichannel campaigns

Advertisers want easy to understand campaign options, a clear understanding of campaign ROI, and they want doing business with a publisher to be easy. With the right tools, publishers can deliver on all these things – but they must go one step further.

We’ve shown that publishers can compete head-to-head on trustworthiness and quality data. But what can publishers offer that Big Tech cannot? Omnichannel campaigns that cross mediums and deliver clear results. Who else can combine digital and print with OOH and events?

As publishers diversify their revenue streams, they must be careful to train sales staff to understand the uplift these additional channels can provide for advertisers.

4. Marketing expertise

More and more publishers are adding marketing services to their offerings, and it’s no wonder. Research from Borrell Associates indicates that agencies and advertisers alike look to media companies for marketing expertise. This means your sales teams need to be prepared to be that expertise. The consultative selling approach has been proven effective. However, it requires a dedication to understanding the latest trends and recognizing how your products and services can help advertisers capitalize on them.

Time will tell if Google and Facebook will be held to account for their monopolistic practices. Regardless of how policies change, publishers must recognize that they’re already able to compete with Big Tech. It is critical that ad sales teams understand what differentiates them from the Googles and Facebooks of this world. If they can, they’ll become an invaluable resource to reputable brands and local advertisers.