2014 predictions: We’re all publishers

It’s my first day back in the office since the holidays. I have some time before lunch. It feels appropriate, if a little late, to write some predictions for the year ahead. Since time is against me this won’t be a short post.

My theme for this year will be “We’re all publishers”. This isn’t a prediction. In many of my conference and expo presentations in 2013 I made this point to provide some context for the evolution of digital.

This year, the English libel laws will change to reflect that we’re all publishers. People without special insight into marketing or legal regulations tweet, swap messages on Facebook and publish videos they’ve captured on Vine. The English system now moves to give those publishers more support and it comes at the expensive of those pressing libel claims in Court. This seems fair as the English system had been weighed too far in the other direction before. Hopefully Scotland will follow too.

This is a rare instance of the legal system, I think, adapting ahead of the digital marketing world. There is plenty happening in the digital marketing world because we’re all publishers now but it feels disjointed and uncoordinated. I wonder how that will change in 2014.

Key Themes

  • Expertise
  • Data
  • Automation
  • Relationships
  • Privacy & Regulations


I see a bifurcation of the role of “SEO Account Manager”.

There will now be the “mathematical and planning type” – those SEO account managers who can coordinate all the levers and buttons SEO campaigns now need to press (and the people involved), work with schedules, client restrictions and these people must also be able to dig into data to pull out insight. These account managers will certainly handy at pivot tables in Excel.

The other is the “creative type” – these are those SEO account managers who can come up with linkbait ideas, who can conceive effective outreach campaigns and even those with the talent to produce their own ideas. In many ways it will be these account managers who speak most often to clients as a key skillset will be the ability to layer SEO on top of everything else brands are doing.

These two roles are in addition to the two expertise sets I already recognise; the technical account manager and the outreach & engagement account manager. The former is a dab hand at the technologies and code required for SEO and the latter an expert at publisher relationships.

On that note, I think we’ll see less chat about “bloggers” and more chat about “publishers”. This is a good thing.

“I think (I hope) we’ll see more concern in 2014 about the difference between advertorial and editorial”
I think (I hope) we’ll see more concern in 2014 about the difference between advertorial and editorial.

The twin effect of commercial outreach (via PR agencies and SEOs) and blogger conferences is that many bloggers now seek financial compensation in exchange for anything. I have observed that many bloggers are not clear on the differences between an advertorial offer or an editorial pitch (and neither SEO firms nor PR agencies are very good at helping here). This needs to change or a bunch of bloggers and brands will end up on Panorama.

In Performance Marketing

The phrase “performance marketing” is overloaded. At least it is better than the meaningless phrase “performance media”.

In essence, in the most sophisticated digital market in the world – the UK – the affiliate industry has done a fantastic job at rebranding itself into performance marketing. If you go to performance marketing awards or a performance marketing conference then you’ll be hanging with affiliate networks, publishers and merchants.

Others, especially highbrow marketing consultants from the States use "performance marketing" as some sort of bucket to put search, affiliate and related activities in. If "creative" don't get to lead the project then it'll likely just be some "performance marketing".

I’m not sure the affiliate industry will win the battle to completely own the phrase “performance marketing” in 2014 but I am sure they’ll have a great year. Generally, I mean. Specifically some networks might struggle in the new reality.

I think brands will embrace CPA innovation this year. The economic recovery in the parts of the world were affiliate marketing is fairly well regulated is perfectly timed with the security and safety that CPA offers. In particular, brands will be keen to see affiliates trail blaze in new areas and technologies.

Affiliate networks will continue their shift; either towards the full agency model (Rakuten and Digital Window, for example) or more fully towards just providing the tracking and payment technology (jostling up against Impact Radius and Performance Horizon).

Cookies and data will likely be an issue too. Should affiliates get paid for the data they collect and which brands (and networks) can harvest? If brands are using retargeting on top of affiliate traffic then are affiliates due a commission on the value of that data?

I do think Viglink and Skimlinks will have a good year if they can tap into the wider collective awareness of bloggers. The companies have been battling for control of the platforms – deals with Automattic and the like – but brand awareness with bloggers would be a layer on top of those strategic deals with the technology providers. Both companies will have to innovate hard this year.

“The known unknown is Google. Will they push the CPA space this year with an alternative to the now defunct Google Affiliate Network?”
The known unknown is Google. Will they push the CPA space this year with an alternative to the now defunct Google Affiliate Network? It’s possible but it’s been possible for a long time. Could Yahoo (or AOL? – attempt 2) throw an impressive curveball and offer a CPA based YSense to a mass market of publishers? That seems less likely even if it sounds wonderful.

In Display

I think the distance between programmatic and premium will shorten. It already feels that the difference between the two isn’t in where the ad slot happens to be but how the ad slot was filled. In other words, publishers may try and pre-fill inventory with set price deals providing it remains cost effective for them to do so but the rest of the placement will be programmatic.

Some of the effort previously spent pushing premium will slide towards “native ads”.

I think there will be more fuss this year about the impact of botnets and click fraud in display. It has to happen. There’s certainly an opportunity for some suppliers to stand out from the crowd by caring about this and offering protection.

On the same note; I predict we’ll see ongoing discussions around the role of agency trading desks, transparency, data ownership, privacy and retargeting. These have all been topics in 2013 but it feels like there’s still lots to work through in 2014.

I don’t think we’ll see a runaway leader in the realm of Display on connected TV in 2014. By connected TVs I’m also including gaming consoles like Steambox and their consoles. I do think we’ll see more brands exploring the possibilities though and this will lead to overlaps and tensions between digital agencies (who understand the tech) and traditional agencies (who previously would make all the TV-clip style ads).

Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms will be busy with their Display offerings. This might not create pressure on CPM but it might certainly push minimum spend down. That’s a good thing.


Brands and agencies will both have to think long and hard about the Google Display Network. Do they have a Search specialist running ads on this network just because it’s Google? Or do they have a media buyer running ads on this platform because it has the word “display” in the branding?

“I don’t think the biggest change in 2013 was Enhanced Campaigns. I think the big change in 2013 was AdRank and how extensions now influence Quality Score. ”
I don’t think the biggest change in 2013 was Enhanced Campaigns. I think the big change in 2013 was AdRank and how extensions now influence Quality Score. We’ll see more effort with ‘creative PPC ads’ as brands and their agencies try and boost their performance on this new third side of the equation.

Of course, interactive PPC ads are very much what Google wants. Once PPC ads are effectively microsites in their own right that are designed so they easily fit into card design then they’re ripe for placement in areas like Google Glass, mobile apps and perhaps any other device you care to plug Android into (Google gaming console, anyone?).

2014 will see more brands get their HTML 5 and mobile sites ready. About time, huh? Expect to see the knock on effect when it comes to mobile click prices.

In Social Media

Social Media is media. The clue is in the name. Agencies will be forced to stop writing creative experiments off as “social media” and pay more attention to the sort of campaigns that actually engage with the correct audiences.

The phrase “social media” is too broad. We’ll start seeing more specialists (and perhaps the threesome of SEO, PR and content marketing will churn something out here).

It’s entirely possible to be a top social media professional without knowing how to set up a Facebook advertising campaign, or a Twitter one or a StumbleUpon ad. Equally, you can be a high performing social media manager without knowing what size of infographic bloggers usually prefer or what the most popular Wordpress caching plugin is.

As a result of this need for expertise and specialism within Social Media we may see some movement back to channels like Display or SEO. For example, setting up that large paid for Facebook campaign might well be Display budget again and a blogger outreach campaign may be handled entirely by SEO experts because it was conceived entirely for SEO purposes.

It’s going to be hugely interesting to see what all the main platforms do this year. Google+ and Pinterest have growth potential if they can sort API access and integration out. Facebook will likely make inroads in mobile and video but struggle with branding issues and parents. Twitter will have to work hard to show both advertising results this year while hinting at even greater possibilities next year. LinkedIn will continue to be a darling platform.

We’re all publishers

Ultimately, I think we’ll see more brands and agencies using job titles “Head of Natural Media” or “Head of Biddable Media” as a way to cope with the platform expansion and vast array of choices.

We may well see marketing experts who specialise in working with certain publisher types and those types may be vertical or size. For example, we’ll see “travel marketing” experts (digital travel marketing experts if you still feel the word digital is necessary) or “small scale publisher” experts.

Image credit: Caroline.

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