The New York Times Prioritizes First-Party Data in New Platform for Marketers

The offering, called Pivotal, comes as publishers bolster their datasets to win ad dollars

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The New York Times is continuing its push of first-party data. New York Times
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As the ad industry braces for more privacy legislation and the implications of Big Tech’s consumer-facing security updates, media companies are touting their first-party data offerings more than ever to win fresh ad dollars.

The New York Times—which intended to prioritize these data segments in new ad offerings this year—is rolling out a new platform for marketers highlighting the publisher’s research and consumer insights that it hopes will encourage more meaningful collaborations with marketers.

“How do we take all of that data, surround it with additional research and use that to be a foundation for marketers to understand what’s relevant?” Allison Murphy, senior vice president of Ad Innovation at the Times, asked as she explained the new platform called Pivotal.

Data is “the heartbeat of what we’re doing in advertising,” Murphy told Adweek.

Pivotal was intended to go live earlier this year, but the company put it on hold while the industry navigated a rough 2020 that began with the Covid-19 pandemic and continued with social unrest.

“This has been a year where we’ve realized the world around us is shifting rapidly,” Murphy said. “You’ve got to be building your marketing with and around brands that are trusted and that are going to maintain worthwhile relationships with consumers.”

The platform will be centered around six main categories: race, climate, tech, gender, sex and money. Each category will be backed by proprietary research cultivated by the Times, along with opportunities for clients to meet in one-on-one sessions.

The research is backed by a range of intelligence from Times journalists, non-Times readers and industry experts who Pivotal’s builders spoke with in a variety of ways, ranging from focus groups to in-depth conversations.

The Times’ offering comes as other publishers, including Vox Media, bolster their datasets to win over ad dollars and create new partnerships with marketers. All publishers stand to gain with their own first-party datasets and with the death of the third-party cookie.

“In certain situations, first party cookies can enable more targeted advertising and less frequent messaging,” Anindya Ghose, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, said. “This will reduce the annoyance cost of advertising for consumers and increase the relevance of targeting. So you can get the right message at the right time to the right consumer on the right device but with lower advertising frequency.”

The Times’ data points in these categories, such as climate, range from responses to their own habits. For example, 73% of respondents use less plastic opting for fabric bags. That paints a more granular picture of how they view their responsibility in mitigating climate change.

“We have the ability to kind of shape the narrative based on what’s happening in society right now,” Erin Hennessy, executive director of insights at the Times, said.

The hope is that these data points will help inform broader conversations about how brands can respond in real time. “We like those messy conversations, there’s a natural part of The Times as an overall brand and a place where we’re comfortable as an advertising business,” Murphy said.

The Times is approaching this new product after record-setting quarters in subscription growth, which could bolster at least one aspect of its dataset as the publisher learns more about subscriber habits.

The Times has added 669,000 net new digital subscriptions, which came in the face of industry-wide drops in ad sales during the pandemic.

“It’s been a difficult year for the ad market. We are really leaning into the places that we think can matter to marketers,” Murphy said. “We think we need to stay on top of this and strengthening the way in which we bring value to marketers is something we need to keep putting effort into and bringing new approaches to. It’s a big bet for us.”

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.