Forbes CRO Mark Howard on the journey towards mobile-first publishing | M&M Global

Forbes CRO Mark Howard on the journey towards mobile-first publishing

Forbes chief revenue officer Mark Howard explains to M&M Global how the publisher is looking to accelerate its mobile transformation, following the acquisition of Camerama.

Mark Howard

A new approach to mobile, with greater emphasis on community-focused apps, will help deliver Forbes a younger global audience, according to the publisher’s chief revenue officer Mark Howard.

Speaking exclusively to M&M Global, Howard said Forbes would be making a “significant investment” in mobile apps following last week’s acquisition of start-up private photo sharing app Camerama.

The deal, of which financial details have not been disclosed, will see Camerama founder Salah Akram Zalatimo join Forbes as VP mobile products, reporting to chief product officer Lewis D’Vorkin.

Howard says there is “no doubt” Forbes’ audience is shifting in media consumption habits towards mobile, with around 40% to 50% of its digital audience coming from devices. Of that audience, some 80% are under the age of 45, marking a significant differential

“We’re about to start production on a series of apps focused on the different communities that we work on from an editorial perspective. We’ve got some history with this in how some of our conference apps work, and how we’ve engaged with people at events,” says Howard.

“This is a pretty significant investment from us from a resource perspective. We view the technology as an opportunity to create the backbone of some new community apps, although we’re in a developmental stage.”

Mobile ad challenge

Fresh from attending Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, Howard says he remains unconvinced that publishers have fully cracked the mobile advertising challenge.

“I don’t think that the model has emerged yet, in terms of what the right way of advertising on a mobile device, but we’re all fairly confident that the direct translation of a desktop banner to a mobile banner isn’t going to work,” says Howard, previously Forbes’ senior vice president, digital advertising strategy.

“We’ve all had our hands tied a little because desktop measurement systems don’t apply to phones. Everyone is working on that with the technology companies, to get a better sense of the audience and to follow the user journey, but it’s still very much the early stages.

“Anything we do on mobile at the moment, we have to treat in isolation, all the data is really siloed, and we all know the Holy Grail for marketers is to track a user and to build attribution models on their entire media journey.”

Better workflow

Programmatic trading currently accounts for 33% of Forbes’ digital ad revenues, a figure which “continues to grow”, he said. Howard hopes the technology will become increasingly “core” to the publisher’s direct selling process, too.

“The reality is programmatic is here to stay. So much of what is does for the buying and selling process was very much needed, in terms of creating better workflow, better system integration between buyers and sellers, better ability from a building perspective.

“The hope is all this technology will be core to the direct selling process – if we can eliminate a lot of the inefficiencies, and more time spent in driving insights for advertisers, then it is a good thing,” he adds.

The improvement of Forbes’ international audience data will also help it to attract advertisers away from North America, according to Howard. He claims around 30% of the company’s readership now comes from outside the US, primarily from major business centres in the UK, Germany, India and China.

Using Forbes’ teams in locations including London and Singapore, he believes the firm is on the cusp of being able to monetise that audience: “We’re now at a threshold. We have enough inventory and data at our disposal so we can get more sophisticated in the solutions we’re offering.

“Until recently we could only offer basic geographic or contextual targeting, but now we can be much more sophisticated.”

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