Tom Armstrong, VP Global Advertising at The New York Times, on making advertising work in paid-for digital content media

“If we create a great experience for subscribers that is worth paying for, then ads have to be worthy of that subscription. If we can make those ads compelling, then they perform well. It sets a high bar for the overall advertising experience and our team has the expertise and focus on quality to fully lean into that.”

Much of the industry’s recent conversation about The New York Times in recent months has focused on its subscription strategies, especially after its acquisition of the sport-based platform The Athletic helped it to hit its target of 10 million subscriptions.

Yet there is evidence that subscription rates across the media are apparently slowing as consumers deal with rising prices. Might we see once again advertising return as the key revenue driver for media companies?

How then do you integrate online advertising into content that the consumer has already paid for? As Tom Armstrong, VP Global Advertising at The New York Times explains it appears to be working well for the NYT with Q4 2021 proving to be the largest-ever quarter for digital advertising for the media company.

At the upcoming FIPP Congress next month, Tom will examine the NYT’s advertising strategy in greater depth, Here he argues that high-quality multi-platform ads underpinned by first-party data are the way forward, as well as offering insight as to where else the Times’s future ad revenue might come from.

Part of our: Meet the Speaker Series

Tom Armstrong, The New York Times

Can you give an overview of your career to date? How did you end up at the NYT?

I joined The Times in 2017 as the VP of Advertising for the Asia Pacific region and was based in The Times’s Singapore office. I led our APAC sales team that served marketers and agencies across Asia Pacific and worked closely with our T Brand Studio team in Hong Kong. In 2020, I relocated from Singapore to London to lead the International sales & marketing services team and take on my new role as vice president of global advertising.

Prior to The Times, I was Chief Revenue Officer at Fairfax Media. I was based out of Sydney and led a team across Fairfax Media’s publishing brands including: The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review. Before that, I also served as the company’s commercial and marketing services director.

Before Fairfax, I worked at Viacom in London in various senior international roles focused on building the digital business for their flagship brands: MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central. I also held several senior positions at Discovery Networks and worked for an interactive gaming start-up, Two Way TV.

With extensive experience in advertising, broadcast and digital media, and my various international leadership roles, I have a global perspective on the industry that aligns well with The Times’s continued global expansion and ambitions to reach new audiences.

“The Times’s goal is for its core product to be the best place in the world to experience news.”

And what does your job entail? What does an average day look like?

As vice president of global advertising, I currently lead the international advertising team and am responsible for generating revenue from The Times’s multi-platform products and events as well as developing media deals with clients.

At New York Times Advertising, we are focused on being a growth business, including: 1) investing in teams and expanding our capabilities with revenue growth and 2) challenging norms and placing big bets that make a big impact.

We continue to serve top brands and companies across the UK, Europe and APAC regions, helping them build modern and high-impact solutions across advertising, content strategy and creation. We also help brands tap into The Times’s exceptional audience, and elevate them through the industry’s highest quality ad experiences. We believe in fewer but better, higher quality ads that reach the right audiences, and our team continues to focus on developing premium products that drive measurable impact and consistently outperform. Through our insights tools and industry-leading innovation, our team can more accurately measure success and who our clients are in front of.

How would you describe the NYT’s global ambitions now? Where would the organisation like to be in five years’ time? And which geographies do you see as the key ones for growth for the NYT?

The Times aims to build the essential subscription bundle for every curious person who seeks to understand and engage with the world. At peak moments, The New York Times has reached as many as 1 in 2 adults in the US and millions more internationally.

We passed our goal of 10 million subscriptions (with a little help from The Athletic, a recent acquisition). Now, we are setting our sights on a new goal: at least 15 million total Times subscribers by year-end 2027.

High-quality, original, independent news – and innovation around how people engage with it – will continue to be The Times’s largest area of focus. The Times’s aims to become more valuable to more people by helping them engage with their passions. The Times’s ambition is to leverage the power of its brand and reach of its news audience to become a category leader in other areas like games, cooking, shopping advice and sports.

We’re working towards a more expansive and connected product experience to help people engage with the full New York Times. The Times’s goal is for its core product to be the best place in the world to experience news, and also be the way to introduce people to the whole of what The Times offers, from Games and NYT Cooking to The Athletic and Wirecutter.

Has the ongoing shift away from the use of third-party cookies proved challenging to the NYT ad team? Or has it created new opportunities?

Over 100 million registered readers place trust in The Times’s data privacy policy, which is privacy-forward and transparent. In 2020, we started work to remove all third-party data to target advertising to proactively get ahead of the ad industry’s shift away.

As an industry leader, The Times had the foresight to build an innovative data portfolio servicing a breadth of clients seeking to accurately reach their target consumers, without third-party data. The Times’s expansive body of content is matched only by the wide-reaching magnitude and diversity of The Times audience. This unparalleled wealth of proprietary audience intelligence, along with the tenacity of our work in data science, has positioned The New York Times as trailblazers in 1st Party, poised to drive engagement with accuracy for brand messaging well ahead of a cookieless future.

The Times has developed an ad ecosystem built on first-party data that is powerful, privacy-forward and performant. We’ve been trailblazing in the data product space, exploring new ways to drive performance with durable solutions that will thrive in a world without cookies, amid evolving regulations. We use this first-party data to power innovative, privacy-forward ad targeting that delivers quantifiable results for our clients.

Do you think that globally advertising will once again become the key revenue source for media companies? As the cost of living crisis in some western countries could mean a slowing in subscriptions, might we see more ad/subs hybrids of the type that Netflix is apparently considering?

The Times’s subscription business has proven to be a competitive differentiator for our advertising business. If we create a great experience for subscribers that is worth paying for, then ads have to be worthy of that subscription. If we can make those ads compelling, then they perform well. It sets a high bar for the overall advertising experience and our team has the expertise and focus on quality to fully lean into that.

New York Times Advertising had a standout year in 2021 and Q4 2021 was our largest-ever quarter for digital advertising. Our growth and performance continues to be driven by high-performing, proprietary advertising products, first-party data products, a strong audio offering, and working with marketers on large, multiplatform deals. That work is just beginning, and alongside our ad leadership team, I’m focused on continuing our international growth and team-led innovation.

Overall, 2021 and 2022 have shown the power of The Times’s subscription-first strategy, the enduring demand for quality, independent journalism and meeting the ever-changing needs and expectations of its rapidly growing audience. This large and growing market, combined with The Times’s unique platform, gives us great confidence in our ability to continue to grow our business.

Is there an emerging revenue source that you think will become pivotal for media companies in the coming years?

From an advertising and business perspective, we see a lot of growth and excitement in audio and newsletters.

The Times’s audio audience is massive and growing, and its suite of programming reaches an average of 20MM listeners each month. The Times is expanding its audio offering in so many directions, including growing its newsroom audio team, building an audio team in Opinion beta and testing an audio app. Advertising continues to collaborate with Audio to generate new, innovative ad products and solutions for brands and companies. We also continue to build out our targeting capabilities within audio to help advertisers reach their target audiences within our network.

With more than 50 email newsletters and 18 that are subscriber-only, The Times’s newsletter product continues to be an exciting and growing part of the portfolio. For subscribers and readers, it gives them the opportunity to engage with Times journalism in an alternative format and discover different Times journalists and stories. For our advertising business, newsletters present a strong opportunity to drive traffic, create a channel for new ad revenue, provide scale and a premium experience for advertisers, as well as drive additional subscription revenue.

As The Times has expanded its suite of products, readers can come to us from a variety of entry points. One product or piece of coverage can be the entry point and open the door to other Times offerings (NYT Cooking, Games, etc.) Times readers also interact with The Times throughout their day, incorporating our offerings into their daily routines.

To see the latest speaker line-up for this June’s FIPP World Media Congress, along with details of the schedules, click here.

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