Media Briefing: Q1 is done and publishers’ ad revenue is doing ‘fine’

Q1 advertising recap

Despite the hope that 2024 would be a turning point for publishers’ advertising businesses, the first quarter of the year proved to be a mixed bag, according to three publishers. While programmatic CPMs on average trended up as the first three months of the year progressed, the direct-sold side of publishers’ advertising businesses fell into some of the same patterns as previous years with advertisers delaying campaigns into Q2 or later, rendering Q1 as just “fine.”

Here’s a look at how the first three months of 2024 fared for publishers like The Atlantic and The Guardian U.S.

Delayed start

While the fourth quarter of 2023 was “incredible” for The Atlantic’s advertising business and CRO and publisher Alice McKown said the company met its revenue goals, Q1 was just “fine.” Despite the momentum of Q4 and the promise of renewals, she added that certain advertisers needed to get their ducks in a row when it comes to planning their annual budgets in 2024.

This is not atypical, McKown said, and by March, paused conversations with advertisers restarted, with campaigns firming up to go live in Q2.  

McKown added that RFP volume in Q1 was up for The Atlantic by about 40-50% year over year and the average win rate for those proposals was up by an undisclosed amount as well, almost double what it was in 2022 (which she said was a more equivalent year than 2023 to compare against). 

“What was great about Q1 is we had a lot of great conversations and a lot of things booked, but it ended up [that] some of [those deals] moved into Q2. So our first half is on track and on goal and we may, in fact, exceed our goal,” said McKown. She declined to share hard revenue numbers or growth figures. 

It wasn’t until the beginning of April that the ice began to thaw for The Guardian U.S., however. 

According to svp and head of sales, North America, Luis Romero, the first three months of the year (which represent The Guardian’s fiscal Q4), was challenging ad revenue-wise and ultimately the publisher didn’t reach its goals for the quarter. 

The reason for that was three-fold, Romero explained. For one, the amount of request-for-proposals (RFPs) that came in at the end of last year for Q1 was lower than usual. Secondly – and similar to The Atlantic’s experience – some advertisers wanted to delay their campaigns until the second quarter of the calendar year. And finally, he said that the volume of in-quarter RFPs were down as well, which typically accounts for about 20% of the publication’s total advertising dollars in a quarter.  

Once April rolled around, however, Romero said “activity for RFPs picked up [and] we saw a couple big accounts for us that shifted come back to life.”

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