First-party data: It’s like Burning Man but for publishers!

The ins-and-outs of “first-party data.” What it is, how you can gather it, and why it can give you an advantage over the big tech platforms with your advertisers.

The promise of first-party data

Now, of course, what you expect the event organizer to do with your personal information is to send you an email blast before the event next year inviting you to purchase a ticket. But what you might not expect is all of the other ways that the organizer could reach out and engage you with this data.

First-party data in service to your audience

2021 is the year for publishers to start their efforts to grow their own first-party data about their readers, listeners, viewers, and community.

  • It’s entirely possible in 2021 to personalize the email that each subscriber to your newsletter receives. Why not ask for subscribers preferences and then give them just the content they want?
  • The folks at Billy Penn created a tool called MemberKit to help them (and other newsrooms) personalize the house ads shown to visitors to their website. If you’re already a Billy Penn supporter, you won’t see the same messages as everyone else. Love this.
  • I read a story recently about a local newsroom that put up signs around town that invited locals to get answers to their local news questions via SMS. Brilliant. Clear value offered for a person’s contact information.

In service to your advertisers

The simple truth of the matter is: when it comes to first-party data, the big publishers have all picked up the ball and started running down the field with it. Their objective is to create a digital advertising offering that competes with the big ad platforms.

  1. Per the examples above, you’ll want to consider how you can surface more of the first-party data that you collect for your advertisers. You can do this as a better demographic view into who the advertiser would be reaching when they advertise with you, or you can do this in a way that helps the advertiser reach just the right people in your audience with their message.
  2. More aspirationally, you’ll want to leverage your first-party data to better promote your own products to your own readers or listeners more effectively. You can do this by better understanding their demographics, and thus their likely needs, interests, and so on. For example, you might know that you’ve got a large segment of your audience that is parents, and you might then surface more of your education reporting to that segment.

Provide value before asking for something in return

The most important concept when growing your first party data, however, is simply this: Provide extra value to your readers, only then ask those readers for a bit of their personal information.

This is your year

I’ll conclude this by circling back to the proposal that 2021 is the year that publishers need to expand their first-party data efforts.



👉 My passion is helping: 💰 Newsrooms make more money; 📈 News startups grow their audience; 🔥 Journalists succeed as entrepreneurs. Let’s talk 📩

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Phillip Smith

👉 My passion is helping: 💰 Newsrooms make more money; 📈 News startups grow their audience; 🔥 Journalists succeed as entrepreneurs. Let’s talk 📩