With ad trust issues clouding the data and automation benefits of programmatic, sales teams are distracted from focussing on campaigns and client relationships.
That's the view of Chris Janz, managing director of Fairfax Media's Australian metro publishing division.
"I think it's up to publishers to change the conversation and let buyers know that it's OK to trade in an automatic fashion and buy premium inventory there," he says.
Programmatic needs to be seen for its automation and process - taking full advantage of the technology that exists to drive more efficient buying and deliver results - "and that's not where we are today" with the system less trusted, low value, high turnover and "very heavily focussed on direct response".
Talking at a Digital Media Asia conference session in Singapore - where a new advertising exchange is currently being formed - he said the current low-rent focus was the wrong approach.
Fairfax is one of four partners in New Zealand's KPEX exchange, where newsmedia "really hold their own and take buyers and advertisers on that journey," he says.
As "the only way you can reach quality eyeballs in New Zealand", KPEX sets the prices and in its 22 months, has taken a 30 per cent share of the real time bidding market. "It's led to a massive market shift, with ten other publishers now involved," Janz says.
KPEX, which (along with publisher Fairfax) sells inventory on Stuff - New Zealand's largest site after Google, Facebook and YouTube - has led to "very significant changes in the market.
Janz says the outcome has been a great improvement in yield - "it unlocks the value in your inventory to have a benchmark set by the whole market" - and leaves sales teams free to deal with premium sales.
"We are dealing with several companies much more strategically," he says. "That's higher up the process, before they've developed their marketing plan, whereas before, you're at the bottom fighting it out for your share. By having those strategic conversations at the top of the pyramid, we are growing the overall share of the market."
While the agency can be "in the room" - "this isn't about cutting out the middle man" - Janz says conversations are now with senior marketing people rather than with media planner buyers, "getting close to clients, to truly understand their business problems," and come up with creative ways that solve problems, and create an ongoing buying cycle rather than just responding to briefs.
Too much of the conversation is still about the environment that has been created when what they really want is the audience, and some of the rhetoric used by publishers doesn't yet match the reality. "There's so much upside potential."
More can be done through the use of data and contextual environment. One Fairfax example is a sophisticated data product created in partnership with national airline Qantas and ticket reseller Tickatek, but sales are still typically direct. "The more we can automate that process, the better off we'll be and more competitive we'll be versus the two big guys," says Janz.
He says there is a tendency for publishers to "bash the duopoly" and say the position we in is all their fault: "I tend to turn that around and say as publishers we haven't adapted, been as agile as we possible can, and a lot of that comes from our history.
"We were one of two newspaper publishers in town (us and News Corp), and 25-30 years ago, people needed to transact with us to reach mass audiences.
"Now they have more choice and I think we need to adapt our operations, adapt our products, adapt the way we deal with agents and advertisers to ensure that we are as easy to deal with as anyone else in the market, but also have truly premium proposition."
Fairfax shops for quick response publishing tech
A new 'pick and pay' publishing system is set to give Fairfax Media properties more freedom and flexibility in the products and ways they sell.
Chief executive Greg Hywood noted the group's commitment to new technology in its annual report, and at Digital Media Asia, managing director of its Australian metro publishing division Chris Janz provided pointers to the shape it may take.
As the publisher gains a better understanding of the tools its needs, it is likely to be moving away from proprietary systems, towards a mix of 'best in class' solutions.
"As publishers gain a better understanding of the tools they need, it's easier to pick the tools you need from the international market, and bring them together in a way you couldn't in the past," he says.
Dominant system for both print and digital at Fairfax is currently Adobe's CQ product - a mix of open Apache and proprietary components, all of them complex - but Janz says its continuing use is "up for review".
Assembling 'best in class' components itself would be a big shift, "but critical," Janz says.
Looking after "the things we can control" when publishers' share of a growing advertising market is declining, means rolling out new product suites and platforms.
"A new publishing platform will allow us to create, test and roll out a new product every day to adapt to the way consumers are reading our products," he says. "That's a big change for us but really, really important and matches the trends in trading warehouses that are able to turn things over in 24 hours."
Janz says the need to change the way it acts commercially is a refection of change in the market: "Most revenue comes from desktop and pages, which may have been OK in 2004, but the world has moved on."
Adobe CQ "may have been fit for purpose" when the decision was made five years ago, but Janz says the publisher has been looking in other directions. He describes the Washington Post's Arc platform as "a stellar suite of tools" and an example of publishers having a better understanding of the tools they need.
Additionally, publishers may not be fully using the resources they have because of the demand to change the way they sell: "and if we continue to sell in the way we have in the past 20 years, the trend line will continue as it is," he adds.
Pictured: Chris Janz (right) with CommScore's Joe Nguyen in Singapore