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News Plus 24 Mar 2021 - 4 min read

CPM conventions challenged: Brands “prepared to pay 5X premium” for attention

By Brendan Coyne - Editor

The Telegraph UK's innovation boss Karen Eccles: "We found out that end of article ads had three times the engagement than things like top right hand MPUs, which the sales team had always been demanding more of, mistakenly, as it turned out."

Prioritising attention over clicks is paying dividends for UK masthead The Telegraph. It's on target for 1 million subscribers after a pivot away from chasing ads - and ironically its focus on quality and attention is driving much higher yields than a futile attempt to beat the platforms at a game of clickbait at scale. Meanwhile, subscribers are happy to click to buy without leaving the page.

What you need to know:

  • Brands are prepared to pay "four to five times" standard rates for high engagement, clutter-free ad formats, according to The Telegraph UK commercial and innovation chief, Karen Eccles.
  • The masthead has hit 60% of its 2023 target of 1 million subs and 10m logged-in readers after redesigning around the reader and quality rather than chasing ads and clicks.
  • Meanwhile, ecommerce formats are starting to add a significant new revenue stream as subscribers buy without leaving the page.


We found out that end of article ads had three times the engagement than things like top right hand MPUs, which the sales team had always been demanding more of, mistakenly, as it turned out.

Karen Eccles, Director of Commercial and Innovation, Telegraph UK

Optimising to user experience and engagement instead of clicks leads to huge gains for both advertisers and news publishers – and premium brands are willing to pay significant multiples for formats that deliver, “four to five times standard yields” according to Karen Eccles, Director of Commercial and Innovation at The Telegraph UK.

On the flip side, brands and publishers that continue to optimise to clicks will continue to be rewarded with bots, and everybody loses.

Eccles joined the UK masthead in 2018. At that time, the paper was struggling to build digital subscriptions while battling to maintain a free readership in order to keep selling ads at scale.

Even though free audiences were growing, CPMs were in “a race to the bottom on click through metrics”, Eccles told Ashton Media’s Programmatic Summit. The more inventory the publisher pushed into the system, “the more our yields were being depleted”.

Click through rates (CTRs), she said, are “not the metric any premium publisher would use, but we weren’t the ones that wrote the rules”.

Ultimately, the paper admitted it could never win a scale battle. Instead it focused on readers, aiming to accrue 10 million log-ins by 2023, and convert 1 million of those to paying subscribers.

Pivoting to a subscription first, ads second model put huge pressure on both editorial and sales teams, said Eccles. But it is paying off. As of March 2021, it has 6.4m registered users and 600K paying subscribers. Plus, it has much higher yields – and on-page ecommerce formats are taking off.

Rethinking formats, metrics

The ad team was forbidden to chase market demand, said Eccles, while the masthead redesigned its website and ad formats. “Nothing that limited speed could stay. We reduced ad ratios to one per page,” she said. “Aesthetics had to come first.”

But that clean out threw up some valuable commercial insight.

“We found out that end of article ads had three times the engagement than things like top right hand MPUs, which the sales team had always been demanding more of, mistakenly, as it turned out,” said Eccles.

“That made us realise that if we looked at where the engagement was, what was driving site visits, time on site, what was making people read to the end of an article – would probably drive results for an advertiser as well.”

As such, the masthead began to build ‘engagement’ ad formats on those principles, “which allow customers to funnel themselves into the right products and services [for advertisers] – and we have seen a lot of success.”

Meanwhile the Telegraph has also gained a growing revenue stream from e-commerce after building “shoppable” in-page ad units.

“Readers want to be here – in many cases they have paid to be here. They don’t want to leave the site, and we don’t want them to leave. They will buy products they like straight out of an ad unit,” said Eccles, “and we have seen really high uptake from premium brands.”

Look after audiences, earn more

Key to both shopper and engagement formats, said Eccles, is that they suit the aesthetic of the page. Get the right balance and everybody wins.

“It means we can run far fewer ads, but make them very effective for advertisers – and we also see higher yields from them. These sell at four to five times the yield of standard formats,” added Eccles, “and for the reader, it is better to see one targeted ad than four or five.”

Prior to creating the new engagement strategy, Eccles tried via a three-month trial to prove that logged-in readers and subscribers would click more than blow-ins. But she was wrong.

“We found the opposite, that optimising to clicks alone drives bad advertiser and bad publisher behaviour – and that it is no indicator of real outcomes.”

Meanwhile, she added, “clicks can just be farmed. It is very easy to hit click metrics, but it doesn’t mean that anything is actually happening between the consumer and the brand.”

The publisher subsequently launched ‘metrics that matter’, which wrap in attention, brand and commercial metrics – and attempt to link all three.

“We now basically show advertisers how to optimise to attention and then make recommendations for future campaigns. This has led to us very often upselling premium products – because for the first time we are able to demonstrate to brands that they genuinely work,” said Eccles.

“It feels like we’re getting to a point where brands are understanding the value of attention.”

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