OPA to Promote “Sessions” Among Members, Buyers

The Online Publishers Association is taking on the role of evangelist, spreading the good word about what it sees as a major remedy for the industry’s current woes — “surround sessions.”

A method of selling advertising begun by New York Times Digital’s NYTimes.com, sessions involve a Web surfer seeing ads from just a single advertiser as they browse a site — enabling, for instance, an advertiser to deliver a range of creatives and messages uncluttered by competing ads.

Michael Zimbalist, acting executive director of the New York-based trade organization (of which NYTimes.com is a member), said his group was gearing up to make sure other sites use the technique as well — because it’s critical to help the industry win a bigger slice of the pie.

To boost interest, Zimbalist said the OPA had begun briefing members on how to position and sell the sessions, as well as how to implement them technologically. A second series of roundtables is on the way, geared toward media buyers.

“It’s not very terribly tough to implement, and doesn’t require anything other than a new way of buying and selling,” he said.

Additionally, Zimbalist added that the group is looking to reach out to the planning tool providers — such as NetRatings and Nielsen Media Research — and third-party ad serving companies. And, in what could be the crowning jewel, the group also is looking into doing research in conjunction with Millward Brown, to prove the sessions’ efficacy against the research firm’s years of traditional media research.

“We’re looking to demonstrate the session as the basic unit of buying, and how that compares to other units of buying in other media,” he said. “This is the first time that we’ve had something that’s impactful enough that we can look at it, apples to apples, with, say, viewing one print ad or TV spot. In the past, in spite of what they might have said, I don’t think anyone would have compared one banner exposure … to an impression in another medium.

Zimbalist said he sees the effort as crucial for the industry’s growth. Because sessions can deliver multiple, uncluttered impressions, the units would effectively change the way media is packaged, changing selling by impression to selling by audience. And that’s a good thing, some believe, since it’s similar to the way that television inventory is sold.

“The session allows you to move from a sales impression to a sales audience … and that is critically required,” he said. “Really this goes beyond this into one of the larger issues that online publishers has faced overall, which is bringing online measures in line with measures used by other planners in planning their media.”

Zimbalist also said he hoped the group, through its promotion of the model, would help the industry avoid repeating some of its earlier pitfalls.

“One of the first things that happened after the New York Times made their initial sales of these, I, as the head of the OPA, was approached by some media buyers, who said ‘I really like this, where else can I buy it?'” he said. “A pitfall that we’ve had for a long time in the industry is doing one-offs. If [just] the New York Times offered this … there would be little traction. It’s something that needs to be bought across portals, quality sites, and through the OPA, as an industry trade organization, to reach out and make sure it’s widely embraced.”

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