Bedir Aydemir is Director of Data at The Sun. We chatted with Bedir to find out more about his role. We also delve into The Sun’s data strategy, industry challenges, and the future of the advertising ecosystem.

Tell me about your role… What does a typical day look like for you?

The Sun is the UK’s number one news brand in terms of monthly, weekly and daily reach across digital and print platforms. It reaches 31.1m readers monthly, 21.9m readers weekly and 8.7m readers daily.

My role is new to The Sun. As the Director of Data, I have a horizontal view, working across commercial, editorial and marketing. Historically these three pillars would have been quite siloed but we have made huge strides to foster collaboration and communication between them, and my role is a further extension of that.

Prior to this, I worked as a ‘bridge’ between commercial teams and the technical teams. In order to fulfil this role, I needed to be able to communicate with everyone in a language they understood, whilst ensuring that technical, engineering and analytics teams were best serving the customers.

I have a horizontal view, working across commercial, editorial and marketing.

In my current role, I’m involved in lots of projects designed to generate, collect, store, combine, visualise and activate our data. My days involve supporting my team, sharing knowledge and best practice and ensuring we are optimising the usage of our data across all departments. In other words… lots of meetings!

I also run a team of analysts and insights personnel. This team highlights our desire to ensure analytics and insight work in unison and are put at the heart of what we do as a business.

How does The Sun utilise data to serve advertisers and how has this evolved?

People are surprised when they learn how advanced we are as a business around collecting and using first party data. But publishers have been thinking about this for a lot longer than many other industries. We need to gather a user’s consent, use that data to create great insights or targeting opportunities, and then activate against that data on behalf of ourselves or our advertising partners. It’s our bread and butter. Now we just need the buy side, i.e. advertisers and agencies, to start using our data more. It’s happening slowly, and the demise of third-party cookies will greatly accelerate this.

Publishers have been thinking about [first party data] for a lot longer than many other industries.

We have built a number of client-facing tools that help with this which we call the Nucleus programme. This is made of three pillars: Discover, Plan and Measure. Ultimately, it’s all about using our proprietary data to help advertisers reach the right audience and achieve the best outcomes.

Advertising continues to shift from direct to programmatic, and we are working to ensure that we cater for both paths. We are seeing the pendulum swing back towards advertisers wanting to work more closely with us, something that used to be the norm 10 years ago but then slipped away as programmatic grew. Today, advertisers want greater access to higher quality data, shorter and more transparent supply chains, and are taking issues such as ESG, fraud, and consent very seriously.

How else does The Sun use data? Talk to me about business-wide strategy…

We are in an unusual situation as a publisher. We are customers of data, like any business. Our marketing team uses it for their own acquisition, user journey optimisation and cross selling. At the same time, our editorial team uses it to understand what’s trending, who is reading what, and how our users feel about certain topics. But we also have a commercial team who are using data to build insight and targeting that is of huge value to our advertising partners.

Increasingly, we are using our own data to inform the user experience on our site. This doesn’t mean tailoring articles or content, but there are many aspects of our site that can be made ‘dynamic’, which can vary based on what we know about that user and what we think will interest them. We are starting a huge wave of experimentation to see how we can optimise these user journeys through data. This goes way beyond ads, and includes tactics such as brand extensions, newsletter sign up, membership programmes, and ecommerce.

Increasingly, we are using our own data to inform the user experience on our site.

Fundamentally, we have a direct and trusted relationship with our users, of which there are many millions, and this puts us in an incredible position. It is hard to think of many other companies, beyond the platforms, that can create the breadth and depth of data that a large publisher can. We want to ensure that we leverage and maximise this unique position we find ourselves in as the industry evolves.

Data privacy is absolutely fundamental. When the GDPR came along, we knew that people would look at sites such as ours and challenge us to show we are abiding by the letter of the law. I find it quite shocking that some companies still do not have a consent-focused data strategy in place. We have been thinking about this since the GDPR was first announced, which was well over seven years ago now.

The Fundamentals of Marketing Measurement and Analytics

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the past 12 months and how have you approached and/or overcome them?

It feels like we operate in an industry that is facing constant change, and it’s clear from the regulatory programme coming down the road that this is only going to accelerate. One of the biggest challenges is keeping up with this. This isn’t helped by the uncertainty around how huge parts of the programmatic ecosystem will work once the third-party cookies disappear. We need to focus on what we do well, which is targeting highly engaged users in a trusted environment with high quality data signals. In fact, our attitude and approach to how we evolve our business has been quite stable for the past few years.

Of course, there is also a challenge internally across The Sun and News UK more generally to keep driving our own internal innovation and transformation. We’re focused on a fact-based, data-led approach, which means that how we validate, build and test products and services is iterative and evolving.

What trends or innovations do you predict for your industry?

For my industry specifically, which is media, I’m very bullish. Quality news brands will find themselves in a unique and valuable position as the broader advertising ecosystem evolves.

We are seeing greater visitor numbers now than at any point in our history, and the demand for quality news, created by journalists and presented within trusted environments, is only increasing.

In the coming months, more and more news brands will take back control. For years intermediaries have monetised audiences and data, and news brands have had enough. The best way to reach our audience and use our data will be to access it from us. But we know advertisers still want to activate programmatically and at scale. As a result, we need to ensure that whilst the best access comes from working directly with us, we are also making our data available to programmatic buyers, as third-party data disappears. This is why I think the various initiatives to pass publisher data into the bid stream (Seller Defined Audiences) and the trend towards shorter, more transparent supply paths (including ESG) will be great changes for us.

For years intermediaries have monetised audiences and data, and news brands have had enough.

We are also very interested in the idea of communities. This is our heritage and our heartland, built from deep relationships with our customers. But we are a broad church, so spinning up and fostering communities is something we are really interested in. What role things like loyalty, tokens, even NFT’s will play is still very much up for debate, but it’s something we are investigating seriously.

What’s next for you – any ambitions you’d like to achieve within your role or wider team?

My role is quite broad and nebulous, but that works well for me as I’m comfortable with change and re-skilling. At the moment, I’m focusing on how I can ensure we have the best analytics and insight team in the industry.

It’s interesting that someone with my background, which doesn’t involve coding, Python, SQL etc. can now be in a role such as this. It wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago, and as data becomes ubiquitous, the people who will be the champions or leaders of this space will need to have a much broader background than just traditional technology. So for now, I’ll just focus on proving that I can make this role a success!

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