Go to Cannes or any major meeting of media agency folk at the moment and programmatic is bound to be a hot topic of discussion. We are spoiled for choice with agencies announcing new hires or acquisitions that give them the capability to offer it.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying this to suggest programmatic is simply a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ marketing fashion. Far from it, programmatic is my business and I believe it absolutely signals the future of advertising.
But what I am questioning is the attitude that this is something that you can just layer onto existing ways of working. I believe this idea has led to marketer disappointment during the first wave of programmatic.
We hear from many clients that bought into it from their agencies only to discover that they were just being offered a different way of buying the same ad spots. Cheaper? Possibly, but very far from the sea-change of media-buying that they had been led to hope for, and many clients are realising that agencies are reaping many of the cost-savings.
This is a shame because programmatic combined with insight and the appropriate technological platforms really does have the potential to be a marketing game-changer. Positive signs are coming from the client side, an ever increasing number of UK and international brands share this vision of what is needed in the programmatic age.
To tell you more about that vision, I need to return to the big agency beasts of media for a moment. I know about these media agencies – I worked within them for decades.
The more they became successful, in the pre-internet age, the bigger they became. Big volume buys meant big discounts for their clients. But all that started to change once online advertising took off and the auction model emerged, initially for paid search. Suddenly, the big media agency’s buying clout meant nothing, and in a sense they have been running to catch up ever since.
This is where a new breed comes in: the specialist programmatic agency, which is embracing rather than just reacting to the auction model and whose ambition comes from clearly seeing that programmatic can be so much more than just a simpler way of making the same spot purchases. With the right technologies and agency/client relationships, programmatic can ramp up customer targeting so significantly that it, in effect, becomes direct marketing.
A good example of this is the work Infectious Media has done with Shop Direct. The company has a very specific view of who the target customer is for its digital department store, Very.co.uk.
This meant we needed to employ sophisticated audience targeting processes to be efficient with their campaign spend. By using multiple first-, second-, and third-party data sources, we have been able to build data-driven marketplaces and lookalike audiences to find the most valuable groups to target.
Agencies need to ensure their programmatic platforms offer this standard of targeting, but it can be a struggle to get a sufficient level of access and data processing. Many brands look to use the most adaptable platforms as an alternative to creating their own in-house systems. This is only possible in agencies staffed by data, engineering and analytics specialists.
Uniting the marketplace
Clients need their agency platform to be able to deliver optimisation, analytics, workflow, billing and reporting tools. They need to be able to plug into any of the major data management platforms and to connect to a wide range of demand-side bidders so they have the option of accessing as much of the programmatic marketplace as possible. Being able to do this has been described as the ‘holy grail of workflow automation’.
From a client point of view this is invaluable, as it brings a lot of disparate data and inventory sources together in a way that facilitates monitoring and decision-making. Marketers
are then armed to plan their campaigns in a way that delivers razor-sharp targeting.
The most effective programmatic agency is one that can deeply integrate its technology into the client’s organisation, in effect, working more like a systems integration consultant.
Something we hear a lot from our clients is their frustration with the unwieldy structures of the traditional global media agencies that do not suit the digital era. Having central agency teams briefing local agency people to interpret a strategy and produce media plans is both a huge cost to advertisers as well as a really inefficient way of working.
A programmatic agency should instead focus on getting its platform arranged in a way that will fit in with all its global media partners so that it can plan centrally, and needs to be involved with helping clients customise their own integration of data across their business – bringing their tech and brand teams together, for example, to look at what can be shared in order to improve customer retention, and cross-selling across divisions.
It is not unusual that clients will restructure themselves once they can see the possibilities that emerge from different ways of working. Data is that powerful a catalyst.
A grown-up approach
Agencies need to spend time with clients trying to work out how programmatic advertising best fits with their business objectives as well as their structure and skills and the other people they work with. This takes time and it is always a bit of a journey as you get to know each other.
Eventually though, clients should come to see the agency as an open, adaptable and honest partner, and the agency needs to acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers and become comfortable working within the client’s existing structures to deliver for them.
A ground-breaking attitude to tech, combined with a respectful, effective approach to client relationships – we think that in the future all media agencies will work this way.