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Intrapreneurial ambition – succeeding in programmatic

Over the last four to five years I have been employing people into VivaKi and Audience On demand and have been looking for that common thread that links them all together. Is it a passion for programmatic or digital? An innate curiosity and wish to get under the bonnet of the digital ecosystem? Perhaps following the latest trends? In all honesty a combination of those characteristics and more besides. 
 
But then why not all flock to the raft of start ups that are around, bounce around a few and maybe get lucky. There is definitely a type that follow that road but there are many that want that sensation of building something, being part of an exciting growing business but within the confines of a larger organization. These people are intrapreneurs, not salary men, they still take risks. Anyone who moved into digital in 1999/2000 or earlier were all seen as signing up to lose their jobs. The calls from the TV department of will you come and fix my screen still echo to this day. Of course most are now working in digital but took years and years to make the leap. To me this makes them more cautious and not the intrapreneurs of the agency network. They are of course not the most cautious, anyone still in their same job 20 plus years later is either extremely cautious, lazy or very senior! 
 
So where does that leave the people we employ right now in programmatic. The business has evolved at such a pace, it has taken even the most forward thinking people by surprise. I already think it sounds strange when I hear ‘programmatic is growing’ it sounds so disconnected from the fact our whole business is going to be programmatic in a few short years. It also makes those who ridiculed the VivaKi Nerve Center and what we were doing with Audience On Demand look more out of touch as in a few short years they have been exposed as having little or no vision or understanding of digital. 
 
As a large employer of expertise in this area and especially as we hire more senior talent we are dealing with a new scenario. One where it becomes very difficult to answer the question ‘ what does my career path look like?’ My answer to this and one I believe fully is that I don’t have an answer. The reason for that is I believe that when you join our business things will change and keep changing. There will be opportunity all around and perhaps the least of that opportunity is me laying it out on a timeline for the next 48 months.  Instead I explain that I can’t predict exactly how things will develop but that you are in the hottest businesses in town and you are learning and developing skills that will open so many doors, to the extent that I have to admit you will eventually move on.
 
If when I signed up to be the only VivaKi Nerve Center employee and founder of Audience On demand in Europe I had asked for a nice clean career plan from Curt Hecht he would have struck me off there and then. Curt like me did not want someone who needed that, he wanted an Intrapreneur. An individual capable of replicating the same drive and passion but with support from a group and the abilities to navigate it.
 
As has been written about significantly this business of ours, has been turned upside down. Revolution not evolution is the name of the game and continues to be so every day, so anyone who wants to come in and have a nice well lit path to the CEO’s job is going to be unhappy. Whether it is Europe or US – if you work for Audience On Demand you are at the centre of the biggest thing going on in digital and will be set up for a great future – what you do now to make the most of it is important. 
 
It’s worth remembering that even in a Groupe the size of Publicis that the ability to be part of this kind of opportunity – to be intraprenurial- still exists. AOD is a fraction of the Groupe’s revenues and yet we are cited by Maurice in interviews and earnings calls. That makes it exciting. The Googles, Microsofts, Facebooks etc are the most corporate of all machines and their days of making you create something new, unless you are very senior or an engineer are done. Every day we compete with these companies and often they win by throwing money at people but feedback is often the same. It is like entering a science fiction film where you are put in a box and you need to start peddling, without the ability to change anything.
 
When I joined Zenith Media in 1996, the plan was clear, get to be CEO as quickly as possible, there was a path I could follow, others had. Now we have a world that is being rewritten and there is no clear path and opportunities and threats lie all around. Today’s successful candidates have to be open minded, they have to be flexible and adaptable. Get into the right type of business, be passionate, care about what you do and then all good things will come to you. If you want a nice secure line of sight then don’t come to programmatic because this is the fastest, most exciting ride I have been on in my career.
 
I will end by saying the true entrepreneurs amongst you, or even just those who want to keep taking risks and jumping to find a sale or IPO – keep doing it. I know many very average people who have made money by doing it.  There is no right / wrong answer in this amazing business of ours.
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Foursquare / Swarm – a total car crash

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Today was the first day that I was bullied into downloading Swarm.

Foursquare has been an App that I have used for some time, it has been up and down but I decided that it will be a great digital scrap book of all the places I have visited and so use it mostly abroad. In recent months, especially with my time in New York, I have really started to appreciate the fact I can find recommended places to eat and drink. Even better I have started to see my friends and colleagues and whether they have eaten there before. Bottom line, it became so much more useful than just the checking in App.

Then comes the Swarm messages. A few weeks of warnings, every message telling me I should download Swarm because it’s great! I will love it! Well I am now witnessing one of the biggest car crashes of modern App / digital times. In fact I am flabbergasted that anyone thought this dual App approach was good. So basically my user experience today was to be forced to download Swarm. I go back to recommendations on the restaurant we had pulled up at in foursquare and then I wanted to check in, so they throw me back to swarm, I then click on user comments and I am flung back to Foursquare, who then asked me if I wanted a sneak peak at their new Foursquare lay out?! It was the worst planned process I have ever seen from a company that was relatively bedded in to the social marketplace.

The user experience is a disgrace – if you have to flip back and forth between Apps then it’s likely you only need one. Could they really not make that work? Most user backlash has focused on the fact that they search for places, find them and check in. Natural flow of events. I know the sales speak, they need to grow their user base, capitalise on their opportunity and not be hamstrung by checkins but this is not the way to do it. The reason is there are so many ways to get recommendations and by splitting those two elements you have now thrown foursquare back into the pool of competition to search for nearby places to eat. Before they were gathering a loyal base who were becoming more and more active and using both recommendations and checkins together now they just pissed them all off.

I have seen the feedback and I am yet to see anything positive. I keep reading about bravery and big changes for the better but if you have to flick multiple times between two apps, you will lose a lot of followers and Facebook will be there to clean up. I may be wrong but I will not be surprised to see checkin back within foursquare pretty quickly because today I was stung by a Swarm and feel no desire to go back to it, especially if it just fires me back to Foursquare. The only Swarm they will have are users leaving the hive.

My contribution to Wall Street Journal review of Trading Desk Strategies

A review of Agency Trading Desk strategies by Jack Marshall of CMO Today a Wall Street Journal publication, prompted by the recent Omnicom announcement that they have been in the arbitrage game all this time, and quite under the radar saw my view from Audience On Demand / VivaKi.

Click on the image below for the full story. I wanted to focus on our approach being one where we feel the advertiser needs the ATDs to be clear on charges and have their KPIs aligned with those of the advertiser.

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Financial Times: Ad fraud article and my small contribution

Solid article in the FT following up on the Fraud issues in advertising. To read the artlcle please click here. You will need to have a subscription or sign up.

My small piece focused on the issue that people talk a lot about fraud detection, as was Rocketfuel’s response, how much they detect, but the real key is to not fish in that pool of inventory in the first place.

‘Fighting fraud requires more than just developing better detection systems, says Marco Bertozzi of VivaKi, the digital ad buying division of Publicis. A big problem, he says, is that the entire advertising industry is too fixated on chasing cheap slots, even if that means “fishing in a cesspool”. Advertisers need to start looking much more closely at the quality of what they are buying, he says.’

The advertising community needs to take a stand and stop buying poor inventory under the guise of performance. Lets spell it out.

Advertiser Demand: I want cheaper CPMs and lower CPAs

Agency: Would you like to be brand safe and not risk having a Mercedes Benz issue?

Advertiser: Of course, have to be brand safe

Agency: Then I cant buy from these networks and deliver that CPM – which is it?

Exchangewire: The Burden of Ad Fraud falls on all of us

I am passionate about how we cannot let this scycle of ever decreasing cpms continue and I lay the blame at all our doors, agencies, advertisers and auditors. Exchangewire covers this topic with contributions from me. Original article here.

Click fraud has undoubtedly been one of the topics of conversation in the programmatic advertising sector in 2014, with Google’s purchase of UK-based security specialist Spider.io just one of a number of industry moves underlying its growing importance.

Last week Rocket Fuel was fingered in a FT article highlighting its prevalence in the industry (of course it was quick to rebuff the article’s assertions), but the entire advertising – from client-side marketer to third-party ad tech vendor – must accept their role to play in allowing it to continue.

This comes on the back of other articles in mainstream press – for instance a Wall Street Journal article claiming that up to a third of all web traffic is “bogus” – pressing the issue further for the online advertising sector to improve transparency over media buys taking place via automated channels.

Industry-wide measures
Moves to tackle the issue of click fraud (or bot traffic) began to gather pace last year when the IAB’s US chapter established the Traffic of Good Intent (TOGI) Task Force, in a move demonstrating that programmatic ‘media trading’ sector was maturing as braces itself to become a mainstream player, as opposed to an emergent force.

In fact during the last two weeks alone Dstillery announced it was received a patent for its fraud detection technology from the US Patent Office, this follows the news that the similarly named Distil Networks’ bagged $10m in Series A funding just last week.

More recently, the Alliance for Audited Media (formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations) announced it was absorbing fellow auditing service ImServices.

So while it is clear that there is a near universal intention to wipe out such practices, but it’s probable that the fraudsters will always be on step ahead of the industry’s security brigade byinventing new ways to game the system (some fraudster techniques are quite comprehensively discussed here).

How can individual parties minimise the impact of click fraud?
But that’s not to say that measures cannot be taken to minimise the impact of online ad fraud, and with this in mind, every tier of the industry has to take their share of the blame in letting this happen.

As discussed in previous articles in ExchangeWire everybody has their part to play in minimising the detrimental effects of elements of the ‘bad internet’, and if parties are proactively taking measures to improve things, then they’re part of the problem.

Speaking previously with ExchangeWire Dr. Thomas Servatius, IPONWEB, head of client services, identified that the rise of the programmatic industry had allowed fraudsters to thrive online, with the scale of web traffic allowing rogue players to put sites which generate traffic by non-human means on ad exchanges.

“The problem is that when an advertiser buys traffic on a fraud site, it usually comes very cheap – much cheaper than human built sites [thus opening the opportunity for arbitrage from third-party players and media agencies] – and it has good click through rates.

“So if you have fraud in your advertising mix, what you see as an advertiser is that for a small amount of money, you get a good number of clicks,” he explained.

Explore what will KPI’s look like in a post-click fraud market?
He went on to further relay anecdotal evidence of the internal dynamics that encourage brand-side marketers (the people who are ultimately being ripped off here), from concealing the issue.

Indeed Cameron Hulett, Undertone, executive director, EMEA, further explains that such is the scale of the problem that most campaign benchmarks after a “post click fraud market correction” would be largely redundant.

For instance, most marketing KPIs, such as reach and traffic are drastically inflated by bogus web traffic as it currently stands, causing problems for parties on both the buy- and sell-side alike, contends Hulett.

Hence, it is in the interests of a lot of parities to let this white elephant in the room to go unaddressed, according to some.

Prioritise quality over cost-cutting
Marco Bertozzi, President Audience On Demand EMEA and North American Client Services at VivaKi, argues that the entire industry is incentivised to prioritise lower CPMs (ergo poorer quality inventory, or even bot traffic through long-tail exchanges and networks) instead of quality content (where prices are higher).

“I think educating marketers on the importance of paying more for quality inventory will need to happen because the buy and the sell side are chasing KPIs determined by said client who may be calling for lower CPMs versus quality interactions,” he says.

“If the only metric focused on by auditors and advertisers is lower cpm, then that’s where everyone will focus – turning a blind eye to the lack of quality and transparency but being happy that a lower CPM was achieved.”

Auditing has not kept up with the pace of change in the Ad Tech space. The industry still clings to CPMs and not the value of the impression and what it can deliver, according to Bertozzi.

“If you look at Search, if standard auditing metrics had been applied to search advertisers would not use it and spend would be non existent as agencies would be told to suppress the CPC. The same now applies to display, it is an auction environment and yet still they want to drive down on cpm,” he adds.

Explore alternatives to CPM pricing and last-click attribution
Meanwhile, Julia Smith , a partner at consultancy firm 614 group, and acting MD of Evolve Media, argues that exploring alternative pricing models to selling media on a CPM basis, can make it easier for advertisers and their security partners to detect non-human generated traffic.

“A lot of people are all about the click, and in particular its a problem with the long-tail of sites [meaning non-premium ad networks and exchanges are a particular problem in this regard].

“We can start looking at alternative Using a cost-per-engagement [pricing] model could play an important role in combatting this. While it’s not perfect it can make it harder for click farms to replicate human behaviour.”

However, as mentioned earlier in this piece, fraudsters are just as industrious in their attempts to stay ahead of the security elements of the ad tech industry, with their techniques growing evermore sophisticated.

Sources consulted by ExchangeWire also argued that one fundamental flaw in the ad tech sector that lets poor quality traffic be traded on ad exchanges and networks is the prevalence of the last—click attribution model , which incentivises the entire industry to chase the last click.

Adit Abhyankar, Visual IQ, executive director, says: “Incentives drive behaviour. this is common sense. So if flawed attribution leads to flawed allocation of performance credit, which then leads to incorrect incentives, you can bank on the fact that, it will also lead to bad decisions.”

Meanwhile, Marco Ricci, Adloox CEO of content verification firm Adloox, argues that looking at at specific domains on ad exchanges and networks, for statistics such as CTR per domain and by publisher, is a more sophisticated method of detecting bot traffic.

AOD’s Bertozzi adds: “Attribution, econometrics, understanding business impact will all go a long way to removing an obsession on lowest cpm. It will also focus on the fact that advertisers should be challenging media partners to show where they are advertising line by line. If you have to be transparent about the media placement, you are less likely to buy the long tail.”

Employing sophisticated vetting techniques
Those ad tech players looking to perform blacklists [of sites that are known to have traffic generated by non-human traffic] should perform check such as clickthrough rate (CTR) per domain and by publisher, CTR vs conversions, and CTR vs IP addressees are all useful metrics, according to Ricci.

“We check clicks made in less than one or two seconds we can catch fraud – blink and you’ll miss it. Essentially our clients want a more granular level of transparency than the majority of the market offerings today.”

Bertozzi also argues that those players on the buy-side need to do more to improve the reputation of the sector. He adds: “We provide a rigorous vetting process called VivaKi Verified, which thoroughly evaluates media, data and tech partners to ensure that they meet our standards when it comes to brand safety, consumer privacy and client data protection.

“Rather than buy in the murky pool, we use means to avoid the problems, don’t buy in the murky pool at all.

“We have also a proprietary Quality Index that combines the [safety] signals from partners like comScore, Google, Integral Ad Science and Vindico to all the URLs we have in the AOD marketplace creating our own score.

“Metrics and standards aren’t there yet and adoption needs to happen on a larger scale, but the cost of viewable ad impressions will go up and we need to be prepared to pay them to ensure that better brand-to-consumer interactions are happening. If the only metric is cpm, we are opening up the business to gaming the system.”

So the fact is, regardless of which statistics parties in the ad tech industry subscribe to, as to the extent of the problems of bot traffic, it remains clear that more can be done to address the issues of click fraud.

Those that choose to ignore the problem (for whatever means), are helping to propagate it.

 

Digiday Post : The Ad Tech threat agencies need to take seriously

My piece on Digiday outlining the threat of Ad tech disintermediation. First posted here.

I remember sitting with a founder of a well-known demand-side platform a few years back (feels like a lifetime), and he was warning me how the evil Google would disintermediate us all and destroy the agency trading desk business if we were not careful.

The irony now is that the worst culprits of all are the new, up-and-coming tech vendors who are chasing the direct-to-advertiser relationship at any cost.

As an agency, allowing a DSP or real-time bidding ad network to control all the programmatic spend may seem the same as giving an insertion order to an ad network, but it is far from that. The rules have changed with the rise of ad tech. Our whole business is based more and more on data. We need to manage, explore, test and learn with data, and the data needs to be held at the hands of the agency running the wider business, or remain in the advertiser’s hands should they choose to take the process in-house.

To release tens of millions of dollars to a managed service DSP is to release all of your intellectual capital to an external company where the same rules expected of an agency may or may not apply. We see clear benefits when we are able to apply the agency learnings to all the programmatic opportunities. Whether we are looking at cross-channel attribution, econometric modeling or online and offline synchronization of media spend, we can make activity work so much harder in that context — and tie it back to the advertiser’s own data whether on or offline. A third party, or siloed business, simply cannot do the same.

Agencies take heed: This is no longer just a question of outsourcing some digital buying but rather the outsourcing of your agency role and intellect to a third party. You may not recognize the danger, given the modest level of programmatic spend relative to massive TV budgets. But when this spend drifts away, a little bit of control goes with it. Not a good situation given the projected growth of programmatic.

Take a lesson from search. Two things happened in search that made it one of the biggest battle grounds of the agency world through the mid-2000s. The first was that the agencies ignored it when it launched, and the second was they fought tooth and nail to get it pulled back into the agency when it had grown into the mammoth beast that it is today. Today’s DSPs are yesterdays search villains.

An agency digital lead should fight to keep the programmatic business close. Yes, I am biased toward a relationship with an agency trading desk — not just because data-driven, programmatic buying will be the lifeblood of the future media agencies but also because the right agency/trading desk relationship is better for clients.

An advertiser might be attracted to cheaper options. A siloed, third-party provider might “feel” unbiased. But what happens when the market moves (which is does every day), and that marketer is tied to a single provider. They move at the the speed of the provider. Or they pay the significant switching cost. Yes, DSP technology evolves. But their lack of access to the ideal marketplaces may leave an advertiser handicapped. And how will the marketer know? It’s hard to measure performance without any comparison or opportunity to swap (short of making an extensive investment).

The agency relationship should give clients cross-platform, open access to all opportunities — and objectivity. Trading desks should deliver the benefits of relationships, learnings and experience with all of the best DSPs, plus perpetual evaluations of new and evolving partners. They must be able to provide the brand safety, starting with basics like full disclosure on where ads are appearing and how much of your budget was spent on media. It is fascinating to me that Rocketfuel discloses 60 percent margins and there are no concerned glances from advertisers. Really? 60 percent?

I have been warned all my life that Google is the bad guy, but it is becoming clear that as the story unfolds, we are seeing a very different picture. The VC-fueled pressure cooker we are in at the moment is creating disintermediation on a grand scale or at least the potential of it. And agencies and advertisers should both see that there is a major role for their partners in helping them steer through this time so that we don’t walk blindly into a repeat of 2001-2008, an era that both agencies and advertisers regretted longer term.

 

just a thought on..

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