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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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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?

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Advertisers need a competitive market : The return of Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo

For those of you who have been living through the digital advertising era from the start can not help but notice a little resurgence of what used to be the only names that counted in digital media. In those early and exciting years AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, Excite ruled the landscape until they started to come under fire from the upstarts, not least a start up called Google. The pursuing years saw these companies lose their place in life as more and more competition entered the marketplace. It is not to say of course that they have not always been major players, but without doubt lost their way in the face of Facebook, Youtube and others.

In the last couple of years we have seen a come back, it started with AOL. Launching Project Devil to stamp some brand credentials on what was mostly a DR product through Ad.com, the purchase of GoViral started their video offering and then more recently Huff Post, all adding up to create some powerful content. The final act though has been to embrace the programmatic era and to beef up video with the purchase of Adapt.tv, rounding off what is now a far more interesting offer for agencies and seemingly leading them to a return to the top.

Yahoo have seen a similar track, they had a head start with Right Media in programmatic but did not know what to do with it and in my opinion lost a few valuable years vs Google when they should have been ahead of the game. RM was neglected and allowed to become a down market solution, when it should have been the forerunner of private marketplaces. The much hyped arrival of Marissa has had many words written about it so I wont focus on that but it appears that a series of purchases in mobile is starting to bear fruit. Marissa has in fact bought 35+ companies since joining, the largest of course being Tumblr. The good news is that mobile traffic for Yahoo is on the up, in fact it is up 47% year on year. The approach towards native ads such as ‘Stream Ads’ and away from banner should also increase yields and encourage brand advertisers onto mobile. If you believe the press releases Yahoo plan to phase out all banner ads by the end of the year.

So that leaves Microsoft. Working with Microsoft over the years has been like watching a wildebeest bog down in sinking mud, struggling harder and harder but just getting into a worse and worse situation. Microsoft have always had the ingredients to make an incredible meal, but somehow the planning and then the execution always fell short. I have for many years looked to Microsoft to turn that corner, they have the four screens, an incredible offer in the Xbox and Kinect, turned a corner in mobile and yet stiching these things together always seemed elusive.

I remember for instance sitting in a presentation in Cannes where Microsoft was presenting the new Windows8. It looked great, but telling to me was little or no information about how advertising would work within it. The potential tiles as Ads in W8 was clearly an early example of a Native Ad – although luckily the term had not been coined yet! However these tile Ads would be perfect for programmatic – unique to Microsoft but definitively able to be automated. However no one had planned that far ahead, the company worked in silos. What a shame for them and us.

Programmatic as a whole also demonstrated a lack of future planning. When Google was buying companies and integrating them, Microsoft was desperately trying to protect its direct ad network business. Even today they are behind the curve, they started fast and then went backwards a little with limited targeting capabilities and a seemingly disconnected leadership who were not willing to move faster and embrace programmatic. The recent launch of Microsoft Video Network is both a step forward and a step sidewards versus competition. Microsoft are taking their valuable data and applying it across the video exchanges, where AOL are buying the tech outright rather than licensing. Where Google are buying Invite and Doubleclick, Microsoft bought 5% of Appnexus. Even the Crown Jewels of Xbox and Kinect have been under utilised, I am still yet to see an Ad pushing Xbox as anything more than a games console when in reality it is so much more, I think we will see that change over coming months as Google TV, Apple TV and others ramp up their efforts.

But is not lost because the big picture for Microsoft is changing. The new leadership for a start. Microsoft ended up choosing from within, disappointing for some but as Satya Nadella says himself ‘he is now looking at the business through fresh eyes.’ He is also super bright, passionate and has accelerated change in just a few short days. Recently there have been a couple of large events, the launch of Office 365 and most notably onto Apple devices and the Build 2014 conference. Both these events have revealed that Nadella has big plans and wants to shake things up. Microsoft had already started changing with One Microsoft where they tore down siloes and made sure that cross divisional work and idea sharing started to happen, so someone creating software for the phone was thinking about advertisers as well. The example I sight above about the tiles would probably not have happened today.

More importantly Nadella has pushed through changes inconceivable a few years back. What has changed. As Nadella describes it, we are now in an era of ubiquitous computing. Connected users, devices all relying on the cloud for delivery of ever more complex solutions. Not for today but importantly for Microsoft they see their customers as consumers and IT professionals, the corporate world and only Microsoft really has the range to answer to both of those – this should rediscover for them differentiation.On average the consumer is carrying/using four devices and Windows and Microsoft want to span all those devices seamlessly, they want the canvas for software, Apps and their developers and users to be as wide as possible. So what are they doing?

1. Windows is being introduced across all devices including Kinect for Windows. A huge step forward for users and developers a like. Design once for all devices is crucial in this connected world. Still Apple and Android want people to design for mobile and desktop/laptop. As a user the more seamless the App the better the experience across devices.

2. Use the power of Office – making it available cross all devices is huge, anyone who uses iPads know the big issues is with opening Powerpoint in particular, but to make it free is a massive step for Microsoft, putting it all in the cloud also makes it entirely portable and for developers they can use Office 365 log ins as an identifier

3. Welcome to the new world of Kinect. App developers can now design Apps once that include Kinect technology to make incredible user experiences, this will make that box in your room, even more interesting and put Microsoft right back in the game as far as Apps. Likely end result being even your PC being able to work through motion.

4. Smaller signs of change have been to provide solutions that allow people what they want on their desktop like the start button. Some describe it as retreating, I call it sensible. Microsoft is listening and that is the main thing that we all want and need.

There have been other innovations with Cortana the voice assistant, great that it has been introduced but not sure it stands out vs Siri and of course has arrived considerably later, but again an extra ingredient to create experiences for users.

Microsoft really wants to get into the Internet of Everything and with their very close partner Intel they can start to revolutionise the home and out of home with Windows being the glue to make it all happen.

Microsoft have realised that the world has changed and you need to pull users in with what is still a great set of products used by over a billion people. Microsoft have the opportunity to be a partner to your life in a way that no one else can, I say an opportunity. It is what they do with it that counts. Microsoft have a leading position in the home with Xbox, software and cloud computing has always been their strength, it is just application they must work on, phones and tablets need more work but by making life easier for developers and IT professionals they can solidify their position spanning consumers and corporate.

Overall Microsoft, more than anyone has the plumbing, the hardware and most importantly the software, and they are focused on a mobile world. They need to make room for the marketeer in all of this and bringing them to the table, we as advertisers are desperate to make sure that Microsoft is central in plans but they need to make this easier for us. As with AOL, Yahoo I hope that we see a strong resurgence from Microsoft and it seems that Satya Nadella has the right ideas and guts to push them through. Just don’t forget that the advertiser would like to be involved.

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The least well known, best attended event: Webit 2013

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Probably 6-9 months ago when November seemed a life time away I received my first communication from Webit. Come the day I walk on stage, myself and fellow speakers had received according to the hosts around 36,000 emails in the arranging of this event. Based on my own experiences and those of others, it felt like at least 36,000 as well. As time went by I started to talk to more people who appeared to be attending this mysterious event in Istanbul and so I decided to have a go.

Welcome to Webit, 8000 people from 103 countries all converging on the astounding Istanbul. Link to event here

The 36,000 emails was a precursor to a peculiar event, just as Istanbul sits between Western world and Eastern world so the event seemed to attempt to straddle both but with an emphasis on the Middle East. I think to call it an International event is slightly over stating, I would suggest that 80% of attendees were local or from the Middle Eastern region with a smattering of people from the rest of the globe.  The genius of these conferences is that a smattering of logos gives it the appearance of something that perhaps it will be one day but not yet. Vevo, Yume, VivaKi, Omnicom (Nikki Mendoca flew in for a morning to grace us), Facebook etc all make it look a big deal and yet many presentations were far from International.

As an event I believe it over stretched itself although I am not sure the organiser thought so, there was no hint of embarrassement that they had spammed people with communication in the run up, so much so that basically everyone I met had given up caring and waited until the last minute to work out where to go next. There is less hierarchy in an arilines exec club status than at this event with three or four different tiers of ticket and then corresponding content. As an example the Telco area and presentations was only available to Platinum, consequently there were no people in the sessions! Different rooms, different tiers and thousands of emails led to a pleasantly chaotic environment. 

I think the focus on start ups and innovation is probably very valuable to the area and I think the mentality of networking very strong and so this side of the event was more powerful than other more sedate affairs. The outside areas and exhibition area, actually quite small, was more like a souk atmosphere with human interaction front and centre. I certainly have never had so many spam contacts, apologies, new business opportunities sent to me and continue to be so. A small point but I feel like I have signed up to the biggest direct mail database by attending the conference, as my inbox seems to be now filled with new biz opportunities. My favourite being:

‘We partner with firms to enable you to expedite time-to-market and improve Return-on-investment by providing cost effective solutions’

I think the area that the organiser most needs to focus on is the matching of titles and content, the Big Data session as an example had at least two presentations that niether mentioned the words Big Data or in fact had anything but a tenuous link with it. Some might say that is the norm, but watching a number of the sessions, it felt to me like too much time spent on creating an overcomplicated infrastructure and not enough on the content, both original content and how it is coordinated. The Panels at times had 8 people on them, this format needs some work, too many people not saying enough, less is more definitely springs to mind!

Evening entertainment was very good, especially for the speakers and panelists and the men, a wonderful evening boat ride and dinner followed by cool party on night one and then night two a meal followed by probably the least likely entertainment – a mass naked Hammam..umm. This combined with some liberal belly dancing left a few of the International ladies wondering whether this conference could be a little more balanced in its approach to men and women and indeed I doubt anyone really cared about how many women there were on stage – the answer. very few.

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All that said it was an amazing location, infectious atmosphere led by Plamen and I am sure it will continue to grow and grow. I feel like it needs to take a lead from other large events in how it is set up and run to streamline everything and have less of the workings on show and more of the content. If you want to really ramp up business in the area I also believe it would be a great starting place. For VivaKi expanding and increasing the Audeince On Demand services there it worked well on the back of the AOD Publisher Day we had before it and I am sure many other International teams will see similar opportunity.

The event also created two side lines, the first is that myself and Brian from Digiday have coined the phrase ‘they did a Webit’ and that Brian has big plans for bringing programmatic to the Bazaars of Istanbul, he is particularly worried about the longevity of the exclusive superglue stall man in this new era of RTB!

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Persistent Identity – holy grail available to some..

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I am Just back from meetings in Seattle and San Fran with the Big 4. Big 4 you ask? Well in todays world of data connectivity, mobile innovation and growth as well as digital commerce the big 4 has changed. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon are now gunpowder and bullet. The others more and more the barrel.

The message that is coming out loud and clear is that these players in their own varied ways are out to maximise the insights they have on their users and customers through a single themed approach of ‘Persistent Identity.’ I heard it a few times over the time I was out there, I have seen it mentioned in the odd article. But when you get to spend three days with all these market leading companies it becomes loud and clear that the data they hold on consumers is the key to their future and the single most valuable asset.

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Persistent Identity is a fancy way of saying ‘we know who you are, we know where you are and we know what device you are on, the holy grail of data. The kind of data and insights advertisers are crying out for. What strikes me about this data is how much more powerful it is than third party data sold by any number of companies, data which is slightly worn out, like an old apple at the bottom of a bag, still edible but just not as fresh and juicy as when it was picked.

The ability to recognise you, add insights to your iD, serve ads depending on which device you are on, understand you through your behaviour by device, friends, clicks and links is so powerful, so powerful in fact you can see the likes of Facebook being the defacto judge of what is good or accurate data instead of the traditional players. That has already started of course but I think will gather momentum. Watch out panel data.

When you take a step back and realise what data they have you can understand why they are reticent to share it or risk it being stolen, putting up walls of protection around it. Amazon with their marketplace, Facebook only allowing access through API, Twitter pulling info from Google, these are the actions of companies with hidden treasure. These businesses dont need all the old methods of tracking whether it is panels of adserved cookies, they know their people, signed in, registered people at scale.

Persistent identiity is powerful and logical, the only problem is that you have to stack up on these solutions. Like having a car and pulling up at the fuel station and putting 3 or 4 different petrols in to be able to get the car going. I want to recognise everyone through the ability of joining up these players – I would love to spot a FB user who has been updating a status about an iPod, browsing on Amazon and nail them with a promoted Tweet or video Ad to close the deal. I know it is too much to ask to have all these companies reveal their secret source but targeting would be fun..

Either way, data businesses will need to work hard and fast to justify their models in the face of the biggest digital players in the world starting to pull up their sleeves and flex their guns, because be under no illusion they are big guns.

Call centre ineptitude from RAC and AA negates good advertising

For many years I have sat opposite brand managers asking us to deliver more sales, conversions and the ‘right kind of customer’. This was often in the face of poor offers in market from those same Brand managers. The privilege of being the client, when asked how competitive a product is for say insurance or mortgages, the answer being, very uncompetitive, but don’t let that stop you. This is daily life for many agency performance planners in the business and is what makes performance remuneration so tricky.

But lets say the offer is good, lets say the creative is great, acquisition is still difficult and customers are hard won. So I want to understand why businesses allow thousands of call centre people to allow potential customers walk with no attempt to keep them or common sense.

I want to talk about my experience with break down cover. Three players in this space. RAC, AA and Green Flag. It is a battle royal and I have worked with two of those three so know how difficult it is to keep up acquisition at a good cost.

So this weekend my son got in my car and turned on the radio and left it like that for 24hours so that the battery became dead, dead, dead. So dead I could not even get under the bonnet to charge the battery(electric switch). So I call the RAC who I have been a customer with for around 7 years. It turns out that my cover did not auto renew because my debit card had changed at the same time I moved home and my address was not updated. This actually is a side issue but they had my number – no text or message to alert me?

Instead the lovely lady on the phone tells me I can renew but I have a surcharge based on my ‘usage’ last year ie called them twice AND a £70 extra charge for sending someone out at the same time. So I said ‘thank you RAC, its been good but you are now losing a customer.’ Again a side issue but there was no attempt to keep me, no discussion, no sweetener, just a ‘OK thanks.’ What a shame. How much media to now replace me?

So I go online to AA and start to book with them, all going well until I click the button ‘are you in a breakdown situation?’ The AA then add £130 pounds to the booking. Angry but in need of support I call the AA to proudly tell them I am leaving the RAC after all these years and I am ready to book for a year upfront for two people, £150 of cover and could they see clear to not adding the charge. No chance. In fact the guy sounded like he enjoyed saying no. And here lies the issue. Their rules suggest that I become a bad customer if I claim the minute I join, but what about if I stay for 7 years, and I would, that’s a minimum 1000 pounds they lost and the opportunity to cross sell, to try and gain £130. It is crazy.

The banks will negotiate overdraft fees, the insurance companies offer discounts but clearly that has not reached the breakdown companies. Worst still is the complete and obvious lack of flexibility, training and initiative that the bosses provide for call centre workers.

Well RAC and AA. I managed to get the bonnet open, and charged the car and now I am going to book with Green Flag and all for £70. Don’t come asking your planner to increase sales when your call centres and commercial practises are so flawed.

Putting the RTB in B2B

Since 2000 when I started to work in digital there has been a constant learning curve for agencies, advertisers and publishers alike. The fantastic part of working in digital but also the greatest challenge is that it rarely sits still for long, leaving people constantly chasing the next level of knowledge. If I look back over the last thirteen years there have been some key milestones. First we got this whole thing off the ground around 2000 in a real manner. We then saw the rise of Search as a real revolution of the digital business. The dot com crash and overall stagnation saw little innovation until Youtube, social media start up around the middle of the decade. Just as everyone was comfortable along came Real time bidding and exchanges.

Each sector of our business has responded differently to each of the challenges and seen different challenges and opportunities. In the last 12 months I have been asked to talk at a couple of B2B events on the subject of RTB, it is a business that was traditional in nature and could understand digital from a search and targeting perspective, mainly because they could replicate the very industry specific offline approach online. Many websites, content specific and so on. The trouble is RTB is not about the content. It can be part of the equation, but it is not the driving force. The driving force is Audience and reaching that audience.

At first that felt wrong to people but actually I have had many conversations over the years where we wanted to target small business owners or IT professionals and the conclusion was that these professionals ‘were just people’ and we should target them not just in work specific environments but also in their spare time, catching them where you would expect them to be. How many campaigns run on Golf sites in the hope of attracting C-level execs?

At the heart of the issue is that, how do you target very specific audiences without being in very specific content. Reaching the investment community, IT hardware budget holders, small businesses, you name it. Well RTB has some answers and the marketeers of B2B and Publishers alike need to start testing and creating their own very bespoke audiences. The data is there, as an advertiser you have visitor data, registered user data, you have data from your social presence and more. Publishers collect information all the time and there is even more they can do as sophistication increases. Planning is not what it used to be, planning starts by creating profiles and target segments using your data, publisher data and third party data. Start to create and test, RTB allows you to switch on and off in an instant and so the opportunity to learn is immense.

I sometimes have this impression that people still see RTB as the remnant of the industry on long tail sites. This is a misconception so I advise a marketeer to go an investigate. The world’s leading content is now in the exchange ecosystem, whether through private marketplaces or public. If the FT, Guardian, Telegraph most IT sites all see opportunity then the marketeer should also. The technology and the data can now be applied intelligently to all this premium inventory and combine that with intelligent use of dynamic creative and you have a powerful opportunity. And after all of those benefits you can apply the macro benefits of RTB – you dont buy upfront, you buy what you need to buy, one impression at a time. You can frequency cap, single reporting and achieve transparency of what you are buying. These are vital in the new digital ecosystem marketeers should be demanding this as standard.

I often spend time explaining to advertisers that we have changed our agency model, the publishers have adapted or are in the process of adapting to this revolution in digital, but many times we dont challenge the advertiser to change. That would be my core message here, dont do what you have always done, you should change and if you agency partner is not challenging you to do that then you have the wrong agency.