Tag Archives: digital media

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.

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Do we do enough to change our advertiser’s business?


Since the dawn of advertising and media our business has been evolving and adapting to the changing consumer landscape. Rishad Tobaccowala, our own Chief Strategy Officer described agencies as cockroaches for their ability to survive against the odds. It is not just agencies though, publishers, tech firms, Ad Nets have all pivoted to some extent or another, it is in our DNA.

We have been focused on our own internals and what the consumer has been up to but the advertisers we work with have more or less stayed the same. Yes they have embraced new ways of reaching their target audiences and moved at varying paces to use digital and so on, but give or take they have the same or similar teams, structures and demands.

It strikes me that we as agencies don’t do enough to challenge that, we are happy making sure our own businesses are future proofed but how much time do we spend telling the clients that they need to change fundamentally? Why are we restructuring, creating new businesses, skills sets and yet we don’t spend much time explaining to the client that they should be future proofing. Would we suggest a new structure to their media team, propose that they need new skill sets or a new unit? I am not sure we do and it is not our fault in many cases. Everyone has heard of the jumping flee story, if you keep putting the lid on eventually they stop jumping and I think we are all a little like that at times, we have ambition to change things with our advertisers but often it is rejected as too difficult or their incentives are not aligned.

In this new world of RTB, programmatic buying and data where all our businesses have evolved to a greater or lesser extent, in some cases creating new businesses and structures, what are we telling our clients? Are we suggesting they carry on the same or should we be telling them to think differently? Do they need a centre of excellence in this space, how can we get established and sometimes entrenched brand managers to adopt these new philosophies quicker? 

If we are all future proofing – what are we asking our advertisers to do other than buy media differently? We need to think bigger and challenge our very important customers to do the same.

Will digital people ever run the advertising business?

Its funny, back in 2000 when digital took off, the sector was really sidelined in terms of importance, no one really took it seriously, there was no scale, it was specialist. Nearly 12 years later and the world has changed dramatically. Spend has moved from £150m in 2000 to £4billion. Internet has overtaken every media channel, recently overtaking TV. Share of overall spend has increased year on year at a huge rate.

Agency life has been dominated by digital, teams of search, display experts, planners, buyers, mobile experts, Heads of Digital, Digital Strategy Directors, API specialist, and on and on. Its been a revolution. The major agency holding groups are judged amongst other things by the percentage of their revenues derived from digital. Digital is the key battle ground in terms of services.

And yet..take a look at the CVs of all those people leading media agencies and creative agencies in the UK, have a look at Managing Directors and CEOs, COOs and what do they all have in common? None of them come from a background in digital. It’s an interesting fact I think. There is the odd exception, the most notable being Rob Horler and Mark Creighton. Again even there, Rob is in the Group and Mark is COO rather than CEO / MD roles but nevertheless at least they are influencing direction. Of course digital leads are influencing at a board level, its not that they are not heard, but they cant seem to make the next move.

Lets then look at clients – I can’t pretend to know the whole market place but I am pretty sure again that most CMOs and Marketing Directors don’t come from a purist digital background. What implications does this have for digital growth? Should anyone care, it will happen eventually, wont it? Well I think part of the problem is that digital media has always been so implementational – more important to know how to get something to appear on a page than think strategically about whether or not its the right thing for the brief. The generalist, the planner approach is more likely to think more holistically and therefore talk the language of the client. Who owns the client, gets on in most agencies.

I believe that the Head of Digital roles and careers will ultimately always hit a career ceiling until they start to become more generalist and strategic, and get less bogged down in tech and implementation. There are a number of Heads of Digital across the industry – lets see how many progress to MD or CEO of a mainstream agency vs moving out to find their next role. I guess eventually the boundaries will fall and everyone will be digital but that is still some way off.