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A week at The VivaKi Nerve Center

A week at The Vivaki Nerve Center

Monday

An early meeting with the WW CEO of ZenithOptimedia to discuss how the market is shaping up and what can be expected of 2012. As the conference season starts I am being pulled in a number of directions to make sure everyone who needs the latest info has it!

Later that morning a call with the boss, Curt Hecht, it’s a about planning stage and we discuss what we need to get done for 2012 and how we will work with the agencies. A lot of progress in 2011 for VivaKi and The VivaKi Nerve Center and so it makes for some great conversations for next year. More than ever we will be a very European organisation which is achievement in itself. a series of meetings with the major EMEA markets all to be planned.

A session on contracts, which seems to take up a lot of time at the moment, but we are making real progress with a number of contracts signed that will help power The Pool, Partnerships and AOD.

End the day back at the WW CEO’s office to finalise some notes for the conference and its my turn to start to prepare for the Exchangewire ATS event where I am on a panel with Nigel Gilbert from Orange, Gurman from MediaIQ, Breadon from AOL, Martin from infectious and hosted by Zuzanna at Microsoft. Will be a good day I am sure.

In the evening, I went to the Appnexus / Microsoft drinks and met with the founder of Appnexus, the new head of Microsoft, Andy Hart and a number of others. Bumped into Jakob of GroupM, always a pleasure and we had a little catch up and then I had to leave for dinner with Quantcast and Exchangewire down at BerryBros.

As usual you learn something on these nights and having spoken to a number of people from other groups, its clear to me that VivaKi are the most integrated and aligned group in this space, working hand and glove with the agencies. I hope over time this pays dividends for us all.

Tuesday – ATS Day

Arriving at the event really makes you see how far things have moved on in the last year. Ciaran’s first one was a big event but this really surpassed itself with 400+ guests. Unfortunately as the day went on it became clear that again it lacked publishers and advertisers. The more I think about this though, the more I think, why should they be there?

Morning sessions were OK but lacked direction, more moderation, different questioners and less keynotes would have improved the morning session. Keynotes fund these events but I feel having Mediamath and Rubicon and Appnexus all doing a turn is perhaps excessive.

Microsoft did a great session, slick presentation and I think surprised everyone, he even presented an Apple Ad, which was the talk of the Twittersphere..

The afternoon panel I was on was billed to be controversial, I knew it would not be, for two reasons. The first is we have said this before and the second is that people in the audience don’t want to stand out and make issues. The bigger these events become the more polite they will become. I had a couple of key themes I wanted to get across around the whole Ad Trading Desks.

1. We are not an Ad Network
2. We will cut back on Ad Network spend
3. We will be aiming to centralise all retargeting and we think it’s the right thing to do
4. We work with a number of DSPs just not in the UK and we know what is what

I made all of these statements as well as suggesting Ad Nets use client data across their campaigns and received no resistance so, if it was not controversial, it was not because of me! Feedback has been that it was too about positioning of each others company etc but you go where the questions take you.

All in all though, a good day, got to catch up with some great people from around the business and generally enjoyed it all.

Wednesday

We march on with an exciting morning meeting with a large European company that is soon to become Vivak’s first VNC Partner in EMEA. We have of course high profile relations with Microsoft and Google as well as other US companies, but this is the first at scale. We worked through the opportunities, what we need to do together and how we can help each other, a great start to Wednesday and we look forward to releasing that news soon.

Later that day, I 100% focused on The Pool. We have been delayed on this but we are ready to go again, very exciting, there is other info on The Pool elsewhere on my blog Later this year I am presenting at the IAB conference on Spain the results of the Spanish Lane and some of the work that’s been going on in the US, I am really excited about the results that have come from this work.

We have three great publisher partners and already two major clients so things are looking great in that regard, there will be more to come on that subject shortly.

The day ends meeting a team of senior Google Product managers who are trying to work with us to provide insight to power Audience On Demand. It’s these meetings that the Google partnership is founded on, not media spend and discounts. It was a really interesting session and we learned alot about what is coming up. Invite will be a very powerful proposition.

Thursday

A quieter day on the meetings and valuable time to catch up. I did meet up with the CEO of Vindico and team who have big ambitions in the UK. We work with them on The Pool and they are a great outfit. Its time we need to get over the control issue around video adserving, we have been through this once with display and its time we moved on when it comes to video. We are used to substandard, early 2000 type tracking and reporting which is not acceptable.

Friday

A chance to discuss everything we have been doing and seeing this week. A morning appointment with a client with a brief to talk them through all the things The Vivaki Nerve Center are working on, went brilliantly and we will be doing some great work I hope. They showed the kind of interest in innovation that makes it all worth while.

A run for the train from glamorous Slough with just enough time to read the placard under the stuffed dog at the station and down to Microsoft to present to their regional scale display teams and talk about the importance of agency trading desks. Quite a turn out and some great questions from the group, I hope we can act on some of the discussions and continue to grow our global partnership.

I end the week with some time to keep up momentum with The Pool, discuss with thepaulsilver the final touches of an exciting launch next week and what I am going to do when he is on holiday!

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Hard work being a technology company at the moment

I would not want to be in this space at the moment. It is fiercely competitive and every man and his dog has a new angle on targeting, tracking, bidding and the like. Digital has always been like that, a constant stream of questions from clients, planners and other agencies along the line of – ‘you heard of x company, apparently amazing, can you have a look at it for me?’ Being on the inside of a technology company must feel like that at the moment, especially big ones like Google and Microsoft.

The energy at the moment is focused on biddable media whether that be ad exchanges, search of Facebook API and therefore companies have come along like Marin and Kenshoo to challenge the elite. They are new and shiny and fast and they produce product roadmaps about 6 months ahead of the slightly larger more sluggish rivals.

Teams in Doubleclick now are constantly being asked about what can be integrated into their systems like DART search, it’s a fair question because the market is moving so quickly the agencies are having to adapt rapidly and therefore they need their suppliers to do the same. Deep integrations that are hard to move is not a good enough reason to stay with a supplier. It’s not however as simple as doing the usual Google bashing or Atlas bashing, I have some sympathy for them. When they change one thing it has to deliver against all their other systems and make sure that nothing falls over. With great volumes and large customer bases comes a big responsibility to not mess up. Some start up with 5 clients can afford to mess about a bit and change things as it pleases with little or no impact, Google can’t do that.

I would like to see what happened if an agency said to one of these new companies – OK I will move all our spend to you, we want 24.7 customer service, technical support, migration in weeks, nothing to go wrong, we want to check all your contracts and privacy set ups and all the rest. Simply, they would not cope. So on that basis I think we have to understand that there are many pretenders to the crown but they could not all make it and its easy to bash the big boys.

Nevertheless it must be hard work right now and I don’t envy them. Sometimes things just do not work, today we saw the end of Google Wave. Of course we did, it was a nightmare. A small part of me does think though that those resources could be redirected into services that meet the real needs of customers rather than so many experiments. How is Buzz doing?

Outside of that particular field there are so many companies selling data, targeting and tracking. They all want a piece of our client’s websites, they all want a test, it is a minefield out there and sorting the wheat from the chaf for agency digital planners is extremely hard and often hard for the companies to differentiate themselves. I have not seen so many new companies selling their wares since 2000, they wont all make it and as agencies we need to somehow back the right horses..

Pitching has become so time sensitive, there is no time for good ideas.

Pitching is all part of being in an agency, to some extent its the best part, the thrill of the chase, the battleground of the pitch itself and then the exhilaration and pride of a win or the dejection of loss. I am sure the more enlightened clients understand what goes on behind the scenes, but i have a feeling many don’t understand the true reality of the labour that goes on. A large pitch can use up a team of 30+ people, working night and day for three weeks to deliver the final product – do all clients understand that?

What has changed over time has been the length of the pitch presentations, some even very large pitches have now fallen to a time scale of 1 hour for even a large account. Many people will tell you that if you can’t get your good idea across in that time then it can’t be that good an idea, I disagree. Some ideas need explaining as do some concepts, especially around the new battle grounds in digital and 40 slides is not enough to bring that to life. I think a major pitch should afford the competing agencies the time to genuinely deliver ideas, if more time was spent, I think more would come out of the pitches, more questions asked and therefore more of a sense of the agency.

The problem comes when often the advertiser cant seem to be able to knock people out of the process at different stages, I have been in processes where there were still 5 or 6 agencies in at the end, that strikes of a complete lack of decision-making from a clients perspective and is not the right way to approach things – have less people in at the final stage and give them longer to present, that’s a good model.

If you have to cover, buying, digital, strategies, responses to briefs, creds and many other areas you will not get enough time in, I think they should get down to 2 for a final stage and then do a Boot camp process where the clients get to spend some decent time with the teams, after all we could be talking about a 100m budget, spend some time and get to know the agency strategies and ideas in detail, then make a decision.

I should add though, agencies on the whole do a great job of these situations, I would like to see them get a better chance to shine.

The new model agency

Marco Bertozzi:11.11.09
Its starting, the momentum is gathering towards the true ‘new model agency’. First we had media agencies that were all in silos by department with TV being the dominate in most. Over time that has merged into cross media departments with TV, Press etc buyers all working together, makes me think of ZULU the film, closing ranks to protect themselves from the onslaught. Are we seeing the end of the buyer as we know it?

Digital has thrown everything up in the air and then on top of that technology has thrown digital up in the air and everyone is trying to cope, the one thing that is true though is that more and more technology will do the best job of ‘buying audiences’ as its becoming known. I have just come from an agency that was very commercially aware that low value, high volume accounts and the people who worked on them are not needed in central London, stick them somewhere cheaper was their idea. With agency margins being squeezed this can make a genuine difference.

Buying has that feeling about it, do media agencies really need 40-50 buyers, buying media that has already either been agreed in an overarching deal or is being supported by technology. The arrival of ad exchanges from Google, Right media and many others will change everything. You need to buy impression by impression, audience by audience and in real time, ‘paying’ the right price by impression millions of times an hour – no media buyer will do that.

The planning of TV, Press, digital or outdoor is all possible through technology so I suspect in five years time we are looking at media agencies that focus on strategy, some key trading heads to do the deals and a lorry load of computers. Agencies will be paid for adding value not buying media.

I will be interested to see which agency is brave enough to embrace this new model ahead of the pack and decide that things really can be done differently..lets see.

Integrated, digital at the centre, agencies have changed, how do media owners respond?

Just before the recession kicked off every article was about digital, within the agency world it was the key battle ground, who had more of it, was it integrated, who was pretending etc etc. The recession seemed to put pay to that for a while, everyone concentrating on survival. What the recession will have done in many agencies is allow them to make a lot of change very quickly, people are a lot more receptive to structural change when their jobs are at risk. The end result of that will be that agencies have perhaps now taken a bigger step forward in a shorter period of time than at any previous period of the past.

Most agency groups now have pulled together or bought up a vast array of digital properties and now the task is to link them all together and make them something that clients can genuinely buy into, thats the biggest task of all and there are definitely some struggles out there.

Likewise the media owners are having to adjust at the same pace, they have also battled with separate sales teams, on and offline, agency relationship managers, sponsorships and many other properties but to make them work the teams have to work together and present a coherent face to the marketplace.  Guardian teams have been well known to be struggling in this regard and have done for some time and perhaps this is now being reflected in the IPA Media Owner survey. The Telegraph made a very high profile office move and merged teams far more quickly and effectively and they seem to be benefitting from that move.  The thing that stands out for me at the more successful media properties is that they all have two common themes; the right people in the key jobs and a desire to completely reinvent. AOL was down on its knees but therefore had little to lose and have completely re-engineered themselves and came to market with clarity and ambition. Telegraph was a similar story in terms of their ambition to completely evolve.

There is a lesson in that and some agencies could also look at those examples and shake things up, there are many agencies that have the same people, in the same roles and in the same format. Look to the brave and reinvent your offer and be brave enough to change. Change is addictive, tough to start with but once you do it, you can make a real difference.