2016 will be the year of breakups in programmatic


First published in Campaign – link here

In the programmatic space, 2014 can be summed up as a year of snap decisions and bad relationships. There was a considerable amount of hot air and publishers, agencies and advertisers, to varying degrees, reacted to it in the heat of the moment. But 18 months later, I believe we will see a number of these relationships start to unravel.

Today I am so pleased to see that almost all major clients are embracing programmatic with a cool hand, understanding the pros and cons and planning for a future where data and tech are front and centre. The heat has come out of the programmatic kitchen and been replaced with good old fashioned brain power.

But that is not what I am writing about today — although related — I want to return to 2014. At an ANA event in New York last year, I joined a panel on the programmatic revolution, which followed the usual headline-grabbing presentation of whoever had run a survey that day. The air was full of fear and suspicion over transparency and media agencies were in the dock as usual. At that conference I called 2014 “the lost year” of programmatic in regard to advertisers and how they approached it. This was because the entire year had been a series of meetings, conferences and emails concerned with transparency and agency trading desks and all the good stuff we have come to know and love. Very few of those meetings were about the strategic direction advertisers should be taking in the programmatic space.

What happened last year was not just the headlines and the deafening ring of the cash till, as the myriad of consultants counted their earnings on the back of the fear and suspicion. It was worse: some big decisions were taken under those conditions. Major partnerships were signed, deals done and monies committed with an eye on outsmarting whatever the danger was — and that varied. Perhaps it was an advertiser that wanted its own tech deal to go around the agency or publishers wanting to out gun Google and Facebook. Perhaps it was procurement or the CEO asking questions of the brand manager and making them act. Whatever the catalyst was, decisions were made that are already starting to become irrelevant or just plain bad.

Next year will see the unraveling of these relationships; It will be the year that those deals and partnerships formed under intense strain will come apart. Publishers, advertisers and agencies all made decisions — some more than others — but with a new calm descending on the programmatic landscape, and the strong wind of transparency, clarity and understanding blowing through, we will see some of these deals undone. This will likely cause serious financial difficulties for some ad tech companies who sold the dream only to discover that waking up next to a partner who has already checked out of the relationship is a lot harder than they thought.

Anyone who tried to sell a service built around the notion that this topic was simple and easily solved will get called out this year. The market has moved so much in the past 12 months. Whether you are a publisher, agency or client, making a big decision last year was brave because the landscape today looks very different. We can only wonder who the jaded lovers are and who is thinking about how to break up the rather heat of the moment relationship.
Read more at http://www.campaignlive.com/article/why-2016-will-year-breakups-programmatic/1373982#z2CbdEY2Q3jC5yxj.99

Dmexco – powered by professional energy

Perhaps a surprise to some but this year was my first year at Dmexco. Every year it has clashed with something or other, but this year I was there, well for a night and a day at least. It is usually the happenings around the conference that garner the most interest but at Dmexco it IS the conference. Dmexco is a REAL trade show, a place where companies come to show off their goods and hope that the circling hoards will come buy.

There is something refreshing about that, it felt a lot more meaningful, a place where business came first and rose second. Don’t get me wrong I have no issue with rose and I am certainly not one of those bitter nay sayers that write about the pointlessness of Cannes, no siree, I am a fan, but that said Dmexco felt solid and meaningful. There is no other place that so neatly distills the lumascape into a real environment, where you get to see the colossal competition for the buck all in one place. I think it is that which really struck me, just how many people are out there in the martech, adtech space and all with their piece of the action.

I did not get a chance to truly get around everything but I sensed there was a pecking order with the smaller stalls gathered in one place. They are all looking to grow of course and move into Yr2 with the big guys. Big guys they are as well, over the years the stalls have apparently grown and grown and it appears to be like Yachts with everyone weighing and rating each other up based on size and how many people fit, after the size comes facilities – does yours have a coffee machine? Meeting rooms? TV centre – shower? Swinging dicks aside it is an amazing array of companies all sat alongside each other from Adobe and Oracle to MediaMath or the agency lounge. It was great to see all the Publicis agencies there, not too big, not too small. GroupM were clearly out to make a statement on the other hand, commercially powered by Xaxis.

What I have been impressed by is the level of seniority of attendees, Global CEOs, Group CEOs all attending an event that is relatively new. All around the event you will find leaders from every corner of the business and with that brings some gravitas and focus and less feel of a jolly that comes with Cannes.

I hope to go for longer next year and attend more of the actual presentations, but for a first trip I was hugely impressed and will definitely prioritise. The event ended on a high as I managed to hitch a lift with the lovely (am I allowed to say lovely?) Nikki Mendonca who had a cab waiting for me even as I stood in a long queue.

Annual interview with Beet.tv in Cannes – entering good times in programmatic

Every year at Cannes before the Rubicon Panel we discuss with Andy at Beet.tv where things stand in the programmatic industry and this year we discussed a brighter future. 2014 was the lost year to the topic of transparency but I sense we are over that now and have moved on to programmatic strategy and all the possibilities.

This year also marks a big step for us as we see the completion of the move of campaign planners and buyers into the agencies out of VivaKi and I hope will be the start of a new age in the agencies.

Programmatic in Cannes

Will media owners and tech vendors be scrutinised by procurement?

25-30 Billion dollars of spend up for pitch. The whole industry is alive with comment on it. What does it mean for the agencies, who is up to lose the most and so on. The reason for it has been unclear, could it be digital capabilities, transparency, a stagnant commercial marketplace meaning advertisers have to extract more from their business, there have been many suggestions. Perhaps it is a simple as no one wanting to miss out.

All that said, the blog is not about that topic per se, more what impact all of this is having on the whole industry. There has not been too much of a knock on effect to the world of technology, technology that is now powering so much of the agency media landscape. Across the whole landscape deals have been done, tech fees agreed and contracts signed. The tech companies and tech/media companies are sitting back and watching this all play out with little impact to them, at least for now. But how long can that continue?

As all these pitches play out one thing is for sure, media fees will have reduced across the board, one way or another. Not to say that with increased billings they can’t find other offerings and models to make it up but at a media level, they will be squeezed. So those fees are reduced but the tech fees remain the same. The managed services and RTB networks and even one could argue Facebook and Google margins remain solid and published. So at what point does the advertiser start to turn their attention to those parties?

If the squeeze continues then how can an advertiser be happy that Criteo and Rocketfuel are taking 50+ of their IO and turning it into revenue for themselves (published numbers). Is the only answer to that ‘they are not an agency of record?’ If you can squeeze a percentage point out of an agency, how about 10 from the people your dollars eventually end up with? The topics of taking it house and aggressive sales tactics direct to advertisers such as Tubemogul and others also means that they are trying to take the role of the agency and so would surely have to make sure that their every transaction, their every margin on data and tech be revealed.

I think we are entering interesting times and auditors and procurement are going to run out of room on the agency approach, something has to give. In my eyes their valuable media dollars being passed to tech and inventory players will have to come under scrutiny a lot more than today, and if you want to be the partner that dis-intermediates the agency then you will have to answer to the same scrutiny an agency does, not just commercial but standards of protection, payment terms and all the other lovely stuff that goes with it. But first lets start with the 50% of the advertisers dollars that don’t make it into media.

Ryder Cup of programmatic – my review of US vs Europe programmatic

First published in The Drum – click here

Back in 2010 when I started the European arm of VivaKi’s Audience On Demand, I had to turn to the US for everything. Half the companies I dealt with at the time had to turn to their data centres in the US just to make a bid, something that today would be impossible to imagine.

The US led the programmatic revolution, my own colleagues kicking things off in 2008. I was certainly wowed by the work going on in the US and the sophistication with which they approached this new and complex advertising technique.

Europeans often complain that Americans just don’t understand us. Having spent five months in the US last year, I realise that the reverse is also true. We just don’t understand the sheer scale and complexity of the US market either and because of that it creates more challenges for a single country than for Europe as a whole.

People would say without hesitation or doubt: ‘Oh so how is the UK, what are you, about two years’ behind us?’ Frustrating. So often the opinion was based on scale, not sophistication, and the two are fundamentally different in a market like the US. As I consider my time there and compare it with the UK, I would say there are three primary differences:

Scale vs campaign sophistication

There are advertisers in the US who at times spend more individually than two major European markets combined. Daunting as it is, this type of scale drives innovation and startups. It powers research and learnings because budgets are so large that testing new technology and funding research is that much easier than in smaller markets. But take a narrower view of the work, the strategy, and this is where Europe starts to come into its own.

While scale equates to innovation on a macro level, smaller budgets often lead to more rigorous optimisation on a campaign level.

Let’s take something like centralising retargeting. In the space of about a year the UK revolutionised the marketplace. It was a marketplace where an advertiser routinely had 10+ ad networks and publishers each with a pixel on the advertiser’s site. They would happily retarget their first-party data, creating incredible internal competition and price inflation on their audiences as well as data leakage. This is like letting multiple companies bid on brand search terms. It would never be allowed in search so why in display?

UK advertisers realised relatively quickly the problem needed fixing – and it was fixed. The US is still pondering the complexity.

Vendor management

Vast agency networks across multiple cities creates an opportunity for publishers and media sellers to find money in any number of cracks. Policing spend and agency-preferred partners in the US is incredibly difficult. Say no to a tech company in one city, and they will pitch to your counterpart in another.

Europe appears to have a much better grasp on that process. With relatively smaller teams, overarching strategies can be put into play and monitored effectively. This may not be to the liking of some media companies, but it needs to be done to ensure best-in-class partnerships.

Invented in the US, adopted in Europe, private marketplaces (PMPs) are another of Europe’s success stories. The speed with which the UK alone created PMPs surprised my US colleagues and competitors. Building bespoke PMPs is now the norm in Europe to drive programmatic business. In the US there are still DSP providers without PMP functionality, which I find incredible.

At a dinner I attended in New York, publishers were bemoaning the lack of buyer demand. In Europe we see the opposite – publishers and agencies are driving an ever higher proportion of spend via PMPs and there is massive innovation as well.

La Place Media in France is a prime example, and another more recent is theglobal launch of Pangaea, the publishing alliance led by The Guardian but including FT, CNN, The Economist and others. This is not happening in the US, as most players consider themselves too large to need that kind of collaboration. I think this is a mistake as Google, Facebook and others are only getting bigger and stronger.

Agility and innovation

Things just seem to move faster in European markets. Ideas are put into action very quickly. Geography helps. When AOD launched in the UK, I would walk down Charlotte Street in London, dealing with just a handful of leaders. The same approach in the US spans as many as six cities, 10 agencies and an army of people.

This is not a criticism, it is a fact.  Even when you have a well-developed idea, beta-testing is much quicker in a European market as you work with smaller teams who work next to each other.

Innovation is a hot topic and one that I think we lament when we look at the hotbed of Silicon Valley and the burgeoning New York scene.  However huge strides are being made in EMEA with hot new companies emerging from Israel to Amsterdam and Moscow.

One continent awe-inspiring in scale and opportunity. One continent agile and swift.  Operating in parallel? Formidable.

Technology : Blurring work and home life

I am sure there is a name for us, those people who have traversed the pre and post Internet eras. It is with great amusement that I see the reactions of young people in my business when I tell them that when I started out in my career there was no internet or email. It is quite something that in my career of 18 years we have gone from no internet or email at work and lets face it limited mobile phone usage to the Apple watch.

So what impact has that had on our lives? We have imperceptibly been on a technology creep around work that has blurred the lines between work and home, work and family and without being able to identify when or how it started. It got me thinking about the new starters who are immediately looking to get a phone or blackberry/iPhone and how that is probably where it all started – status. It started with status and the attainment of that position coming with a phone (no email) and or laptop which of course has now moved towards almost universal connectivity for all.

Even when we had blackberries there appeared to still be boundaries around holidays and out of hours, there was a start and finish to the day but that has disappeared now. We are all working night and day now, we work as our children swing or slide, we work as we take that long drive or wait at the airport to go on holiday. Emails come and go at all hours, and the all hours really does become all hours as we work in an ever more global marketplace. Our colleagues scattered all over the world each either at work or at home, sending that odd email. So that got me thinking about whether we are all living far more stressful lives than those of the 80s or the 90s. No escape, no off switch. When you went on holiday back then, that was it, you were off, and you could relax, no expectation, no ‘could you just join this call’ you were OUT. Weekends were weekends, as you got on the train or jumped in the car that closed the shute and gave you a chance to reflect and consider the week that was and the week to come.

The impact is worse than that though, what impact at home? How much more is the family affected by this than you – how many times are you zoning out of the present to read, respond to a message – did it annoy you and change your mood. How many times did you hear ‘Daaaad?’ ‘come on dad’ because you were distracted. None of this happened before the technology, we were all present, in the moment. Technology creep has eroded into home life, friend life. We have become a nation of screen starers and we all know it, but can’t stop it.

But hold on, is it all bad? As someone who travels a lot technology has helped me, it has kept me connected to my family more than I could ever have done before. Now I can see and talk to my wife and son when I am away, I am able to send photos and videos at the touch of a button. I can work instead of killing time at airports – I can keep working wherever I am instead of it all piling up for my return and perhaps making me go into the office at the weekend. The ability to work remotely is also a new opportunity for the modern businessman. But here in lies the problem and the reason we can’t stop. We can work everywhere and ‘spread out the work’ so as to minimise home disruption. We now only need to glance at our phones every half an hour rather than take a full two hours out of the day, but I think that is more corrosive than locking yourself away for an hour.

So where does that leave us in this constant battle with technology – it starts with us. It starts with the standards we set for each other and what our expectations are of each other. I have three rules, one for me and two for people who work for me that I try to stick to at all times unless there is something extraordinary. The first is that when someone is on holiday, let them have that time uninterrupted. Don’t tempt them in, don’t encourage communication. The second is to not expect communication at the weekends (I fail a little at this by emailing at weekends but I don’t expect responses) The third is for me, it is not new but I do believe in it, if you have a stressful job then don’t look at your email when you first wake up, in fact give yourself a chance to wake, dress, eat, speak before being pulled into email because you don’t know what you will find there and it is proven to increase stress levels overall if it starts first thing in the morning.

We cant stop the technology creep, we can only become more disciplined with it and I will be looking to improve myself for the sake of home and family.