Advertiser RTB Desks – Not as easy as it looks

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I cant 100% explain the tone or actual words, but it translates along the lines of ‘watch out boys, ALL the advertisers are going to do this RTB thing themselves.’ I hear the message a lot, usually from people in companies that feel they will benefit either way, agency relationship or not. Trouble is there is rarely any proper definition of this phenomena and that leads to falsehoods and scare mongering.

Facts first, an advertiser employing a Mediamath or an Audience Science is not ‘going it alone’ they are merely changing the people they pay to make the work happen, that is going direct, different to going it alone. I would love to write an article about how misguided the rationale is but will save that for another day. Fact is we need to be clear on what we are describing first and foremost because any advertiser who employs a managed service has changed nothing other than the party they are employing, sure, the industry may then be broadening out but thats not a big deal, has happened all through the last couple of decades and big players came and went.

So what does that leave us with? The advertiser who truly does this themselves, I mean employs people who sit in a room? Well first of all, lets look at what needs to happen to deliver a decent offering. At Audience On Demand central to our approach is VivaKi Verified, a team of people who evaluate Tech, Data and Inventory at scale and that is all they do. They are experts, they have expert processes and support the whole operation. When you meet these guys you know they are serious and without them, you have a shaky offering.

But back to the ‘going it alone’ advertisers.

1. The first and most important thing is to hire people to do the work, so you are looking for people interested and experienced in this space. They have to be experienced as your advertiser organisation on the whole would not have people to train them up and mentor them. Those people then need to be inspired, developed, they need to grow as employees, they want to be in an exciting dynamic operation, we know these people, they are demanding. Working in one business, with no peers and little scope for growth will not inspire the best to come and work so you need to find a solution there. If you are lucky enough to hire quality you then have to retain them because if they leave, you wont have a large team to retain knowledge. Final piece in that jigsaw is getting headcount signed off, not easy, what is the rationale exactly as you wont be ‘saving’ money, you will be a cost.

2. OK so let’s say you found the industry RTB expert who wants to come and join, next they need to choose the tech partner, partners. So they do a ‘review’. What does that entail exactly? A few presentations, a load of words on a slide with no way of knowing if they are true or not. Your tech decision is based on a very lightweight approach and has no benchmarks. Even worse you end up choosing lots of different ones and testing and testing. Likelihood is you end up working with one partner. In my day job I am asked a lot about the importance of remaining agnostic, fleet of foot, go where the best tech is. Advertisers want to know we are doing that, but is that practical on a stretched team without expertise? I would challenge it and without scale you cant run different verticals, brands etc to see how DSPs respond so you end up leaning on one partner.

3. OK, so we have a person and some technology. So you start running some campaigns. Feels good to be doing all this in house. One day though you get an email from the boss saying he saw your ad on an unsavoury site. How did that happen, I used all the right tick boxes? Suddenly the pressure descends on how on earth you are going to make sure that does not happen again. Vetting urls needs to occur, ideally upfront, creating white lists and verticals, it has to be ongoing. You need to have that up to date, the tech provider you use cant be trusted to do that. Some DSPs have in their T&Cs that it is simply not their responsibility, so it is now yours. Verification is time consuming, and needs resource to be done well. If you are using multiple partners out their that are not transparent you will have to fix that ASAP because the liability is with you, and you wont be able to demand money back. So best thing to do is do a review of verification providers in the space, there are a lot and they all promise a lot, it is down to you to decide. You could ask a partner for their view perhaps?

4. Now we are in a good place, you have a person, tech x 3, verification process that is ongoing. You now need to develop your inventory outside of standard exchange inventory and into private exchanges, you need to develop partnerships with large players. I would suggest that to be done properly you need a dedicated FTE, you don’t have that to hand so you will need to find some quick wins, otherwise known as average solutions, par with market. As well as inventory we have data that needs verifying – you need to trust the data, source of data, how it is collected etc, that is what we would expect in AOD – beyond that, a strategy around first party data combined with 2nd and 3rd party data to really maximise what you are doing. Ideally would be good to see how a certain data compares based on vertical or business type, KPI type etc, harder for a single advertiser desk. I guess you could ask your partners to fill you in?

5. Campaigns are live. Results are OK, not sure how they compare, but they are OK, you need to optimise though and that takes time, would be good to have some other people to run strategies by though, maybe discuss optimisation strategy, even learn from other countries. Vital to have cross fertilisation in this new space as there are very few experts. Doing a good job takes time. Understanding why something is not working as planned is where things get tougher, you could ask a partner to help?

6. Did you know that DSPs don’t design individual dashboards for you, or cut the data just how you want it to report to the board. They don’t always give you the insights you need so ideally create a solution that you can pull that data into that gives you flexibility – you can licence some software, learn all about it and use that.  Maybe the DSP has something it can sell you – is it the best one though? Perhaps worth a review of the market to come to some conclusions. Ideally would be good to talk to some people who have had experience of multiple solutions and look under the bonnet. You could ask a partner to help on that I guess?

This is the tip of the iceberg, running and creating a genuinely Grade A trade desk is not about logging in and pressing go, it is about scale, it is about cross pollination, you need to have support and strength in depth. We have an incredible team in AOD that is able to provide a fantastic proposition to advertisers that is technology agnostic, founded on deep expertise and importantly a team of people focused on results not their VC pressure to extent the number of partners and revenues before sell date or IPO. I am a passionate advocate for what we do and to be honest the wider groups as well, as long as they are showing transparency and not flogging their own tech.

Advertisers may well do this themselves and some do, but what I have seen so far are advertisers who say they do it themselves but really then lean on third parties, no different to using a Trade desk. Perhaps that is the future, that’s not my debate today, its about those who are saying they do it themselves. In my opinion they will end up creating a less good proposition for their business, with less experienced people who even if they stay, fall behind the market place because they are too siloed and lack inspiration from different people. I am proud of what we do and how we do it, I hope that advertisers continue to realise the benefits of that, but watch with interest the ‘DIY’ strategies play out of course. Either way, I reckon there is space in the business for everyone to play in.

The article today from Adage here is talking about how tech companies are going direct to advertisers and agencies need to shape up if they are going to stop that trend. For all the reasons above, I dont see this as a genuine trend. Its a just another chapter, we dont know how it will end, I can tell you though that most of these tech companies are not geared for this and niether are the advertisers. All the benefits above should soon reveal themselves to any advertiser trying to go it alone pretty quickly.  Anyway does anyone care – isn’t Google going to take over the world? No probably not, they don’t want the terrible business models we have to endure and niether will all the others.

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3 thoughts on “Advertiser RTB Desks – Not as easy as it looks

  1. Pingback: Traffic Jam; Compression Acquisition

  2. Pingback: What I've been reading this week October 18, 2013 | Alex Balfour

  3. It can be easy though as marketing will have a wealth of internal developers, BI team and existing DW to deal with.

    Ad tech isn’t rocket science compared to the standard practices that happen in house.

    No brainer for any CEO.

    Agencies need to adapt to change and it’ll be hard to accept this I imagine similar to ad nets with DSPs.

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