Why Ad networks can’t become agencies but the reverse is not true.

The latest debate in the display space is whether or not ad networks are going to have to become agencies and go direct to clients to sustain their business. It’s a fair assumption, the likes of Specific and others will hire agency people, create better strategies and approach clients. The latest article can be found here on exchangewire.

It’s a believable concept but one that is out of sync with the way the industry is heading. Although there is a lot of hype around ad exchanges and targeting / data opportunities, within an agency, exchange trading remains a line on a schedule, albeit a complicated one. The exchange space asks many questions of agencies but that is around change and adapting, once its all settled down, it will revert to being an important channel like search and crucially will be integrated into all the other channels.

Over the last few years clients have been on a journey where in the main they have consolidated channels, first digital overall and then they have dragged search in where specialists have held on for some time. It’s not only channels but they are integrating their media agencies both within countries and between countries with more and more international pitches. Anyone in a major agency will have lived that in the last few years. So after all of this integration I think it is unlikely they will want to start farming individual channels out again, especially when it may be big news in the exchange world but within agencies, it’s just another new channel. Time and time again through research, better coordination and integration has shown better results for the advertiser so there is no reason to split out exchange trading.

There is also some realistic areas to take into account. Clients spend 80% of their budgets on offline, 60% of their digital budgets on search, the rest is split all over. So its fine for an adnetwork to go direct but they will never fill the roll of an agency. The agency roll is more than buying and is across all media channels, its events, experiential, etc etc, it’s also highly people heavy and Ad networks have been used to high margins, low headcount.

So direct is fine but will struggle in the UK marketplace, however I think with time the agencies could start to deliver an ad network experience and product within the context of their huge global corporations. Of course there is middle ground, some chameleon organisations that act as an agency or a network, but their offer only goes so far to be a real threat.

I dont think we need to start a war between agency groups and ad networks, I am sure we will all find a way, but I know what side I would want to be on.

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My 2010 review for Exchangewire on Exchange trading, an agency perspective

End Of Year Review: Marco Bertozzi, Managing Director EMEA at Vivaki, Gives The Agency Perspective On 2010

Posted: December 9th, 2010 | Author: admin | Filed under: Online Advertising | Comments

Exchangewire story here

I first talked about ad exchanges in a pitch in 2008. The DoubleClick ad exchange was either recently launched or due to be. Either way it seemed like the answer everyone in the industry had been looking for: namely, the chance to only buy audience you wanted and move away from buying in the thousands. That principle stands true today and overall the ad exchange trading approach is a successful formula.

The market place has remained pretty static since the late nineties. The industry traded in the same way as every other media channel and it worked quite nicely. When ad exchange trading emerged and became a serious proposition it asked many questions of the roles of agencies, ad networks and brought to life the data practices that had become so prevalent in recent years. 2010 has been an amazing year. The companies and technology on the lips of the media industry now – Invite Media, Turn, BlueKai, DSPs – were not even on the radar here in Europe twelve months ago. It’s incredible how quickly our industry can adapt and I have enjoyed being in thick of it in 2010.

A year in developing an ad exchange proposition

One of the hardest parts of a role such as the development of a new way of trading is gaining trust and buy-in from agency teams. It is actually harder to get traction with a proprietary approach than introducing a third party – see how Group M has struggled with the purchase of 24/7. There has to be proof that something like Audience on Demand can work and beat the competition. Client teams are rightly very defensive of their clients.

In every group you also have of course different agencies with their own approaches and ethos to digital. My challenge with Audience on Demand was to create an offering that worked for each agency and one they felt they could make their own. You have to work with many different opinions but in the case of Vivaki we did that and through that due diligence has come a unified view on how Audience on Demand could look and one of the reasons we have made so much progress. It is great that we have Starcom Mediavest, Zenthoptimedia and Razorfish all involved through consensual means rather than command.

Unique in this arena is the level of attention that needs to be given to data ownership and making sure that we are not buying unsuitable inventory. It’s important that contracts reflect the new world we are living and trading in. Outside of that we need to manage some people’s concerns that ad trading will be the death of the buyer and lead to an automated buying environment. Those concerns are mainly unfounded. Of course as more media is traded in this way it will make agencies more efficient – but take a look at search where we still have teams of people bringing the strategies to life.

The challenges we face in an agency

In considering the challenges we face I have chosen to break up the ad exchange trading proposition into four core areas, people, technology, marketplace and data. Each area has had its own areas of positives and negatives.

People

The challenge with ad trading is that it sits in the display camp. But the execution needs to be with those who are more direct response or search focused – namely those people who enjoy numbers and optimisation. This is not a ‘display’ buy. At the end of the day someone needs to have the skills to make this work and finding those people will be the next battle ground in this market. I fear a repeat of the search market where we competed for talent to the extent that search planners were getting large pay rises after 6 months in the job. We need to avoid a repeat of that by spreading the skill set as much as we can rather than concentrate on a select group of people.

I think there will be a new breed of buyers in this space but they could work across different elements of the same principle – biddable media. Some agencies claim to be employing NASA trained graduates, who could unpick the meaning of life in an instant. I don’t believe this is not a viable strategy for all. Some middle ground is needed here. What skills will be required by agencies? There should be heavy data knowledge, and more analytical than perhaps in the past – but this new breed of buyer shouldn’t be a complete departure. After all, the ad networks have been doing this for years without recruiting from MIT.

Technology

That’s easy! Why do I say it’s easy, well because it is all the same. I can already hear the howls from the baying crowds of technology companies, but fundamentally it’s true. Let’s not hide behind technology. It’s hugely important and exceptionally scientific but unless you have the people to make it work, it’s effectively useless. We work with Invite in the main and they are the leading player in the space now with the backing of Google – and hopefully they will continue to drive innovation. That said we have not won a single piece of business on the back of our technology sell. It’s all about the people and strategy. The most important thing any agency can do is work on the overall integration of the data provided by these systems into the agency’s data warehousing infrastructure. That’s where the value is created not in the individual system itself – and that’s where NASA knowhow comes in!

Ciaran asked me about developments in this space. I think we have been seeing the morphing of companies with a technical core into DSP offerings. That for me is the biggest shift. Real-time-bidding capabilities have also driven this development. As we have seen from results, it really makes a difference to performance and the margins publishers are able to take.

As I mentioned earlier its fascinating watching all the new players come to market. Dataxu, Turn, Mediamath, Appnexus and many others all staking their claims in this space and that battle with continue unabated. On the back of that I hope we will see product improvements to benefit our clients, especially around video and mobile.

Marketplace

Is there inventory or not? There is a lot of exchange inventory that needs to be supplemented with more mainstream inventory, Yahoo already do this. Microsoft has just signed up with Appnexus and there is a ground swell of larger publishers that are starting to hear the whispers that they can make more revenue through exchanges than going to ad networks. Critical mass is key and it is coming fast.

If you were to ask me what has changed in this area I would say that publishers are now considering putting more inventory through exchanges and dipping their toe in the water. Many people talk about the threat to ad networks from agencies – in terms of replicating their model. I am more inclined to believe that publishers are less willing to forsake their remnant and unsold to ad networks, preferring to move inventory into open exchanges.

Scale to compete is another topic of intense debate. Anyone who has run an attribution model on one of their campaigns will see that a number of sites can feature heavily across a number of exposures on a campaign but the last click will often fall to a small list of companies that effectively buy up the web. These networks buy at huge scale and therefore often win the last click battle. That’s not strategy or skill – it is sheer bulk. But it works in our current basic last-click-wins approach to digital. It’s no surprise to find that the ad networks are the largest buyers off the exchanges!

Data

Come back to me next year. There’s been so much talk but little action over the past twelve months. The area of most interest is of course retargeted inventory – first party data rather than third. For the last few years agencies and advertisers have been giving it away to ad networks to make their own campaigns work better. Ad networks were thus able to create greater insights on competing brands. The battle is now on to retrieve that data usage from third parties and keep it between agency and client. One thing that is blatantly clear is the need for a huge shift in data contracts. Client contracts and media owner contracts are going to change as everyone wakes up to the reality of how data is being used.

As for third party data, we are not there yet in Europe. There is little to no decent data on the market. A couple of companies are starting to shape their offerings. Obviously there are those who will sell data but on the back of their media networks. I think we will see some developments in 2011 as US companies come to town but we have some way to go. The greatest challenge is managing the price and value. Up to this point data has been too expensive and has invariably underperformed – so we should see some big improvements next year.

European ad exchange trading

I think that the idea of a group offering across Europe is more than possible, but it remains very complex. I spend much of my time investigating the developments in European markets and trying to understand their individual nuances. Each country has different marketplaces – with some more ready than others. Germany is a particularly entrenched market with some very established publisher relationships and a low use of ad networks. There are big companies in the space such as Weborama, Adjug, Adscale all looking at establishing opportunities. The importance of working with local partners cannot be underestimated if you are to make a success in these different markets – a one-size-fits-all approach will not work.

Conclusions

It’s been a fascinating and exciting year. I have met with some extremely bright companies and people – and I believe that this ad exchange trading tide will change our business more than any other single development. As we move into 2011 – and we see the addition of video and mobile to the automated ad trading mix – the ad exchange space will become even more complete.

As I discussed it will ask questions of many company structures and approaches, people skills and data capabilities but that is the interesting area for me. It will make us all re-evaluate how we work and what our structures and people skill sets should be. I work with great teams in the VivaKi agencies and am fortunate to be able to push on an open door. This innovation requires some elements of trial and error, and we all need to learn together. I would also say we should encourage each other in this space. The more we work together, the better the traction from publishers and data companies, the more we will grow as an industry.

Exchangewire Ad summit 2010

So how do I feel after the largest gathering of Ad exchange professionals ever collated? I feel like we collected the largest group of ad exchange professionals all together and generally made ourselves feel better that we are part of something big and we made some great contacts. What I don’t feel is that we extended our reach beyond that room, and actually that would have been the best outcome of today. it’s a small thing but there were virtually no tweets, no coverage, nothing that seemed to extend beyond the room which is a shame, lets hope the attendees talk about the day.

Today was the inner sanctum, you could use all the phrases and acronyms that you liked today – DSP / SSP / Adexchange / Adnetwork / data etc without feeling like someone would not understand, and I think that’s fine, but what we need is amplification and understanding. I would have liked to have seen some more clients there, where were they? The agency folk were slim on the ground a smattering from Vivaki, Carat, Infectious, Mediacom but not many and none brought clients. It was a technology / supplyside gathering in the main.

What I wanted to see was a few clients and more mainstream agency folk to come and see what it was all about, see what it all meant and how it would affect them. I was asked to come up and co present with the Global CEO of Vivaki Nerve Center and I talked about my disappointment that the NMA had hardly bothered to talk about exchange trading in a recent issue and thats how I feel the industry is in general. It’s interesting because it appears no one has learned anything from the birth of search, ie we should have all embraced it quicker and we should have wanted to know more sooner, it feels like it’s happening again.

Of the content Admeld, Quantcast, Vivaki, Infectious, Google, Rubicon all contributed amongst others to an interesting session, the discussions around data and the demand side seemed to raise the most passions as people grapple with who owns what, who does what and who is going lose the most in the new world. Overall it was strong content, perhaps needed more direction and linkage but strong nevertheless, as I say, it was like preaching Catholicism to the Vatican, I would rather be in front of a crowd of non believers!

Credit to Ciaran for organising this, it takes some balls to get these things going and he did a great job, I hope for the next one there is a push to bring people from outside of the Lodge and bring in non believers, clients, broader agency people so we can spread the word. Today we established a real crop of experts in one room and that is a great start, on to the next..well done Ciaran.