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'We need transparency around the decisions agencies make, and it's good to discuss this openly': The Programmatic Advisory


By Robert Andrews, Guest Columnist

December 2, 2016 | 7 min read

After a couple of years of discovery, many agency networks are now normalising programmatic capabilities. But, as they do so, disquiet is mounting from some clients who, in the new era of automated systems, find it hard to see and understand where their media spend is going.

Adtech expert Wayne Blodwell will interrogate the agency model on December 8 at Programmatic Punch

Adtech expert Wayne Blodwell will interrogate the agency model on December 8 at Programmatic Punch

Wayne Blodwell may have the answer. After leading early programmatic efforts for Dentsu Aegis and GroupM in the UK, he has formed The Programmatic Advisory, to advise brands, agencies and publishers on how best to deploy such technologies.

So what will Blodwell be discussing at The Drum’s Programmatic Punch event, where he is a panel moderator, on December 8? He speaks with Robert Andrews to give more of an insight into why he thinks agencies have been unfairly represented in the public debate this year.

Zenith just estimated programmatic technologies now account for the majority, 51%, of global digital display ad sales. How would you characterise its evolution at this point?

Brands and agencies are seeing the benefits of programmatic in terms of how their media is performing. Growth has come in existing channels like display but also new channels like video and mobile. Overall growth is being driven by the success people are seeing.

That growth is a clear indicator programmatic is the way forward. Everything will be 100% programmatic. That will take time. You’re seeing it happen quicker in display. Search is arguably already programmatic, and social, too. Over time, things such as TV and outdoor and other media will become programmatic, too.

What was the programmatic story in 2016?

The big shift this year has been it has moved from the idea of being a channel for display to an understanding that it is the foundation that powers all marketing decisions, it’s not a channel.

A couple of years back, when you went in to a meeting and said “programmatic”, there was a sigh. Now there’s a far more positive conversation - as opposed to ‘this sounds complicated and murky’, people focus on the growth.

How developed is agencies’ sophistication with the tools?

Programmatic is becoming less about a separate team in a different building and more being fully in the DNA of the agency itself. That’s because of its increasing importance for clients. Agencies are bringing it front and centre.

The likes of Publicis and IPG have folded their programmatic teams in to everyday agency activity. How successful have these moves been?

It’s been a bit mixed, there have been some teething problems. But, when you change existing operations in to new ones, as with any team integration process, you get initial challenges. It’s the right approach. Agencies need to bring data and technology much closer to their businesses.

How should agencies evolve?

There’s a lot of focus on transparency around agency practices. We need transparency around the technical decisions an agency makes, how they spend budgets and how they make money.

Agencies have been unfairly represented publicly (in this discussion) - I know there’s some amazing work that goes on for clients, and it can be damning to see that undermined. However, there are clearly well discussed (opaque) practices.

It’s very hard to make a broad sweeping statement about agency transparency - every agency approaches it differently. But, if Sir Martin Sorrell is saying agencies have a trust problem, we need to work through it. The debate is healthy, and it’s good to discuss this openly.

Where are the knowledge gaps when it comes to programmatic?

It’s in planning. Agencies understand the impact TV or search have. But, when it comes to programmatic and understanding audiences, it’s a new area for them.

That’s the big area for agencies to make some plays over the next couple of years. If programmatic is data and technology that enables marketing, how do you plan investment using that? That’s quite a big shift. As opposed to planning far out, months in advance, how do they plan in real-time?

What’s the main thing you want to hear from agencies at Programmatic Punch?

I’m looking forward to hearing how agencies are thinking about programmatic, what’s their vision for it, what are the benefits of doing it programmatically.

I’ve always been a programmatic champion. But, when I meet people with a greater context, it’s interesting to hear what they think about it.

As well as transparency, the industry has been concerned about fraud and viewability. Are the worries easing?

The worries are definitely still there. I’ve always thought of those problems as more a marketing problem, not a programmatic one. In TV, you’ve got people skipping ads; in search, competitors click on your ads.

The rise of ad blocking has escalated that conversation, to ensure good content is used in the right way. Everyone is taking a more forward stance on it, which can only be a good thing. Brand safety and lack of viewability is definitely a challenge that’s hard to overcome, but it’s good that people are talking about it.

Where will programmatic be this time next year?

It will be better understood. Given how successful it has been this year, it will be front-and-centre next year. You’ll see amazing campaigns delivered 100% programmatically.

It will become the lifeblood of many marketing conversations, taking place centrally, not around the edges of strategy. It’s something everyone must understand.

Because we’ve got the data in place, I’d hope that we are delivering better creative. I mean, more relevant messaging, better-looking ads, at the most relevant time, so consumers can get something from advertising.

Blodwell will moderate the the Changing Agency Model debate at Programmatic Punch next week with representatives from across the industry. Click here for more insights from other participants at the event. A limited number of tickets are still available, click here for details.

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