PropertyGuru goes it alone after in-housing media to be more agile with first-party data

Agencies need to help mid-sized brands like PropertyGuru negotiate better rates and give access to thought leadership.

PropertyGuru has brought its media buying in-house in a bid to be more agile with its vast pool of first-party data and create better user experiences, according to Bjorn Sprengers, the property portal’s chief marketing officer.

Sprengers claims the decision to take its media in-house its media was driven by ‘more strategic considerations’ and not a reflection on its media agency's performance.

“PropertyGuru’s has 25m monthly visitors across our markets and to optimize their user experience, and with user consent, we gather a wealth of information about these visitors. The ability to act on that information to the benefit of the visitor is what sits at the core of PropertyGuru’s mission,” the Dutchman explains to The Drum.

“The insights gained in the process, give us a tremendous advantage in selecting and optimizing the right content and media. An external agency is less well positioned to leverage that asset than a well-organized internal team is.”

The brand has always seen itself as a technology company that is more than a property search portal which helps consumers make more confident decisions with AI and machine learning.

Now, it is building programmatic knowledge and expertise internally to use its first-party data when buying media, with the view of owning the entire programmatic tech stack in the long term with its own data management platform (DMP) and demand-side platform (DSP).

Sprengers, whose remit now also includes fintech, says that since PropertyGuru streamlined the way it plans and buys media after bringing it in-house, he has noticed great improvements in media efficiencies, especially in the online buys.

More importantly, he adds, is that he is seeing an improved speed of execution between teams and a higher degree of accountability within the teams towards the return of their investments.

This helps PropertyGuru use paid media to drive on-site behaviours, improve segmentation and optimization of its paid search and unify the data that its media and analytics teams use, Sprengers explains, as governments and platforms start to restrict sharing the sharing of first-party data and the use of ad blockers continue to rise.

“These trends embody great opportunities for companies like PropertyGuru that hold vast amounts of first-party data and rely on native content, in our case property listings, for monetization,” he says.

“It is our top strategic priority to become better and better at capturing and structuring that first-party data with the objective of helping property seekers discover the best home and mortgage for their specific needs.”

Even though he has brought media buying in-house, Sprengers does not want to take the option of working with other media agencies in the future off the table because he says they have added value, adding that the brand is still working with its former media agency PHD on a case-by-case basis.

However, he asserts for mid-sized brands as PropertyGuru, agencies need to help these brands negotiate better rates and give access to thought leadership.

A recent study by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) on the state of advertising dismissed the ‘hysteria’ around the in-housing trend as it found the only area where brands would in-house rather than outsource was low-cost and fast creative executions.

The study said creativity, traditional media planning, creative strategy and programmatic search are all expected to escape in-housing, with 50% of respondents expecting these disciplines to spend more externally.

It predicted agencies are expected to benefit from increased spending on traditional media buying, an area where 45% of respondents expect to spend ‘significantly’ more and 35% ‘somewhat’ more over the next 12 months.

Sprengers observes that in-house teams have the domain knowledge and deliver deeper insights, as compared to agency teams, which typically have high turnover and struggle to retain knowledge.

In-house teams also have the benefit from being connected to the company’s full data ecosystem, data science capabilities and tools, which means their velocity of output is higher, he adds.

Ultimately, Sprengers says he wants operational agility for the marketing team to function optimally because he needs short operational lines between media-buying, content and creatives teams, which an all in-house team can deliver.

“Media agencies are most vulnerable in the digital space. They often lack the depth of customer insight and the operational agility to earn their commissions. That’s particularly true for the more digital-savvy clients,” he explains.

“As Google, Facebook and Amazon continue to consolidate power in digital channels and with adtech/martech stacks becoming less fragmented, the media agency will continue to lose relevance.”

He adds: “I see a couple of solution for media agencies. Priority is to trim-down their cost structures. Then there’s a couple of strategic scenarios that range from moving up the value chain into content creation and marketing shops, to creating (access to) unique, high-quality audiences, and to provide analytical solutions that help brands better attribute their results to spends.”

Sprengers notes that as long as the prospect of programmatic buying is a distant one in traditional media, there will continue to be a role for media agencies.

However, he warns that the industry will need to work hard, though, to keep an edge in media planning thought leadership and to gain back lost trust with brands as a result of opaque measurements and rebate structures.

For brands who want more control of their data, Sprengers says the first step in any in-housing decision, is to develop a clear view on what is the problem they are solving or opportunity they are pursuing.

He cautions that for chief marketing officers with less control of first-party data, the decision to in-house media buying may be different from brands like PropertyGuru.

“They may experience much higher dependency on data providers and on programmatic solutions to optimize their spends,” he explains. “They may also decide to opt more for traditional media buys or partnerships where media agencies are better positioned to be of value.”

This is part of The Drum's Marketer of the Future coverage for 2019. You can read our coverage here.

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