'Programmatic is just a form of execution': How the FT's new programmatic chief views the market

Programmatic ad selling is on the top of lists of all publishers, including those with subscription models. The Financial Times has created its first global director of programmatic sales role, bringing on former Celtra exec Elli Papadaki to fill it.

Papadaki will work with FT’s ad sales and data teams in the U.K. and in the U.S., to push programmatic within the company — and in the market. That means working with clients to explain plainly how the FT’s programmatic offerings can benefit them.

She spoke to Digiday about her plans to crush jargon in the space and why there’s less fear in the market. Here are her responses, lightly edited and condensed.

What’s the ambition?
The FT saw the need for a global role that could look at the technology we have and communicate as a brand what programmatic means for us. Because my previous roles have been client-facing, they want me to formulate a narrative about what we do in this space, strip the jargon away and speak to CMOs who want to understand more about what programmatic can offer them.

Elli Papadaki rejoins the FT as global head of programmatic sales

How would you describe the state of the programmatic market?
There’s less fear and more conversations around creative messages, not just data efficiencies. With all the noise around ad blocking, having good messaging that doesn’t damage the user experience, especially on mobile, is important. Programmatic hasn’t by any means reached saturation but we’ve become smarter at it.

Luxury brands haven’t been that interested in programmatic. Will your background with luxury clients help there?
Absolutely. Luxury is generally a more traditional sector and more interested in brand-safe environments than pricing. But if a brand is doing digital full-stop, they should be aware of all the different forms of programmatic, whether it’s RTB, open auction, programmatic guaranteed — there’s no one-size-fits-all and no one system for publishers to use. Two or three years ago, it was all about cost-efficiency and using data to find the right individual at the right time, but that approach isn’t relevant to all publishers. Pricing shouldn’t be driving all the conversations.

What are people getting wrong about programmatic?
It’s about not losing track of the fact programmatic is just a form of execution. There’s a huge focus on data, but we need to refine the targeting and be smarter about how we target users. Ad blocking isn’t just about a bad experience but more the fact that we are bombarded with stuff; it’s more of an ethical question of becoming more sensitive to the audience and thinking about the user experience.

The Guardian has committed to 100 percent guaranteed viewability on programmatic selling. Will that ever be the new normal?
It’s not unreasonable for people in the market to expect that kind of promise. How realistic it is to do that at scale is a different matter altogether. That’s the sort of thing that will differentiate one publisher from another. We’ve been selling on a viewability model on desktop, which has been going very well. More than 70 percent of our inventory is viewable.