Opinion: Data ownership remains an unsolved problem between agencies and clients

David Smith is CEO of Mediasmith, an independent media-buying agency in San Francisco.

Data ownership has been contentious since the start of the Web. Everyone — publishers, ad networks, agencies — thinks the other is ripping them off. Data ownership should be bringing our industry together instead of dividing it.

There is no question that in many cases, the data generated from a campaign is worth more than the cost of the campaign itself. The Association of National Advertisers, concerned about transparency in media buying, has produced a set of data guidelines that give clients control over their data and the ability to access their data wherever it resides. Not many would disagree with these principles, but there are significant hurdles.

As an agency, we can log into our client’s-owned ad-server instance, Data Management Platform, or demand-side platform thus allowing the advertiser to own the relationship with the vendor that controls their campaign performance and targeting data. Alternatively, we can help advertisers set up their own instance in our accounts with these platforms. If clients elect to use our agency resources, they are welcome to access the tools through their own login. All of our dashboards feature a “download” button for immediate export of raw data.

But truly owning the data residing within a platform may require owning the relationship with that platform. Where advertisers decide to use their own ad-server and demand-side platform, the agency trafficker loses the ability to check several campaigns at once and will spend more time logging into platforms and less time making optimizations. As always, there is economy in scale, not just from pricing but from workflow. To truly make use of the data they own, advertisers will need to invest in both staff and tools that may be currently supplied by their agency.

What’s more, client data ownership is not practical without significant changes in software design. Whether it be data from third-party ad servers or access to a DSP, the marketplace is not set up from a client ownership orientation. It was set-up to facilitate the way our industry generally runs, with any agency between an advertiser and the publisher. Until substantial infrastructure changes are made, it might be better to state that clients have the right to access their data, not own it and that there should be a similar setup for media research, DSPs and other technologies.

This is similar to traditional media where a client does not own Nielsen or MRI data, but has access to it through licenses, sometimes through their agency and sometimes though a direct agreement with the research company.

There needs to be a lot of discussion and work among industry segments to change the infrastructure of data, research and tech providers before the ANA recommendations can be put into practice.


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