Transparency is the new black: Takeaways from Digiday’s Programmatic Summit

Programmatic advertising, despite a drum beat of bad news around misplaced ads and fraud, continues to grow and play a larger role in the ad strategies of marketers and publishers.

At the Digiday Programmatic Summit Europe in Wicklow, Ireland, this week, over 100 media and marketing executives gathered to share ideas and untangle some of the thorny issues within programmatic advertising. Here are five themes that emerged:

Transparency is the new black.
With brand-safety issues surrounding YouTube and other publisher sites, it was no surprise that transparency in programmatic ad buying was top of mind for publishers and brands as well as agencies and ad tech vendors.

Attendees griped about undisclosed fees, lack of visibility in the bidding process, while agreeing that it’ll take collective effort to communicate more honestly with partners about what’s going on.

A core theme was that clients and their agencies must pay attention to where their digital ad dollars are going. That means they’re candid with each other about which tech they are using and why. Clients can no longer look the other way when agencies try to get them to spend more on content verification rather than just demanding quality placement but at scale and cheap prices. Likewise, agencies shouldn’t just cave to clients that make unrealistic demands.

Data quality often stinks.
Transparency is needed because data quality is lacking. The amount of first-party data is limited, and third-party data isn’t always what it says it is.

Several executives, including Fabrizio di Martino, director of digital marketing, Europe, for Intercontinental Hotels Group, raised the issue of duplication: Where they would count one person, data aggregators may see several. “Sometimes I think it is just the old Wild West,” he said.

Header bidding is not a silver bullet for publishers.
Publishers have enjoyed bumps in yield from header bidding, which allows publishers to see multiple bids from vendors at the same time. But header bidding alone is not enough to make up for a decline in direct-sold advertising.

Muddying the waters, header bidding has become a catchall term. For some, the industry is prone to confusing terminology, by, say, referring to server-to-server as something independent of header bidding.

“Header bidding hasn’t been the silver bullet for the industry,” said Lauren Dick, head of emerging platforms for Mail Online. “There’s still a lot of teething issues even though it’s been around a few years.”

Brands are taking more control.
Agencies aren’t about to be cut out of the programmatic equation anytime soon. But for many marketers, programmatic is too important to fully outsource.

Intercontinental, for example, over the past two years has progressed from a managed-services model to building its own programmatic team to operate alongside its search-marketing team. In so doing, the marketer has cut its fee costs by over 10 percent.

But more than that, Di Martino said the move has allowed Intercontinental to have more control over its data and the ability to more quickly optimize.

Programmatic is changing sales teams.
Publishers’ programmatic strategies change constantly to keep pace with market changes, like the arrival of header bidding. And it’s not just the work itself that is shifting, but the types of skills sets needed to help publishers wring more value from their inventory. Publishers are in now in need of a hybrid skill set, and it’s hard to find.

The people in demand today are those who have the charisma, business acumen and communication skills of a traditional sales person along with analytics and data science skills. In short: people who can interpret layers of complex data from multiple online sources, grasp online auctions and understand the digital media ecosystem.

“We can’t rely on technology,” said Emily Palmer, head of programmatic for Europe at Reuters. “We can’t just overlay some data and assume your brand is safe.”

Additional reporting by Jess Davies.

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