Thursday, April 16, 2015

(The Big Disrupt) Interview:The Carnage Report talks to Robert Brill of Brill Media Consulting

Thanks to the disruptive winds of change brought about by the advance of technology and the proliferation of new platforms and channels, the media and, by extension, the ad industry has become more interesting and complex than it's ever been. The Carnage Report is lucky enough to talk to Robert Brill of Brill Media Consulting who makes his living helping his clients see the forest through the trees in this new paradigm of programmatic media buying as we navigate the ins and outs of this relatively new and complex reality. Connect with Robert via Twitter at @RobertBrill or make a visit to Robert's site at

Hi Robert, what inspired you to start Brill Media Consulting?

I had spent 12 years helping marketers large and small develop paid media strategies, and certainly enabling agencies large and small to develop their digital media practices.  During that time there was always a desire to have control over the direction of the clients I work with, control over my time, and the ability to take on projects that stoked my passions.  Now I have all that!

What’s your view on the current state of media and advertising industry?

Media today is amazing.  It’s completely democratized.  If you have a story, a voice or even simply an idea the rest of the world has already developed for you the elements that, in the past, would have been insurmountable hurdles.  Those elements are distribution channels, content creation tools and ultimately the ability to develop an audience. 

Anyone can create or curate content, develop that audience, and command the attention of advertisers.  Stars in the traditional sense are competing with creators.  There is someone out there right now who has to choose between spending time paying attention to a TV star, a Vine Star, a YouTube Star, etc.  That’s immense power for creators and consumers. As a result we’re seeing the golden age of content creation, and the formation of a new content landscape.  Everyone with a voice turns into their own format, that if developed, turns into a new type of interactive media channel that advertisers are paying attention to. 

The ad tech side is equally as interesting.  The hard work of developing proprietary solutions simply to operate a media sales enterprise has gone by the wayside.  By connecting to the programmatic ecosystem buyers and sellers meet to exchange value for ad inventory.  And, it’s not just ad inventory.  The matrix of solutions is multi-dimensional – ad placement, user data, creative and pricing are all important in ascertaining when and where to serve an ad.  The marketplace is so much more complex today than simply using context as a proxy for age and gender.

Can you, in your own words, provide a definition of programmatic media buying?

It’s the use of data and automation to make smarter ad serving decisions.

What form of programmatic media buying is better in your opinion, RTB (Real Time Bidding) or Non RTB?

It’s less about better and more about use cases. Better, in your question, is really a way of describing the set of factors that are best applied for a single advertiser’s unique situation at the current moment.  If you are a direct response advertiser you may prefer RTB channels to find the lower priced inventory that others couldn’t find value in. 

If you are a brand advertiser then you may be interested in non-RTB inventory that is bought today and fulfilled tomorrow; the forward markets.  If you’re a trading desk then you may develop a proprietary set of premium publisher relationship that you turn on at will to give clients your premium network solution. 

Not so long ago publishers complained about programmatic affecting their ad prices negatively and advertisers pointed to fraud. In your opinion, what obstacles do you think are in the way of both advertisers and publishers making the most of programmatic media buying? 

There are a few.  The first is naming.  If you look at the IAB chart that details the four types of programmatic buying you’ll see each category is also called three or four other things depending on the platform that’s being used.  Invitation Only Auction is also called: private marketplace, private auction, closed auction or private access.  Can we just have one name for it?

Education is the next challenge.  Programmatic buying seems to be a more complex mode of operations today than traditional (digital) media buying was just a decade ago.  That’s really because we’re in a state of profound change.  At some point there will be parity in the marketplace, but for now programmatic media requires smart executives to really figure out the nuances of this space, and then filter up and down the organizational hierarchy the elements that are important to each level.

The senior management needs to know how programmatic is changing the landscape, presenting opportunities and creating threats.  They need to use that information to make smart enterprise decisions. The middle management group needs to see programmatic as a way of meeting revenue goals, or losing them if they don’t adapt.  The operations staff needs to know the how to use programmatic toolsets, how to test and adapt for business success, and how to drive revenue. 

The junior operations staff needs to know how to setup campaigns, to pull reporting, ensure campaigns don’t over-spend and ensure the senior folks have all the client data they need to make smarter strategic and account decisions.  The sales group needs to see programmatic media as a source of either protected revenue today (if they already implemented programmatic), earned revenue tomorrow if they adapt to programmatic media today, or lost revenue tomorrow if they don’t adapt to programmatic methods.

On a more practical level it’s still difficult to activate Private Auction (aka Invitation Only Auction) deals between some buyers and sellers.  Because ad tech is so flexible it also becomes a little complicated to use.  So, when something is wrong it’s not just the agency (for example) and the publisher who need to communicate.  Now you also need the DSP rep and the SSP or ad exchange rep to be involved. That means more people to get on the phone, finger pointing and people who really aren’t sure who’s at fault.  Fault in this new and really complex transitional period should be less of an issue, but buyers will always look for opportunities to ask for added value.

Sales people are worried about their commissions.  Many times they are only interested in getting programmatic developed when they start seeing the clients are changing their ad spending patterns, or worse, they start losing buys.  The challenge is that the media press sensationalizes when networks or publisher terminate their sales staff.  If the publisher has a differentiated offering then they need sales people to evangelize that offering.

If the publisher doesn’t have a differentiated offering they still need people to educate programmatic buyers about their programmatic offering: different RTB opportunities, proprietary data offering, private marketplaces, unreserved fixed rate inventory and certainly automated guaranteed opportunities.  If you have something to sell then you need a seller to educate buyers about the opportunity. 

So, sales people are concerned about their jobs and their commissions, so there’s an interest to push away from programmatic products.  Relationships still matter.  In a few years programmatic will simply be called advertising, so the more you do today to become a programmatic operator the more business you are protecting from tomorrow’s competition.

Why do you think TV networks are prepared to sell their inventory programmatically when they command high prices currently and programmatic media buying having the reputation of lowering ad prices for publishers?

Some of the info above applies to TV ad sellers. When buyers demand to buy space using programmatic pipes sellers will cave to the demands of the marketplace. Premium and high quality inventory are important.  So, programmatic pipes will make the selling of premium TV inventory a viable solution.

A second component of that buyer demand will be the ability to tie back viewership to audience data.  Buying towards data segments or customer segments will become an important way TV evolves.  There is so much research that goes into understanding the customer, but then buyers for 60 years have had this really blunt force tool to buy TV ads: age and gender reach augmented by frequency.  Exponentially more information about the consumer journey exists, relating to use cases, user experiences and the value that products bring to consumers. Advertisers have this information, so programmatic TV is a way for buyers to be more precise with their TV buys.

Many, including you, have talked about the upsides of programmatic media buying. What, in your opinion, are the downsides of Programmatic media buying?

It’s change and change causes problems for institutions, companies and people.  This disruption means that new players will win that would not have had a chance had programmatic media not developed.  Certainly people who aren’t interested in learning about advertising’s future will be left out. 

There will be a human cost, and that’s unfortunate, which is why we are always interested in educating the marketplace about programmatic media.  But that doesn’t stop innovation from happening.  During this 10-15 year transition period that started in 2009 companies who don’t adapt face mounting costs from missed opportunities and the need to adopt multiple new technology solutions like viewability measurement, audience data measurement, SSPs, new programmatic experts, sales training, etc.

Publishers are facing challenges with RTB pricing, although recent reports I saw claim that RTB CPMs are now leveling off or even increasing. Agency buyers have to be well versed in modes of operating that they were not prepared for.  So, it’s hard, but really I see this as an upside.  For the right buyer they can make their way to be the star of an ad agency because they get ad tech.  For established executives who don’t adapt this could be their death knell.  The same holds true for those on the sell side who won’t or can’t wrap their head around the programmatic approach.

Do you think iHeart Media quite recent move to offer ad space programmatically is a wise move given the medium continued decline in audience and ad revenue?

Of course.  If the entire advertising business is looking for more operationally efficient ways of buying air time of course iHeart Media wants to be part of the evolution, especially if ad revenue is declining.  I’m sure there are media agencies all across the US who are also looking for those operational efficiencies and are pleading with these traditional media companies to simply adopt even a very basic programmatic approach.

That operational efficiency helps the agencies too. I think this is a great move for iHeart Media because it gives them a chance to maintain legitimacy, along with their new products like the app and their live streaming stations, in the rise of a changing marketplace.  Streamlined operations, easier access to buyers and an easier path to purchase all enhance the opportunity for iHeart Media.

What do you think of AOL’s announcement last year to launch ONE, a “single, unified (programmatic) platform”?

I really like this solution because it represents a big step toward differentiation of buyer platforms.  For a few years there has been a general level of parity in the marketplace for buyers.  DSPs have generally provided the same 90% of functionality across the board.  AOL One, to me, represents diversification away from that parity and into new grounds.  Of course AOL is fundamentally a seller of inventory, but they can certainly be a provider of great opportunity for the right buyers who get onto their platform. 

Also, it’s clear that the unified measurement tech is being trotted out as a differentiation point across multiple vendors, all of which use that functionality to differentiate themselves.  At the end of the day what matters to the buyer is the effectiveness of the tech.  If it works than that’s a win.  If it is simply a tool to get buyers in the door, and then sell them a parity product, or AOL’s inventory than that’s a great job by AOL to sell inventory, but it doesn’t fulfill on the promise of pushing the industry forward.

On the prognostication front unified measurement is definitely a point of opportunity, and I’d say a foregone conclusion. Unified DSP / DMP dashboards on the buy side use technology for a unified consumer engagement measurement.  It’s a matter of making this tech work with existing privacy challenges in place.  Certainly Google can do this, but doesn’t dare touch this space for fear or toppling an immensely profitable empire.

What would do you think is the biggest misconception of Programmatic media buying?

I love how mystical people think this space is.  It’s not.  As advertising experts we owe it to our professional value to ensure that it’s not viewed simply as a great opportunity for others to capitalize on.  No.  This is the knowledge that advertising experts need to have.

What do you see happening in the future of programmatic media buying?

Programmatic media goes away.  It’s called advertising.  The amount of conversation about this space is due to how new it is, and how much of a change it’s causing.  At some point it because part and parcel of advertising.

It integrates into the Internet of Things, ingesting data from all the data points a human and its things creates daily, and turns that information into actionable data about product / service opportunities to be sold. The unification of data and attribution of data across devices becomes a defacto way of doing business. Audience information is infused into more traditional media and TV for ad decisioning  and reporting. Buyers use a centralized interface consisting of a DSP and DMP to ingest their entire advertising infrastructure and deliver data that turns informs future planning decisions.

Workflow automation is picking up importance. Publishers have to work with the same programmatic companies that offer RTB to be available and pay for the opportunity of being able to accept a direct deal.  Agencies are outsourcing part of the Automated Guaranteed buying process. 

Similarly, companies will realize they need a forward markets supply side platform. Current order management solutions that already let sellers understand their available inventory will become a competitive threat to traditional SSPs as Automated Guarantee buys become more important.  These forward market SSPs will end up facilitating the most premium programmatic opportunities (Automated Guarantees) just as RTB SSPs end up approaching the same challenge from an RTB angle.  Fundamentally though, it seems that businesses who have historic success with enterprise guaranteed inventory will have a leg up on RTB solutions who patch on to an Automated Guarantee module.

Local media and their agents become very important.  I’m building a business called (site is almost live) to help local business leverage these immensely powerful platforms, along with social platforms, to outsmart their competitors at spend levels that are scalable for the corner restaurant, coffee shop or dog walking service.

And finally, what advice would you give to someone thinking of getting into programmatic buying?

Three months is like 9-12 months in other industries.  Standstill doesn’t exist, because once you’ve mastered a tech solution it either evolves into a new version, or a new competitor creates a better solution altogether.  Don’t be afraid to make decisions.  This marketplace changes so quickly that bad decisions are really just decisions that aren’t made.

Everything else can be rectified if the outcome doesn’t match your expectations.  Likewise, every perceived market leading decision can be easily trumped in a few months by a new provider, so don’t stop.  Business fundamentals are still critical: be smart with your money, provide great customer service, maintain your integrity, and build long term relationships.

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