Ari Bluman Seeks Data, Media Efficiencies in New Role at GroupM

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Ari Bluman was an important figure in the evolution of 24/7 Media, and later after its sale to WPP, in the formation of the holding company's aggressive ad technology strategy.

He recently left 24/7 Media to join WPP's GroupM as Chief Digital Investment Officer, a newly created role. AdExchanger spoke with him about the new GroupM discipline and what he brings to it.

What's interesting to you at GroupM?

ARI BLUMAN: There are several significant things that are of interest, in no particular order.

I get to learn from hall‑of‑famer Irwin Gottlieb and soon‑to‑be‑hall‑of‑famer, my boss, Rino Scanzoni – plus Lyle Schwartz, Dominic Proctor, Rob Norman and Kelly Clark. The talent and intelligence is overwhelming across GroupM. Every level of this organization is like an all‑star team.

You read daily about how difficult the landscape is. The resources that GroupM already has in place to help that education flow along with the formation of my team, the digital investment team in North America, we're going to quickly help spread our learning to knowledge with our clients. We'll help to clear more strategic and tighter bonds. We'll give our clients enormous advantages in this marketplace.

Third, I believe in partnership in every level. We have thousands of them here, and I want to help shrink every single one of them, make sure we're at the forefront of this innovation, and ensure the very best performance and pricing comes about for our clients.

How do you plan to advocate for GroupM agencies and clients, and what should we expect to come out of the creation of this job?

Realistically, I'm tied to the hip of the agencies and the clients of GroupM. We're going to help ensure that the information and the data exchange, internally and externally, is flawless. We're going to help drive pricing and performance for our clients but overall drive a deeper understanding of KPIs, solid benchmarking and understanding the media mix in order to achieve maximum performance. Really, that sums it up.

It sounds like you'll be working a lot on negotiated deals with media partners. How does that sync up with programmatic media and real‑time bidding?

I most definitely am spending significant time with media partners, but also tech partners, data partners across all media types. So, by no means just media. With regards to programmatic media and RTB, it's truly an excellent way to help connect with audiences. We all get that. However, I see RTB today as simply the first stage of automation. Automation is what's necessary. Automation cannot be ignored. I believe that how it looks in a few years will be quite different from what it is today. But again, we read about that from you every day. It echoes a lot of people's sentiment.

Will GroupM have more ad tech in‑house one year from now? In five years? 

We really believe that technology to execute against data brings about a competitive advantage in the marketplace for all of our clients. That's a fact. We also believe, and we have for years, that you don't necessarily need to own all those pieces. They don't need to be proprietary. There are pieces that you should most definitely own and/or buy, but partnering is a key. We have, again, thousands of partners across GroupM, and 24/7, for that matter. That will certainly continue. So, just in house? No. There is a build/buy partner strategy, and we continuously evolve that strategy.

We have the ability to look at thousands of partners, and use our knowledge to bring about innovation, to bring about what we believe is next, and start executing on that vision now.

There is this general belief that people are going to be building brands through programmatic media. We're waiting to see evidence that major brands are putting significant spend toward this.

On our end, between Xaxis, which are GroupM's audience buying experts, the tech stack at 24/7 and the partners around the world, we believe we are already well ahead of our competition on this front.

How will you know you have succeeded in this role?

I say it a lot: "Perfection for the moment." I believe that as soon as you pat yourself on the back and believe you did a job well done, you're already well behind. I'm not sure I'll ever personally believe that I have succeeded in anything, but I certainly have KPIs. Here, I believe there are currently, I calculated about 38 top priorities that I've made for myself and my boss.

The word "digital" is a little problematic, as all channels go digital.

I have "digital" in my title.

Yes, exactly.

Everyone loves the bucket thing. We're definitely fans of bucketing things in this business. At GroupM we're bridging all things media. Even though it isn't my title, my role is to work alongside these agencies and the existing teams. We're not just interested in data. We have a lot of it obviously, but we know that data and downward moving is crucial to drive cross‑channel communications, superior performance. That's what we're after. It's not digital and/or. It is, How do we best mix media? How do we best use these data points cross‑channel in order to drive best pricing for clients? Best performance for clients? How do we stay well ahead of our competition and even widen the gap of where we already are?

Xaxis is a part of GroupM. WPP refers to it as an agency, but it's also an in‑house ad network, some would argue. It also works with quite a lot of WPP agencies that are not in the GroupM family. Is it proper for us to think of Xaxis as a GroupM agency?

Xaxis is a partnership between GroupM and 24/7. An in‑house ad network? No. It's just not. I helped build and I helped run it for several years of my life, and I continue to be involved with Xaxis. I'm on the global board. It's not. They are audience-buying experts. That is what they are, and they are excellent at it.

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