Advertising Week Ends, Agency Trading Desks Go On

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Top dogs from the four dominant agency trading desks took the stage at the BB King Blues Club this morning. They hit on a bunch of topics new and old, including "education" fatigue, incursions made by DSPs, and making audience trading part of the "fabric" of all agencies. We'll present this one lick-by-lick in honor of BB King's guitar Lucille...

Moderator Jay Sears, SVP Demand at Rubicon, kicked off by asking his panelists to share their headcount in the U.S. and globally, as well as what percentage of their total media spend goes to display. They partially complied:

Scott Hagedorn, CEO of Omnicom's Annalect Group, said Accuen has 120 people in the U.S., and 450 globally at Annalect. He said 100% of its media is display. Brendan Moorcroft, CEO of IPG's Mediabrands Audience Platform said MAP's Cadreon trading unit employs 300-plus people, half of whom are in the U.S. "The majority is digital," he said though MAP launched addressable TV last Monday. Chris Paul, GM of Vivaki's Audience On Demand (Publicis), was the greenest panel member, having been on the job just 15 days. He said AOD employs 120 in the U.S. Paul Dolan, North America CEO at Xaxis didn't answer the question but snarked instead: "We are the first, largest, smartest, and best" agency trading desk. Thanks Paul!

A big theme was education, which Dolan said was always the main raison d'etre for ATDs, and while that may seem a stretch the other panelists agreed it's how they spend much of their time – even most of their time. They also said it's the single biggest factor in motivating operating agencies and clients to centralize spend to trading desks. Two choice quotes on that:

Dolan: "We educate at all levels of agency, entry level up through client leads and CEOs. Education will never stop because this is such a fast moving space."

Moorcroft: "We spend a vast majority of time educating talent, from participants and craftsmen to leadership, to creative agencies, to analytics/technology functions."

What Moorcroft finds uh-MAZ-ing is that "all of this is happening at the same time. All our agencies are changing at the same time."And you can see the result he said, with programmatic and high-touch media traveling increasingly along different axes. "What we've done has interrupted workflow in traditional buying. Our jobs ahead of us are greater than they were because it's more complicated, but it's working."

A number two theme for the panel, and this has become a mantra of trading desks, was how to make ATDs part of the fabric of all media agencies.  Here's Paul Dolan again: "Xaxis is co-located at all the agencies." And Scott Hagedorn: "I look at programmatic trading almost as an application within a data driven workflow."

That doesn't mean the ATD's must dissolve and disperse among operating agencies, as some people have said, but they could fill more of a consulting or managed services role to the media agencies.

What's in a name? Way too much according to all four panelists. They repeatedly used alternate terms to describe their companies: "buying platform," "trading unit," anything but ATD. This is well-worn fodder but let's give Moorcroft another go at it:

    "None of us consider ourselves trading desks," he said. "That is such a downstream function. We have data that fuels media planning, creative, segmentation. That stuff happens well before campaigns are even thought about. The actual buy function is seven or eight steps downstream."

A newish theme is incursions made by demand-side platforms on turf once relegated to ATDs'.  DSPs are calling directly on agencies and clients. What's the agency defense against this? Search attribution. "They with the exception of one of them doesn't have the ability to do attribution on search."That exception is Google's DoubleClick Bid Manager (nee Invite Media), but it doesn't have access to Facebook, suggesting each DSP may indeed have a unique media footprint and value proposition.

What's 2013 hold in store? Sears says "programmatic guaranteed," and of course the ATDs agree. Another possibility? Marketplace cooperation between non-competitive advertisers. Hagedorn: "Take two big non-competitive advertisers doing a consortium, using private marketplace. I'm bullish on that for 2013, now that we've got technology sorted."

This led to a somewhat confusing exchange over "old" and "new" RTB. What's the difference?

Dolan took a shot at this: "It's the separation of the RTB mechanism and the auction. When the space developed it was auction based." He says CPMs went down owing to an inventory glut, which led to publisher hesitation. "To me 'programmatic guaranteed' means lets step aside from the auction and have a discussion about value created by publisher and buyer." If buyers can automate a premium integrated homepage placement, "we should do that."

There was also discussion of mobile display (underwhelming growth), video (faster growth) and social (also growing fast).

The panel ended with some word association led by Sears. Here's an assortment:

Jay Sears (Rubicon): "Marissa"
Paul Dolan (WPP Xaxis): "product"
Chris Paul (Vivaki AOD): "back where they belong"
Sears: "full stack envy"

Sears: "Internet Explorer 10"
Hagedorn: "harbinger"
Paul: "good ads"
Sears: "poor workplace communication"

Sears: "the 24-year-old media buyer" 
Dolan:  "generational shift"
Paul: "smarter than you think"
Sears: "endangered species"

Sears: "Google"
Paul: (long pause) "possibilities"
Moorcroft: "partner"
Dolan:  "frienemy"

Sears: "Facebook's mobile monetization strategy"
Paul: "tell me again?"
Moorcroft: "big"
Hagedorn: "selling my private stories"

Sears: "viewability"
Paul: "not just a digital problem"
Moorcroft: "game changer"
Hagedorn: "it's what's for dinner"
Sears: "ad verification clusterf*ck part 2"

Sears: "ad networks"
Paul: "still there"
Moorcroft: "partners"
Hagedorn: "goodbye"
Dolan (ex 24/7 guy): "providing maximum value always"

Sears: "DSPs"
Paul: "the way it should be"
Hagedorn: "smart pipes"
Dolan: "want to be agencies"

Sears: "the I/O"
Paul: "necessary"
Moorcroft: "gone"
Hagedorn: "going the way of the change order"
Dolan: "our contribution to a greener planet"

And that's a wrap.

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