Cannes Q&A: Initiative North America CEO Nick Pahade

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Nick PahadeNick Pahade is a veteran of digital agencies and ad startups, having founded or led Beyond Interactive, Denuo (Publicis), GSI Commerce, and Traffiq. Two months ago, he was named North America CEO for global media planner Initiative, which is owned by Interpublic Group.

This week at the Cannes Lions ad festival, he spoke with AdExchanger during a cocktail reception at the IPG Mediabrands Villa. 

AdExchanger: How can data and insights play a bigger role on the creative agency side?

NP: In order for their work and their ideas to truly be appreciated we need to be able to prove success. That doesn't always just mean how much XYZ products have gone off the shelves. It could also be how much social chatter was generated by your message and a whole variety of other analytics. At some point we want to get it to the point of what medium should be [credited] for what specific message, and try to get to that level of attribution. I don't think we're quite there yet, but I think there's a new appreciation here at Cannes around data, which I don't think existed even two years ago.

Is the data conversation in Cannes happening in sessions, or at parties and private discussion? 

I'm doing a panel with two clients – Jim Trepplecock, CMO of Dr Pepper Snapple Group, and Bill Lagor, head of US marketing for Hasbro. We're talking about two startups that we partnered with, Kiip and Sharethrough, and we'll tell you what metrics came from those campaigns. They're not the chief creative officers, but they're ultimately responsible for both sides.

When we talk about analytics in the media agency world, it's obviously different from creative. Creatives often think of A/B testing, which gives measurement a bad name in some circles. What are the more interesting things you can measure?

It's important to know there are creative agencies that do care. Putting aside multivariate testing and A/B splits, look at social interaction. Look at if someone's created a video or TV spot, how much social chatter is being generated? What about people sharing content that was originally created as an advertisement but is cutting through other mediums.

Another way to change it, not to sound like a corporate stooge here, but when you start tying things more to performance… creative agencies can do that as well. When your creative message is on point and delivers an absolute home run in terms of positive outcomes, you should benefit from that upside. It's a two-way street. Pay for performance doesn't have to be a bad thing. It can lead to greater outcomes, for both marketers and agencies, and ultimately the consumer because they're seeing better stuff.

You've been at Initiative two months. What should an "un-initiated" person know about the agency, and what are you hoping to bring?  

Initiative Media has been around for a long time working with great brands. We all come in with perceived notions, and I've had my fair share of commentary from folks both good and bad in terms of what Initiative brings to the table. First and foremost, we have great people that care. You don't always see that when you're talking about agencies. I don't think we're entrepreneurs, but we do have that entrepreneurial ambition. They care  about the work, they care about the clients. If they didn't have that, I'd have that big gulp moment: Oh god, what did I do.

When you couple that with folks that are passionate about big ideas and those that want to measure it in old and new ways, we're well positioned to be successful. What I want to bring to the table is how do we better use technology and the platforms that are out there to create efficiencies in areas that frankly we haven't been overly innovative in. How do we bring more programmatic buying to the mix so we can spend more time on branded entertainment and content – not just ad formats but opportunities to get the messages across.

We have lots of relationships with different DSPs. We have a relationship obviously within Mediabrands Audience Platform and our Cadreon unit – not just digital but we've just launched a beta for a DSP TV product.

So are you focused on increasing that investment, and moving the learnings throughout Initiative?

That, and using the investment to improve in other areas. The industry frankly isn't as strong as it should be. How do we as an organization start delivering on paid/earned/owned – not just talk about it, but start reallocating resources and investment so we can deliver on all those things really well. That's what clients are paying us to do.

What do you think of the idea of agency as tech sourcing partner?

Aspects of it speak to me. Using the agency as a technology filtering partner is a big thing. There's more [clients] we work with that have taken an active role in doing that and executing through us. There are others that are asking us to be a third party filtration, saying this is our recommendation. You can move forward with our recommendation, and if not, here are other things you can consider. I don't think agencies are ultimately going to be the source of all proprietary technology. We can't move as fast as a startup.

There are lots of things, even within Cadreon, that we built from scratch because the marketplace wasn't there. Really the only opportunity was to build it, use our own product engineering team. There are lots of things we look at and say, there's really no reason for us to be here. There are five solutions that are already further evolved than we are. Why build it? Go integrate, license, build an API, write against an SDK, whatever it may be, and get on with it.

Follow Nick Pahade (@npahade) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter

By Zach Rodgers

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