Reviewing Mediabrands Audience Platform's Global Roll-Out With Arun Kumar

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arun-kumarAs audience buying in digital hurtles forward, the major ad agency holding companies have produced different “flavors” of their agency trading desk (ATD) strategies.

For Interpublic Group (IPG), its Mediabrands Audience Platform (MAP) unit spearheads ATD strategy and begins by defining markets according to geographic clusters.

North America is one cluster and matched by MAP G14 comprising the biggest 14 markets outside the U.S. Finally, “World Market” rounds it out with 57 other countries in the ATD mix.

MAP G14 CEO Arun Kumar tells AdExchanger that, in fact, his unit is “quite comparable” to MAP’s North American sibling in terms of total media spend.

Beyond geographies, the company has four practices which it brings to market: Reprise (search), Cadreon (audience targeting, display), Spring Creek (social) and Ansible (mobile).  Like many companies in the digital ad ecosystem, growing pains have been a part of the process.  For MAP that has included a restructuring and layoffs at its Spring Creek unit last September.

Nevertheless, CEO Kumar says his MAP G14 group has momentum, which he discussed with AdExchanger in a recent interview.

AdExchanger: How was 2012 was for MAP in the G14 region?

ARUN KUMAR: In 2012, we had the objective of launching across eight priority markets. And that's because it was clear that we would not be able to spread out across all [14] countries in one year - we will stagger the roll-out across a number of years.

The focus markets for 2012 were Australia, China, India, and Japan in Asia‑Pacific. Then in Europe, we [focused on] Western Europe, which is UK, France, Germany, and Netherlands.

Previously, we had different presences in these markets. We had Reprise, which was our search operation. But, we had no Cadreon operating outside North America except Australia. And we had many opportunities around the globe, because the markets were developing - demand-side platforms (DSPs) and exchanges launching in all these markets, plus clients were starting to ask us, especially our global clients, about our product rollout plans.

So, we've launched MAP units in the eight priority markets with Reprise and Cadreon. We've even managed to scale social in most of these markets. Mobile is the one that we expect 2013 will see more growth - especially with new mobile exchanges coming online instead of these [mobile ad] markets.

Broadly, what’s the pitch that you make to clients for MAP’s products and services in the G14 area?

There isn't much of a differentiation from the way it's presented in the US. They're risk adverse in Europe and even in the large markets of Asia. What [the client-side] has found is that because of specialization, multiple agencies handle different parts of a client’s business.

Consequently, there is very little knowledge sharing that takes place between these agencies. Also, if you look at certain markets in Europe, a lot of that is driven by performance or by performance marketing. France and the Netherlands, for instance, have been very heavy in performance marketing for some time.

We've gone in and said that, "Look, we've got four specialist practices and we put them under one roof. The objective is very simple. You tell us what you want to achieve in terms of your marketing objective or your business case. We will tell you what we think is the best way for you to hit that goal."

Where clients buy the proposition is the way we've structured the organization. Because we have one set of client business partners, who are then supported by experts across these four different specialist lines, then we build an analytics data team underneath those specialists' products.

Clients don't have to speak to 15 different people, look at 15 different proposals and try and make sense of it themselves. We do that for them. We optimize a set of goals across all these different products.

In very simple terms, we simplify the client’s life and make sure they hit their targets.

Looking ahead for 2013, what are some priorities for G14? Any milestones you’re aiming at?

We are a very competitive bunch [in G14], so we want to get to as close as possible to North America as we can. We always look at North America and say, "How can we make our operation as efficient, as smooth and as big as they are?"

If you were to ask me my ambition for this year, it's to take the units that we launched last year, scale them up and move them beyond media plans, so that we don't just go with media plan clients. We would like to go and get more new clients on our own.

We already have a healthy portfolio in these markets, but we want to grow it. The ultimate test for us is how competitive are we with North America.

What is the biggest challenge to scaling?

Talent. You can always find three or four people, but you have to manage quality with more people. Processes and quality, it's not sexy. But, if your teams screw up on the processes, then you can go downhill pretty quickly. The biggest challenge is recruiting talent. So far, we've been successful in recruiting talent from the outside agency world. We've been recruiting people from the technology world. We've been recruiting key people from places like Yahoo! and eBay, and so on. We need to keep that up and we need to recruit from industries which are not related directly to advertising.

What are your thoughts right now on the momentum for programmatic media in your region? What do you expect over the next one to three years?

Different regions and markets are experiencing programmatic media momentum in different stages. There are certain markets like Germany where, because of the market structure, programmatic has still not taken off, even after being around there for a couple of years. I expect there to be slower growth there than other markets. France has taken off pretty rapidly. In the UK, in the next one to three years, you're going to see massive shifts of dollars going into programmatic.

You're going to see more new channels come into programmatic, too. You're going to start seeing digital out-of-home. There's even talk about how we can get cable TV or even some of the larger TV channels to partner in an exchange. The same talk is going on in France.

In markets like Netherlands where you've got strict data and privacy laws, it's going to be a little bit slower to scale.

In Asia, you are facing two challenges. One is, you've got the absolute share of digital in the total media buy that is small. You've got to scale that up. Then, obviously, the percentage that flows into programmatic is a function of that.

But, if you look at Japan, Japan has taken up programmatic in a terrific way. China is getting there, but there are too many players in the market who are claiming to be DSPs, who are not. That's actually spoiling the market a little bit.

India is a sleeping giant on all things programmatic. India has the potential, but it doesn't have the dollars.

Australia was the one market where, three or four years ago, people were saying it would never embrace programmatic because of the way the publishers were structured. It's just proved how wrong everyone was, and it has galloped ahead.  Australia will continue to move in that direction.

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