How WPP's Acceleration Brings Consulting to Digital Ad Tech

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Earlier this month WPP bought a majority stake in Acceleration, a 13-year-old consulting and services firm that helps marketers and publishers implement digital ad technology. (press release) The company employs 148 marketing technologists in London, New York, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Dubai, and Johannesburg.

AdExchanger spoke with Cameron Hulett, who leads Acceleration's consulting and sales efforts. 

As large advertisers & publishers get smarter about digital marketing technology, how does that change what you're called on to provide? 

Only a few years ago we were helping companies get the basics in place, typically around ad-serving, analytics and email. But the complexity of the technology stack has increased dramatically over that time, making it exceptionally difficult for any publisher or advertiser to keep abreast on their own. They simply can't afford to hire the numerous specialist skills required to navigate such uncharted waters.

So now specialists like us are being called on to redesign their overall technology architectures, implement and integrate those technologies and finally run them on a daily basis if resources are constrained.

As we get closer to integration of the ad tech stack, what's the consulting opportunity look like and how does it change?

Over the past years, companies have bolted together a plethora of point technology solutions in an attempt to keep up with the market. The problem is that these systems don't work seamlessly together nor are the organizations designed to use them optimally. We solve that problem. For example we will advise on which components to use and then implement/integrate them (for example, an order management tool, multiple ad servers, exchanges, a DMP and an email platform) so that a company has a single view of their customer and can leverage that data through all touch-points.

Very few clients are truly ready to adopt a complete marketing suite across their enterprise, either due to legacy systems, lack of process or other constraints. That is why we advocate a roadmap be built out upfront to guide rapid deployment. This isn't the old school consulting everyone has a negative perception of - it is fast practical solutions delivered by specialist resources.

A lot of companies are trying to solve the data integration problem — everyone has a DSP. As you look at the landscape where do you see the most value being generated for the advertiser? 

Every advertiser is different and I feel that there is no "one size fits all" to this. We've got clients that want to own their own data (typically large companies) and clients that are happy to give their data away simply to be part of a bigger buying consortium. Properly leveraging data is far more difficult than the vendors make it out to be and many advertisers simply don't have the data analysis skills to garner value themselves. Hence I see the most value right now coming from fairly simple data strategies that use scale through such programs as audience extension, private exchanges and retargeting. Without scale, good strategy and design will more than likely trump data.

As a long-time partner to DoubleClick, what are your observations about the evolution of its platform? What does the Google/DoubleClick ad stack signify in the market, relative to other companies (IBM, Adobe, Microsoft, Oracle, etc.) that are advancing their own visions? 

Google’s DoubleClick is clearly setting the pace and has the scale and engineering prowess to keep up their lead. They’re strongest in the campaign, advertising and exchange environment due to their share of inventory and the liquidity of Ad Sense as examples. Adobe and IBM, in building their own marketing technology suites and assets, are approaching the market a little differently and I think each will carve out their own marketplace. There’s more than enough food on the table.

Do consultants and agencies increasingly compete to be the technology 'sourcing partner' for marketers?  

I don't see this happening. I see agencies extending their current remit to online and offering an integrated marketing package, but where consultants are positioned to help with more specific internal strategies and technologies. These are two separate but symbiotic things and remember, we aren't talking about the "old school" consulting of the past, which could well compete.

That said, I feel there is a healthy tension between consultants and agencies, where consultants pull back the curtain and expose marketers to what agencies are doing, from attribution, to trading desks to data collection. In reverse, agencies force consultants to take a broader view on marketing channels rather than focus purely on the technology.

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