'Early' Trading Desk Accordant Media Says Market Has Finally Caught Up

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accordant mediaWhen Accordant Media was founded in 2010, co-founders Art Muldoon and Matt Greitzer admit that they thought programmatic media was complex. Two years later, the two executives say there’s even more complexity – but, there’s more opportunity, too.

Positioning as an independent trading desk offering service and technology layers for marketers and their agencies, Greitzer says of the early days, "We were ahead of the market in people's understanding of the potential for programmatic buying and that has finally caught up with us." Muldoon adds, "We didn’t think we would be talking about programmatic buying in radio or digital-out-of-home or even email for that matter. We are doing all of that today.”

AdExchanger spoke to Muldoon and Greitzer recently about their business and industry trends.

AdExchanger: How are you labeling Accordant Media for your customer?  Agency, Demand-Side Platform (DSP), Trading Desk…?

MATT GREITZER:  We go to market as an independent trading desk - we think it means something today. Sometimes we refer to ourselves as a targeted media buying specialist or programmatic media buying specialist. That resonates as well. Some of our customers think of us more like a DSP, and we definitely have capabilities that are similar. Some of our direct customers look at us as a type of specialist agency, but we think of ourselves as a trading desk.

How does Accordant Media fit in with agency trading desks?

MATT GREITZER: There are a couple of different ways. As you know, holding companies have created a trading desk unit that's a standalone from all of their agencies, but there's another type of agency trading desk that's being created and branded within the media agencies. It's more attached to their agency and Accordant Media goes to market as a company that's capable of supporting media agencies’ trading desks and helping them open up a new specialty.

ART MULDOON: For the large holding companies who have their owned-and-operated trading desks, where we’ve found a way to add value to their clients, is through our differentiated technology - particularly around algorithmic optimization.

We also have real-time bidding (RTB) buying technology and we build custom algorithms and data models for marketers. We do some work with the holding companies as more of an algorithm specialist.  For the rest of the market, we power trading desks.

Where's the big opportunity going forward?

ART MULDOON: Anybody can go out and license a DSP.  It's quite another thing to be able to offer our customizable RTB solutions for individual clients. There aren't very many companies in our space that do that well.  For us, that is the opportunity.

And, we will service both agencies and marketers. We find a lot of people we work with on the marketer side are in-house marketers. They don't traditionally work with agencies and have in-house data capabilities. Since this is such a specialized field, they need a partner to help them activate it.

MATT GREITZER: We're not trying to disintermediate. A lot of our customers are agencies and they have a whole level of service and expertise that we just frankly don't even touch because we're not staffed to do it.

Has the Search Engine Marketing (SEM) world proven to be a rich client target for a company like yours?

MATT GREITZER: I would say it hasn't accelerated as much as we thought it would. We work with several SEMs very closely; people who we think are pretty savvy with space. They know search very well and they use us as an extension into display. It still seems to me like a lot of the search community is Google Display Network (GDN) focused. Google is “display” for them. SEMs are figuring out display on the retargeting side, too.

For some companies that are selling programmatic media today - whoever they are - what’s the transparency that they aren't supplying to their clients and, from your perspective, could be opened up?

ART MULDOON: Matt and I launched Accordant out of our experience as digital agency leaders, and in that environment, we had a lot of frustration with the media buying that we used to do. An ad network might be productive, but we may not know what’s underlying that buying -where the ads are delivered, how it worked, how we can plan month over month for the campaign to succeed. So transparency is one of our core tenants and, in part, is a reaction to what we used to see.

What are the elements of transparency for Accordant?

MATT GREITZER: It could be a site list, for example. Another is pricing transparency – a lot of people in our space are not pricing transparently and that's fine, but we think if we were a buyer, we would want price transparency.  We would need to know how much the media [costs the vendor].

We're also transparent about our optimization process.  If people want to see how our team is optimizing and the information that's going into our algorithm and the outputs from that algorithm, we will share that. We're the opposite of black box. A lot of people that we see in the space are very opaque about how their optimization works.

How big is Accordant's business today?

ART MULDOON: We're working with over 60 advertisers this month. We've seen over 100% annual revenue growth year-over-year for three years now – and, the company is profitable. That's fueled a lot of excitement for our team and the marketplace.

Where are you focusing your development efforts today?

MATT GREITZER: We have four areas that we focus on in development.

One is efficiency tools for campaign setup, campaign monitoring – we want to make it easier, faster and efficient.  Second for us is data - we have an internal data management platform that allows us to ingest data of all kinds and then model it.

Third for us is RTB technology - we have a bidder hosted in the cloud and a customizable module in which we can swap in different algorithms for different clients. We think this is unique.

The last thing for us is mobile, and we'll have some announcements coming out soon about what we're doing.

What’s going with creative and the programmatic trading desk these days?

ART MULDOON: I’d argue creative is more important than it's ever been.

In a programmatic environment, you certainly get to see the creative better, if you will. It's always been a critical component to an advertising strategy, but in programmatic media, the excitement around testing creative templates gives creative teams quick ideas and concepts on how to execute and optimize. It brings the creative into the discussion.

MATT GREITZER:   In general, though, the creative development process still hasn't caught up with the programmatic buying process.  Ten years ago people bought media the same way they bought media a hundred years ago. Creative today is still developed along thoses same processes. It's not easily translated into programmatic because there's an actual creative process and it's hard to “program” that.

Where we have seen success is in things like dynamic creative where we can tailor different messages according to what we already know about the user.  Yet, creative remains one of the knocks on the programmatic buying community. We haven’t done a great job at getting the creative community as excited about the opportunities here as they probably should be.

Does it make sense for a trading desk to have creative capabilities in-house? 

MATT GREITZER:  It could because our clients do ask us for guidance on creative and how it's best deployed in a programmatic environment.  Whether the creative is done by a trading desk or an affiliate, it’s important that they have an understanding of programmatic media.

Viewability is going to make an impact on creative, too, so trading desk companies probably will need to have a stronger point of view about creative.

What is Accordant Media doing about Facebook?

ART MULDOON:  We look at Facebook and the Facebook Exchange (FBX) as offering us new dimensions.  You get a lot of tonnage and a lot of reach with FBX at a cost effective level.  Of course, there's more to Facebook strategy and management and optimization than just in the FBX.  We've talked to clients about ways that enhance what they do on Facebook with other strategies and we work with other partners to support that.

MATT GREITZER: Right. Facebook programmatic buying is much broader than FBX. We're bullish on the potential there.  It's fairly early for us outside of FBX, but it's a key part of our plan for next year.

ART MULDOON:  Related to that social category, we're excited about developments from LinkedIn and Twitter which we expect will enhance the concept of programmatic buying.

Turning to mobile, is mobile RTB possible?

MATT GREITZER: Absolutely. We found that in order to do it well, we had to build a lot internally. Mobile RTB today is a lot more realistic than it was even nine months ago.

And so, is mobile retargeting possible given the issues around consumer privacy and the mobile cookie?

MATT GREITZER:  The “hangup” in mobile is that there's no scalable cookie targeting -people just have to get over that.  It isn't going to exist and that's okay.  In fact, you can do some exciting targeting on mobile that has nothing to do with cookies but that's very effective.

We've gotten over it, and once we did, it opened up a whole new world of opportunity that we've embraced.   There are ways you can do mobile retargeting and there are some people in the space who have specific technologies to do that.  Is retargeting the driver of success in mobile like it is in display?  I don't think so.  There are other things that are going to drive it, too, such as location based targeting and contextual targeting.

What are your plans around headcount?

MATT GREITZER:  We're 25 people all here in New York. We expect to be at 40 a year from now.

Do you need more funding to grow the company?

ART MULDOON:  We're cash-flow positive and thinking that the way we're growing is in a measured, deliberate way.  We don't have immediate plans for funding, but who knows. We'll be very opportunistic.  If there's an acquisition or a growth prospect that will require it, maybe we’ll go the funding route.

Follow Matt Greitzer (@mattgreitzer), Art Muldoon (@amuldoon), Accordant Media (@Accordant) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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