He who has the gold makes the rules. But the in-house trend doesn’t just apply to brands – agencies are starting to buy up ad-tech vendors, as evidenced by Publicis Groupe’s acquisition Tuesday of mobile programmatic vendor RUN.
Publicis has been dipping into the ad tech waters for a while. The holding company bought up 20% of Israeli performance media player Matomy Media Group earlier this month, and its tech and media unit VivaKi has been doing a bit of investing through its VC arm, VivaKi Ventures. But the RUN purchase represents Publicis Groupe’s first real ad-tech present to itself.
Considering what the competition is up to, it’s a necessary move. WPP just poured $25 million into a data-management platform (DMP) for its trading desk, Xaxis. And Omnicom’s tech arm Annalect is trying to turn itself into a platform.
RUN, at least for the moment, will retain its name, management and operational structure. The technology will operate as a standalone unit within Publicis as part of its media planning and buying arm, Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG), rather than as part of VivaKi.
“RUN is an owned asset of our group, but we want them to have a robust business, not just with us, but within the general marketplace,” said Lisa Weinstein, SMG’s president of global digital, data and analytics. “While we expect to see their business to continue to grow, their technology also aligns to where we are and will help us get to where we want to be – people-based targeting.”
However, that doesn’t mean current Publicis Groupe clients need to be wary about being obligated to use RUN’s technology, said RUN CEO Seth Hittman.
“We’re going to continue to build our business and our product suite so that the brands that work with Publicis feel more confident about the future,” Hittman told AdExchanger. “But there is no mandate. That’s not the spirit here.”
Weinstein spoke with AdExchanger following the RUN acquisition announcement.
LISA WEINSTEIN: We have to plan and build today for how we see the market moving in terms of the data-driven world we live in, where inventory is being exchanged programmatically. We know where we need to be positioned, and that’s a place where we can organize data around people and be able to execute a people-based strategy that considers how consumers behave across devices so we can send them the most meaningful, relevant content possible.
It was clear to us that RUN could bring this to the table within SMG and within Publicis Groupe.
Can you walk me through the vetting process?
Sometimes the stars align in terms of culture, people, philosophy and culture. The way RUN had built its business over the years was very aligned strategically to the story we’ve been talking to our clients about around the future.
Naturally, we meet many different companies and businesses like RUN in the course of doing our own business. When we first encountered RUN earlier this year, about eight or 10 months ago, they rose to the top for us in terms of the technology they’ve built and in terms of the way they manage and activate data in real time across screens from a mobile-first perspective.
What other companies did you consider?
I can say that we have been purposeful around building for the future.
When you think about the ecosystem today, there are lots of different businesses out there, from data management to data activation, and some of them focus on just one slice of the pie, while others have a more end-to-end approach like RUN does. We looked at a number of businesses that have a very specific use case, but RUN hit the sweet spot of having both a DMP and a DSP [demand-side platform] and solving for mobile data in a deterministic way. Lots of the aspects we were looking for, RUN had.
The ad tech space can change pretty quickly.
You can meet with a company today and then again six months from now and they’ll have completely pivoted. There’s constant iteration, and those companies tell a lot of different stories. But RUN isn’t just telling a story. They actually have the technology to deliver on what they say they can do.
RUN may not be a household name, but when it came down to our vetting process and what they could actually execute, we found that they’d built one of the most complete technology solutions that’s really well aligned with where we see the market moving.
Does ad-tech ownership represent a strategic shift for Publicis and SMG?
Yes – in a sense. The currency in our business is not necessarily dollars, it’s data and technology. If you think about the marketplace today, technology has started to equalize the historical benefits of scale. We believe that scale itself can be a tool to create new kinds of markets – but we can only get it by partnering with a technology provider like RUN. We saw an opportunity to get in front of that future faster by having that in-house rather than partnering externally.
Speaking of scale, how scalable is RUN’s tech?
It’s been validated based on the level of what they’ve on-boarded. They have 800 million unique customer profiles that they’ve built, as well as the scale of the telco carrier data they manage [in partnership with Verizon]. We feel like the platform is very much proven from that standpoint.
Will RUN’s existing relationship with Verizon have any particular synergies for Publicis clients?
Verizon [Wireless] is a Publicis Groupe client through Moxie, its agency, but Verizon doesn’t work with SMG.
In regard to RUN and Verizon, we’re talking about [Precision Market Insights], a specific aspect of Verizon’s business that manages marketing data and is very different from Verizon itself. While there’s certainly a potential synergy there, I wouldn’t say that the relationship would benefit our clients inside or outside Publicis Groupe in a way that they couldn’t derive from working directly with RUN.
Will RUN now be the preferred DMP and DSP across Publicis?
Many marketers, our clients included, are really starting to recognize the power of their own first-party data, and many of them are either looking into DMPs or looking for help in making a decision about one. In many cases, we’re a part of that decision-making process.
Obviously, we acquired RUN for a reason. We believe that they’re ahead of the market. We thoroughly vetted the business, their ability to on-board and aggregate data, and their ability to build precision targeting to reach people across devices in a way that we feel is unique in the marketplace.
We think RUN will win and prove that its technology is accessible, scalable and solves for people-based targeting. RUN will make us smarter and give us the ability to organize our data in a unique way and thereby create more value for our clients and customers. That said, there will be no expectation that a client has to use RUN. Absolutely not.