Unanimis Growing Premium Sales And Performance Offerings Says CEO Reeve

unanimisDamon Reeve is CEO of Unanimis, a UK-based digital advertising network and wholly-owned by Orange France Telecom Group.

AdExchanger.com: Please provide a bit of background on Unanimis.

DR: For the first few years, 2001 to around 2005, Unanimis was primarily a site representation business. We worked with premium,  well‑branded sites – ebay, lastminute.com, londonstockexchange.com, Ticketmaster – which are a bit larger than most, required more servicing but yielded good results, particularly at the premium end of the advertising market.

Around the 2004‑2005 mark, the UK started to get more of the US ad networks moving across in a bigger way. A lot of publishers had a lot of spare inventory they needed to monetize, which began to put pressure on the site rep model. Ad networks were starting to break into the market selling blind channels, transparent channels, then starting to move into the performance, CPA end of the market. We got it into the ad network business around that time.

We did an average job of network sales for a good year and a half. Because our business model had been very much premium – partnership, sponsorship integrated deals –  we weren’t about performance in the same way that some of the ad networks were.

We eventually recruited a team out of AdLink about a year and a half in. They introduced a new process and a new attitude to running that part of the business and it started to take off from there.

In 2003 we were looking for a tech platform to grow with the business as no adservers at that time were doing a good job of servicing the publisher adserver and ad network market. We invested in an open source project phpAdsNew2 and built a business from that which became awarez, then m3, then OpenAds. It got to a stage, however, around 2006 where the investment needed to continue growing the product was just beyond our capabilities. At the heart we’re a media business not a tech business. So we spun that out and sold it off to Index Ventures.

Now called OpenX, with management under Tim Cadogan in LA the business is really taking off. As France Telecom we are a primary enterprise customer in Europe, have a small stake and I still sit on the board.

Can you discuss how the Unanimis business is structured today?

We sold Unanimis to France Telecom in August of last year. So at that point Unanimis became the UK part of the Orange Advertising network, a top 5 advertising sales business that spans across Europe and Latin America.

At a high level, within Orange Advertising in the U.K., we have the OrangeAdMarket and we have Unanimis. The Orange Ad Market is the platform trading part of the business. Unanimis is the network and premium representation part of the business.

Under the hood, Unanimis falls into two parts: 1) premium sales – which is site representation partnerships and integrated sponsorship deals – and 2) network and/or performance offers, which probably has a very similar shape to most other ad networks in terms of the main products we offer.

After joining with Orange, the Unanimis business continues to operate exactly as it did before, however we have now introduced all of the Orange web and mobile properties to the products that we sell.

Do either one of those businesses use data, third party data perhaps to target users?

We use a lot of data that is created from publishers we work with exclusively for targeting to building audience profiles. But that’s very much within our walled garden. We don’t currently buy in any third party data.

There’s no doubt the data market will grow, but it’s a little ways off.  People are struggling to place a fair value on data and publishers are pretty anxious about eroding value in the long. Currently, they can’t control the expiry of the data and relying on trust and best practice seems like an unlikely solution.

Once there’s a framework around what value to place on that data and a bit of a workflow around how to organize the trading of data separate to inventory then this part of the market will grow.

What’s unique about the U.K. and European ad markets compared to the U.S.?

In Europe, advertising is a relationship business. In the US it’s much more around a system, a process, and less around personal relationships or individual relationships. One of the challenges a lot of US companies that are active in our sector have had in coming to Europe is to appreciate that difference.

The shift underway at the moment toward trading platforms will challenge this in some ways. I suspect that while the platforms will allow much of the workflow to be automated, the relationship side of doing business will remain unchanged.

How do you plan to grow the ad network business?

There’s a two speed plan to growth. Most growth will be found in the short term through performance offers. Out network business is strong today and with the introduction of trading desks and DSP’s the scale of business can increase significantly and efficiently. So a focus on this today makes the most sense.

But an important investment for the future is in premium offers – creative solutions, branding opportunities, mobile and cross-platform opportunities. In the coming years we expect a bit of re-balancing back from performance and growth in premium will outstrip performance.

Can you quantify for us current momentum in your premium business and your ad network business in Orange Ad Market?

On the ad network side – Unanmis – we’re probably performing a little bit ahead of market growth. The IAB said recently that online display is growing about six‑and‑a‑half percent year‑on‑year and we’re ahead of that. Our performance network business is doing well and well positioned across most vertical sectors. On the premium side we’ve been investing heavily in our mobile and cross platform ad products, which we expect to have significant growth over the coming years and outperforming the performance network business.

The Orange Ad Market has a different growth profile as it’s so new for us. Up until the introduction of the Orange ad market, the volume of supply under management was fairly in line with revenues. So as the business grows bit by bit, the supply and demand are fairly in line as an ad network.

When you introduce an exchange, the metrics change completely. We’re anticipating 10x growth on the supply side for the next few quarters, because that supply will be monetized by other people – trading desks and DSP’s – rather than our own sales force

I’m playing a caretaker role in the short term just to see that the Orange Ad Market develops. Leveraging relationships we have in the market to foster the demand and supply sides is key to gaining liquidity in the early phase, In particular with the larger advertisers and websites. At a certain point, which I’d probably say would be the end of this year, we’ll move governance out  from within Unanimisso that it can be managed and run independently.

Finally, The Google question – do you worry about Google taking away your business?

I think that everyone in our market should be concerned about their strategy. There’s no doubt about that. We’re anxious about their investment in Invite Media, because it confuses their position in the market. It’s early, so no one’s 100 percent sure how the market is going to evolve or develop, but what I want to see is that the market does evolve and develop, and it’s not finished off before it’s even started.

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