Agency And Ad Tech Expertise Create A New Breed Of Marketing Talent

talent blendA handful of ad tech employees who started out at agencies are now returning to senior-level agency roles. And they’re bringing a particularly valuable blend of skills with them.

According to Accuen CEO Megan Pagliuca, that initial agency experience is key.

“There’s a big con of hiring people from ad tech [without an agency background] because you have to retrain them to think about the consumer experience,” she said. “It’s a challenge for programmatic agencies to develop this new breed of marketer.”

People who started out at agencies, spent time in ad tech and are now back in agency roles are uniquely positioned to fill this need. They can back up the service and marketing experience in their DNA with technical savvy. For them, moving back to an agency is an opportunity to position a shop for the data-driven future.

Experience in ad tech helped Mike Racic, head of iCrossing’s cross-functional media team, understand data-driven marketing from a technology perspective. Racic left Universal McCann in 2013 to run the strategy and agency relations team at Rocket Fuel before returning to the agency world where, at iCrossing, his job is to help clients make better use of data in every campaign.

But his work at Rocket Fuel, where he gained hands-on experience with the tools that collect and manage data, has allowed Racic to better lead iCrossing’s insights-driven planning approach across all clients.

“It’s like taking my skills from the agency side and the skills that I learned at Rocket Fuel and fusing them together,” Racic said of his new role.

Maxus programmatic head Rob Marshall left Arena Media in 2013 to gain a deeper understanding of how programmatic works at Rocket Fuel, a company that was “right at the heart of it,” he said.

In ad tech, Marshall learned about programmatic technology from a usability standpoint. Now he can better plan agency strategies around the buying method. He works closely with Maxus’ planning and activation teams to “make sure that programmatic strategy is considered from the beginning rather than a tag-on at the end,” he said.

Seeing roles like his own crop up within agencies indicates a maturing industry.

“Agencies are promoting programmatic as more of a strategic feat,” he said, and they need talent who can leverage the technology behind it.

It’s not just tech understanding that’s important.

When Damian Blackden ventured into ad tech as CEO of Adnologies, after working at Omnicom’s Annalect, he “wanted to get close to technology and that was an opportunity to do it,” he said. He later co-founded Device[9], which was acquired by Flashtalking, and is now Maxus’ worldwide chief strategy officer.

Besides gaining sharper tech skills, Blackden also learned about ad tech business models – which is important given his current role as an agency CSO.

“[Ad tech is] very black and white. The tech is either working or it’s not,” he said. “On the agency side you’re talking about strategy that some people might support and [some] might not.”

Spending time in both worlds was one of several factors that led Blackden to co-launch Maxus Technology Consulting in February, which advises brands on how to leverage tools most effectively for their marketing efforts.

That agencies are hiring people with ad tech experience represents a shift in priorities.

“It’s a deliberate choice that you’re seeing a lot more agency executives make,” Racic said. “It’s about going back to an agency that’s positioning itself for the future and understanding that data will infuse insights, that will infuse plans, that will infuse ideas for your clients. That will be the difference between winning [and losing] business.”

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