Essence Exec: I Want My Agency To Be Maniacally Focused On First-Party Data

BrianThere’s a bright future for agencies in being effective purveyors of first-party data, said Brian Krick, the newest head of North American search and biddable for digital agency Essence. But, he said, they have to be willing to have tough conversations and break down barriers.

Weaning channel-specific marketers off artificially inflated CPAs that don’t reflect true incremental revenue is a challenge for the CMO or agency VP, Krick said. It’s much more difficult to accomplish midlevel in an organization where decisions are made.

“I am very focused on building a team of biddable experts that have disruptive views on incrementality, the data chops to prove it and savvy to manage the organizational challenges that come along with undeniable truths about incrementality (or lack thereof),” he said. Essence, which has offices in London, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Singapore, counts Expedia and eBay as clients.

Krick spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: What led you to Essence?

BRIAN KRICK: I come from a pretty long run at Razorfish in a couple of different capacities, but as soon as I met with some of the folks at Essence, I was immediately drawn to the data-driven nature of everything they do from the top down. It seems like they were quite far down the road of integrating different channels of programmatic buying or even what we’ll just call auction-based buying. Given my experience, I saw very few people who used the word “biddable,” frankly, and took the view of the market that the skillset was the way to organize the genes.

We’ve literally got the same people responsible for ad exchanges that are responsible for search-engine marketing. Obviously, there are some sweet spots and some expertise where people have more than others, but we’re taking a skillset-based approach to organizing teams and really, my job is to come in and operationalize and help scale that. So it’s already been working quite well, but we’re experiencing growth and we expect to experience more growth in the coming year.

Where are you experiencing the most growth in search advertising?

In our search business, I think what’s most interesting about that at a high level is the extension of search outside of the common places for search. What I’m really keenly interested in, and I’m not sure if anyone’s cracked this yet, but if you talk to my team and you look at the three sort of “things” we’re after, I’m keen to understand how we can extend the success of search beyond the desktop and even traditional search engine experiences.

In a world where all content is being delivered on demand, I want to see us extending search strategies on things like cable set-top boxes and performing that same behavior in all of these different channels. I don’t think anyone has really successfully aggregated all of that demand or inventory yet, so we’re really keen to understand how we can scale the things that are working really well for us in search and apply that to branding channels where there actually is a search experience but where your traditional search publishers aren’t necessarily paying as much attention to.

Anyone who thinks they are going to lead the market in search certainly needs to have best practices operationalized and automated as much as possible but, for the first time, I’m seeing that market really in some cases be over-commoditized to the point where the human factor in search marketing is completely lost and I think you see a lot of that in retail and I think there are still companies who do that well and who still take the opportunity to craft intelligent customer journeys and then there are some people who are just carpet-bombing the search landscape. So what I’ve really been working with our search team on is how we use little things [to augment that human approach].

Where are you seeing the most traction on the auction-based media side of the business?

We think there will be significant advances in auction-based mobile. It looks like auction-based media a couple of years ago, and we think there’s probably a lot of value there. This gets into another area — when you look at Facebook, obviously they’ve done a tremendous job growing their mobile footprint and, as a result, their mobile inventory. And, they’ve done that via logged-on users that, in the past year, has really set, “Who’s going to be successful in mobile?” because once someone logs on, it gives you all of that great data across multiple screens. There’s a bridging of devices, targeting capabilities and attribution handling. What we’re really interested in is creative publishers, companies or even technologies that will enable us to do that across multiple partners and that is going to have to be a little bit less about logged-in users because you’re not going to be able to get Facebook, Google and the rest to bridge their information about what their logged-on users are doing. You need some other solution to tie that all together.

With RTB gaining steam as a market whole, are emerging markets a growth cluster for your agency?

Yeah, I think they are. Obviously, there are a couple of things that impact that. First and foremost, the markets look really different, particularly when you go to Europe. And the privacy restrictions are fairly different so certain things that are considered table stakes in the US market don’t scale in Europe, so it all looks a lot different. But we’re certainly seeing growth in EMEA. The numbers available to us are a little less in EMEA, but it doesn’t mean we can’t play in programmatic there. In APAC — programmatic is very new. The inventory is a little more limited, but we don’t expect that to last much longer. Geographically speaking, we’re seeing where our clients are talking about the most, which is probably APAC expansion, but actual dollar commitments there have been fairly sluggish. I think the conversations are heating up right now, though. I think we’re still a year-plus out from seeing [executed] growth there. The other place we talk about where doing business is a little trickier is South America, particularly Brazil. RTB is extremely limited in South America. We certainly haven’t spent a lot of time yet, there, but we do have clients pushing us into Brazil and other South American markets. I think we anticipate the biggest growth to continue coming from the US, complemented by APAC and Europe.

What are some of your key strategies onward for your search and biddable teams?

There are really three things. If you bubble it up to the top, what I want everyone to be really good at and focus on, is a manic focus on first-party data. I just don’t think that anyone thinks about or focuses on that enough and so I want planners, because they’re thinking about segmentation during the planning and buying process, I want them to sit down with the ad operations folks at the very onset of the campaign. When they’re doing a media plan, I want them to think about the segments that they want to reach and can’t, and let’s make sure we structure our first-party data in a way that enables us to talk to them. Planners and buyers are aware of first-party data, but I don’t think it’s been enough of their responsibility as it should be. So I think media planners and buyers taking ownership of the acquiring and management of first-party data. I think, secondarily, it’s about cross-platform functionality and training.

This sounds a little silly, but anyone who has worked at an agency knows, as soon as budgets get broken down into siloes and go across different operating units, there’s a little bit of internal competition for that budget. I just don’t want clients to be subject to any internal competition or politics. I think that by having an integrated team that helps everyone focus purely on the client goal and stops them from having to think about the personal silo from within the agency. Luckily, I think we’re pretty far down that road already and I think it’s just about bringing a couple of new things in while maintaining domain expertise in a couple of different areas.

Are more clients eager to dissect their own first-party data?

It’s shocking talking to different clients in the marketplace. It’s a big thought for some clients and they’re laser-focused on it and for other clients, it’s totally off their radar and they’re not even thinking about how they let other people piggyback on their first-party data and then sell it back to them. You wind up paying this gigantic premium on first-party data that you created. And, the first way to do that is making sure, even at the most junior level of the organization, people really understand the importance and value of that data.

I think that’s one of the hardest decisions facing agencies in the future: Where do we want to differentiate and what part do we actually want to own vs. partner on? It’s something that really makes me think about everyday, “Where is the opportunity to differentiate and own vs. partner?”

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