Mullen’s Corcoran: Data And Creativity Are Not Mutually Exclusive

SeanCSean Corcoran, SVP and director of digital media and social influence at Boston-based digital agency Mediahub/Mullen, says that while the company is “a little bit more of…a ‘right-brain’ agency” because of its creative focus, data and analytics can still drive that innovation.

Mediahub/Mullen serves clients like VH1, JetBlue and Adidas, and Corcoran spoke with AdExchanger about where his digital shop sees value in data partnerships, and the “platform-based” method to media buying.

AdExchanger: Where do you see the most performance opportunity for programmatic media buying?

SEAN CORCORAN: It’s going beyond your typical desktop or digital device, and that’s maybe because I like looking down the road a bit. Things like the guys at Vistar Media that go to out-of-home, and the guys at Triton doing some of the radio stuff. For me, it’s some of the stuff that’s happening in the TV world, whether it’s Videology and TubeMogul. For me, DRTV is kind of the next obvious place for programmatic to be involved in considering there’s data and a certain set of dynamic inventory to be worked off of. To me, that’s where I’m looking and working with IPG’s MAGNA [Global] because we’re connected to them through our holding company. That’s a lot of what they’ve been predicting, that half of all media will go to programmatic in the next five years.

How does building automation into your digital agency impact workflows?

We don’t have a trading desk here, and we will work with a Cadreon [IPG’s trading desk] or a partner in that sense at times. But [the future for us is] probably leapfrogging that entire step. What we’ve been focusing on here is getting people on our search team [and analytics team] more into using self-service platforms.

That’s really the future of planning and buying – managing those platforms. It’s looking at, “Who are the left-brain people who can be innovative with those platforms?” It’s what you do with the data, not the data you have. In that way, we can compete with the big boys and having those partnerships with OwnerIQ [allow you to look for] creative ways to do work, rather than just adding a bunch of data on top of things. I see people get excited because they can have 400 sets of data on top of something, but for me, it’s about having a hypothesis and thinking it out in a creative way that will meet a business goal.

So, would you say you’re taking more of a platform-based approach vs. a network/services-based path?

It’s a matter of how I piece my tools together and I think that’s the challenge you encounter when you move away from a service-based model and do your own. If I want to try a different platform because one doesn’t work or I need a different one for a different client, it’s not that easy to just move from one platform to another because there’s training, and you need your licensing, and you’re going into a different kind of model, but we’ve tried to do some kind of hybrid there – finding a way to say, “These are the four or five people we work with,” and then leaving the door open to others, as well.

Can you talk about some of your data partnerships?

One of the things we’ve struggled with in the programmatic space is everyone’s offering really similar stuff. I think a lot of people run into this. Yes, maybe we’ll have a primary DSP partner. We don’t have a trading desk, but we may have a primary DSP preference since we do a lot of work with Turn, and that’s been a very valuable resource. We may do some stuff with some mobile partners and some social partners – we work with SocialCode, for instance, and use their platform. [You] sometimes hit a point in time where you run into a point of diminishing returns, [and you have to look at] so what’s your next option?

Mediahub/Mullen recently broadened a data partnership with path-to-purchase media company OwnerIQ after a two-year relationship with the DSP and DMP provider. What does this entail?

We were looking for somebody to bring something a little bit different to the table in terms of the set of data that would add to what we were doing. That’s where OwnerIQ came in, where they said, “We have these partnerships with all these retailers, manufacturers and those types of things. We can get you on a new set of data that no one else really had.”

Overall, OwnerIQ for at least a few clients has been one of our best performing partners. You do a lot of retargeting, lookalikes and bringing in as much behavioral data as possible to really try and expand out the people who are the lowest hanging fruit and next hanging fruit above that. They’ve been evolving, and without saying anything specific, that’s where the ability to bring a smarter set of data to the table and capitalizing in a way that other people aren’t capitalizing has been really valuable in that sense. The fact that they’ve been able to evolve with us [is] where Ranger 3.0 [an updated version of the predictive path-to-purchase algorithm behind OwnerIQ’s DSP, OPTMS] comes into play.

We’ve definitely increased spend and we have some clients from travel, retail and consumer electronics [we’re using it for]. We treat them like everybody else where we give them some time to perform and if they don’t perform, they get optimized out, but these guys have done a nice job of differentiating.

One of your focuses at Mediahub/Mullen is “earned, owned and paid” media convergence. Is this a client reality?

Yes and no. On the one hand, agencies’ work doesn’t change until clients’ organization and structure changes, because agencies really align with the client role. The digital guy has a digital agency and the media guy has a media agency. It’s funny you said this – I think it’s just the last couple of months where clients have said, “We want more of that.” We see [earned, owned and paid] coming together more closely. I think that as Facebook has become more of an embedded thing and more of a pay-to-play environment, I think that’s part of the reason why it’s happened. I think it’s also just the next evolution of social media, where everybody’s a publisher so to speak and everybody’s real-time, but then, it’s like, “What’s next?” and you start to figure out where it fits into your larger media plan.

With Facebook’s launch of Trending Topics, and Twitter’s release of CRM audience matching and ID targeting, what does this indicate to you about the future of social influence?

Where Twitter has been the strongest is going into the TV world. Adam Bain and those guys have been really smart about recognizing that Twitter has become the interactive channel for TV. That, for me, is still to this day probably the biggest strength of that platform. That, and being kind of the main driver of public social conversation, it’s the water cooler and they’ve done a good job of activating that and working with the TV world, and doing [Nielsen] Twitter TV ratings and things like that. I think that’s really where their strongest suit is. Not to say the other things – I know they’re getting more programmatic – aren’t, but I think that’s probably been the best thing to differentiate themselves from Facebook in the social space.


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