PROG I/O: Publicis Groupe’s Reorg Sparks Revamped Programmatic Training Initiative

prog-io-publicisWhen Publicis Groupe shed its trading desk model, the holding company had to train employees across its media and digital agencies to execute programmatic campaigns.

The transition was led by Carol Sinko, VP of global learning strategy at Publicis Media, and Rick Ransome, associate director of global learning strategy. On Wednesday, they told attendees at AdExchanger’s Programmatic I/O conference in New York City how they transformed ad hoc learning materials into an effective platform for building programmatic expertise.

“As the industry evolves, how do we bring people up to speed with software platforms, partners and concepts?” Sinko said. “I focused on getting agencies up to speed on language.”

The resulting program was Publicis Groupe’s IQ Academy: an online programmatic certification course that builds a foundation of theory, principles and best practices.

“This is your starting point,” Sinko said. “The idea is to compress that initial learning curve.”

Sinko and Ransome, both former VivaKi employees, were relocated to Publicis Media during the organizational restructure earlier this year.

“Now we have a central talent structure,” Sinko said. “We’re finding leaders are saying, ‘This is a priority because of the way the business is shifting for clients.’”

They spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: What came first: the VivaKi disaggregation or the need for better programmatic education?

RICK RANSOME: Programmatic as part of VivaKi was a very siloed approach. Now we have a whole workforce that has to update their skill set to learn this new way of leveraging data and technology for more informed buys. For those that are presently doing it, there’s still understanding the newer ways of doing it and really connecting the intricacies.

How did you scale the programmatic education from within VivaKi out into the agencies?

CAROL SINKO: When all of the [programmatic] employees worked in the same place, it was a lot easier to scale live training. Our audience at the time was the agencies. The Audience On Demand [VivaKi’s programmatic trading unit] team kind of took care of themselves. New talent learned on the job.

Now [those people are] in Razorfish, Publicis Health, Zenith, etc. There was no possible way to take that model and apply it to this dispersed workforce. We worked really closely with the agencies to talk about what material needs to be included here. We still are really closely connected with those legacy VivaKi people.

How integral were ex-VivaKi employees in creating the IQ Academy? 

SINKO: Crucial. Some of the files we had were dated 2012. We had to go to the ex-VivaKi people and ask, “Do you still do it this way? Is it still important?” To this day we’re still tied into them all the time.

RANSOME: Those subject matter experts were meant to fill this huge role for developing programmatic expertise across their entire agency. There wasn’t enough time in the day. We had to have more than just ad hoc and reactive trainings. Anyone who did not have programmatic expertise [needed to be able to] know where to go, the questions to ask and who to talk to.

A lot of people left Publicis when VivaKi disaggregated. Was it difficult to scale programmatic education to make up for that loss?

SINKO: Yes, it was. People left because they liked VivaKi’s startup culture and didn’t want to be in an agency. Because VivaKi was a kind of a startup, it had a pretty compact progression. When you’re in an agency, there are a lot more places to grow.

RANSOME: They were the golden children going in there.

SINKO: Some people really relished that, but some people didn’t want to have that burden of being the expert for everybody. The material we’ve built is designed to upskill their replacements and to provide that learning strategy foundation. But as teams expand as more money shifts to programmatic, it’d still be a job to educate.

How integral are vendors in developing your IQ Academy?  

SINKO: We knew that we weren’t going to recreate training on every demand-side platform. We’re tweaking their material so that it meets our standards. We spend a lot of time sifting through what’s useful for our audience, connecting to it and letting people know it’s available. Vendors who don’t have training can work with us to build training using our model.

By giving clients access to the IQ Academy, do you run the risk of having them take programmatic in-house? 

SINKO: We’ve had that conversation about taking programmatic in-house since the Audience on Demand days. Our stance has always been you can try, but it’s taken us eight years to get where we are. I could read some books about dentistry, but I don’t pull my own teeth.

RANSOME: If you are truly educated then you see that you need to work with somebody to capture all of what programmatic can do for you, especially on more imaginative and expansive campaigns.

How do you keep your program up with the rapidly evolving programmatic landscape?

SINKO: The material that we offer is platform agnostic. Every time a field gets moved in DoubleClick Bid Manager, that doesn’t impact our training. We’re focused on best practices, concepts and theories. We’re re-evaluating every course quarterly and re-releasing those that need it.

The harder part is expanding into new topics. Do you just go with the squeakiest wheel? We have a learning steering committee talking to clients and telling us what the hottest topics are. We leverage them very heavily. Anyone who goes through the IQ Academy can suggest a topic. If one person suggests header bidding it goes to the bottom of the list, but if 100 people suggest header bidding, it goes to the top. We constantly reprioritize that road map. We’re optimizing our own learnings.

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