It wasn’t a surprise to most in the industry when Accenture Interactive said Wednesday it would formally launch a programmatic services unit as part of its offer to clients.
The Accenture subsidiary has been steadily wading into agency territory for years by acquiring creative and design shops. While it hasn’t made any major acquisitions in media buying, it often buys programmatically as part of the large digital transformation projects it engages in with clients.
“We’ve been providing programmatic services to our clients for some time,” said Scott Tieman, global head of programmatic services for Accenture Interactive. “Many of those are consulting or in-housing. Many of them we’re executing the buy. And many just need help with the technology.”
Tieman said Accenture’s clients had grown wary of their media agencies’ lack of transparency and wanted more control over their media-buying operations, but they needed help understanding the complexities of the space and the staff to execute in-house.
Accenture hopes to step in as that partner who can help clients in one of three ways: by helping them bring programmatic in-house, by consulting around programmatic technology and buying strategies, and by fully planning and buying programmatic on behalf of clients. For added transparency, Accenture Interactive will price these services on a transparent FTE model rather than charging a percentage of media.
“We don’t intend to charge a percentage of media because we feel that creates the wrong incentives,” Tieman said. “Under that model, we would be incentivized to increase our spend, but that doesn’t necessarily drive outcomes.”
While Accenture has the data and systems integration chops to consult clients on programmatic and help them stand up in-house trading desks, they lack some of the key relationships, expertise and talent that agencies have spent years curating on the execution side.
Accenture Interactive will have to go through the same learnings and challenges that agencies did years ago as it gets deeper into programmatic execution, said Oscar Garza, head of media activation at Essence.
“Programmatic buying is probably the easiest part of the whole media-buying product,” he said. “Anyone can set up a campaign and buy impressions. Valuing impressions and understanding audiences through advanced analytics is the hardest part.”
Tieman said Accenture does have the expertise to help clients get more value out of programmatic buys. But planning programmatic media without connecting it into a client’s broader media plan could be challenging, said Sarah Warner, digital investment lead at GroupM.
“Understanding the full media plan is somewhere we’ll continue to have a leg up,” she said. “Knowledge across the ecosystem can't be in pockets.”
Access to traditional buying expertise can also benefit agencies as more channels move into programmatic, Garza added. Understanding how MVPDs work, for example, and what regulations, currencies and ratings systems they use for buying is invaluable in buying programmatic TV.
“Pairing digital experience with our investment team that are deeply knowledgeable in traditional buying has been really helpful in navigating a complicated space that’s been around for some time,” he said.
While Accenture Interactive certainly has the technical and data chops needed for programmatic, it will have to staff up on programmatic talent as the unit grows. And programmatic talent is hard to come by.
“To achieve the potential of programmatic, you need both the software and the services,” said Pete Kim, CEO at MightyHive. “The real bottleneck is the skilled programmatic professional who knows how to use all of these instruments to their fullest potential.”
While Accenture has the deep pockets to attract and pay programmatic talent, scarcity of these people in the market means they’ll have to invest time and effort into training from the ground up, he added.
Tieman said Accenture has the right amount of talent to staff the dozen or so programmatic accounts it works on now, including Radisson Hotels, Melia Hotels International and Maserati. But as it gains more business over time, staffing up will be key.
“We’re putting more focus and investment in this area to help deliver that for our clients over the long term,” he said.
While programmatic doesn’t require the same buying power and clout that traditional TV buys command, having deep relationships with publishers is key to get good rates for programmatic guaranteed deals.
“Programmatic is a bidded medium, so pricing is going to vary quite wildly,” Garza said. “But in programmatic guaranteed and direct publisher relationships, we do benefit from WPP having some great rates.”
Buying power can manifest either through clout or sophistication, Warner added. Depending on how much of the actual execution Accenture Interactive takes on, they’ll be able to build up to that sophistication – but it could take time.
“We have 30 years of buying power and understanding of the marketplace that they’ll have to do a bit of catch-up on,” she said.
While Tieman said Accenture has relationships with top publishers “in spades already,” he admits there’s still more work to be done.
“There’s an opportunity to develop even more,” he said. “We will certainly make that an emphasis as needed.”