Donovan Data Systems Prez Batson Looks At The Digital Back Office And Agency DNA

Donovan Data SystemsJT Batson is President, DDS Digital at Donovan Data Systems, a supplier of back office systems to the agency market. Let’s start at the beginning – what intrigued you about coming to Donovan Data Systems (DDS)?

JTB: I was attracted by the scale and the sandbox. DDS provides media transaction systems for media buying agencies in the US, Canada, France Germany, the UK & Ireland across all forms of media.

Here are some pretty impressive stats to give you an idea what I mean: our clients process $70 billion in media billings through our system every year, we have 50,000 agency users, and we process seven million media transactions every day.

Along with our agency clients, we feel pretty strongly that there are some unique opportunities that come with that scale. We’re collectively focused on leveraging DDS’s scale to create value for agencies.

As for the sandbox, the agency technology space is an exciting one. Also, we recently assembled a talented digital product and engineering team here of almost 100 people who are focused exclusively on creating the next generation of digital advertising technology.  There’s a real buzz at DDS right now.

A lot of the issues the digital ecosystem has been working to solve the past five years are ones that DDS has solved before for other media. In fact, when I first joined DDS and described in detail how inefficiently some display transactions happen, I got a lot of “you have to be kidding me” reactions from the product team. Their excitement for attacking these core problems is quite evident.

DDS likes to say “We have agency DNA” and from my short time here, that seems very true.

What is the strategy behind DDS recently announced deal with FatTail? What have been the challenges with the RFP process to-date?

The RFP process isn’t the only thing we’re streamlining; we think it’s just way too hard to buy display ads. One thing we’ve learnt from our success automating traditional media, particularly television, is that you won’t solve the buying process unless you engage with the sell side. The announcement with FatTail is the first of many. Watch this space.

Can you talk a little bit about pricing, the typical engagement and how long it takes to get up and running?

We engage in long-term contracts with our agency clients for all media transactions across all forms of media. We’ve had the same pricing model for years – and it’s enabled us to align ourselves with the success of our agency clients.

We’ve successfully on-boarded major accounts from all six of the major holding companies – and that’s a process that stretches a few quarters if not a full year. The number of agency staff we train is massive; more than 8,000 last year.

When do accurate attribution models for digital (let alone traditional channels) appear? Or can iDesk provide accurate attribution modeling today?

Attribution is important and something that I’m personally very excited about. We are fully supportive of all efforts to crack this nut.

Attribution will be huge, but there’s another issue I think we have to solve in digital. Big corporations can pretty accurately plan how much TV and radio advertising they need buy in order to sell a specific amount of their products. This predictability means companies can project future sales and to view advertising as a sales channel – not as some fun marketing experiment. Achieving the same level of forecasting and sales planning in display is vital to attracting more money into digital.

As automation and technology increasingly streamline the media buying process, what happens to media agencies?  Won’t marketers increasingly come to publishers directly through?

The process of buying a TV ad today is more automated than buying an online ad (which is a kick in the gut to those of us who have spent our lives in digital). Sure, agencies have margin pressure in TV, but there’s very little concern about their biggest advertisers going direct in traditional.

Today, agencies have the best technology to plan, buy and optimize TV, radio and print ads. It’s our job at DDS to make sure that agencies have that advantage in digital as well.

Compound that with the fact that digital is demonstrably more complicated to transact and I think you’ll reach the same conclusion as we do: agencies are well positioned for the future. Sure, just like any other business, agencies need to innovate and evolve to meet their clients’ needs, but I’m putting my money on them.

What is DDS doing for creative agencies? What’s unique about the creative agency solution in comparison to media?

The creative agency landscape is changing fast and we’re focused on enabling our agency clients to service their advertisers more effectively and profitably.

Long gone are the days when you’d have just a copywriter and art director working on a brief, you now have engagement partners, game designers, information architects and so on, and even media planners, all working together.

Also, our agency clients can have as many as 150,000 employees per group. Agency executives need ways to leverage and manage that scale.

DDS understands this pace of change and our systems, such as BrandOcean and iDesk, are all about managing complexity and supporting global media agencies and creative agencies as they move closer together.

As you look back at your experience with publishers through your time at Rubicon Project, what were your biggest takeaways?

  1. Technology companies need to focus. Rubicon was focused on the publisher, DDS is focused on the agency. I think that it’s critical to focus.
  2. Publishers have a real cost of goods sold problem and agencies have a real transaction cost problem. Both sides need this issue solved, and solved quickly.
  3. This is a media ecosystem – both sides need each other to be successful. Rubicon didn’t automate in a vacuum. It needed good partners. The same goes for DDS.
  4. I really came to understand the importance of a good team. Not only is the business more successful as a result and you have happier clients, but it’s a heck of a lot more fun, too.

A year from now, what milestones would you like to have seen DDS and iDesk accomplish?

The short term is simple: we’re focused on two key things. First we’re getting iDesk fully deployed at all DDS client agencies. Second, we’re engaging with clients, and the broader digital ecosystem, to hear what they have to say and find out what they think DDS’ role should be going forward.

I’m also really excited about attracting more great talent to DDS.  We’re doing stuff no one else is, and creating some game changing technology for our clients in the digital space.  At the same time, we’re still running the most successful company in our segment!  So this means we’ve got quite a few openings for smart people in product, engineering, and on the business side.

By John Ebbert

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1 Comment

  1. Luke Longley

    “Here are some pretty impressive stats to give you an idea what I mean: our clients process $70 billion in media billings through our system every year…”

    For context to the readership; 5-7 years ago DDS used to control $100 billion in spend. They have long been the incubent and their leadership position over 4 1/2 decades is incredibly impressive. However, to go from 100 billion to 70 billion in system spend when total ad spend is up means DDS is losing marketshare.

    Batson– Curious to know what are doing to control the lost marketshare to disruptors like Mediabank? AdWeek reported they just won IPG.