VP Dallaire Looks At Yahoo!’s Evolving Relationship With Agencies And Its Trading Desks

Yahoo Seth DallaireSeth Dallaire is VP, Global Agencies/Accounts and Sales at Yahoo!.

Dallaire discussed industry trends and Yahoo!’s plans to address the agency in an interview with AdExchanger.com.

AdExchanger.com: Do you feel that agency trading desks are more of an ad network these days? Or are they an agent of the client?

SD:  I see them as still an agent of the client. The types of requests from a service perspective that we get from the different trading desks vary across the board. Some of the desks are very comfortable working directly through the exchange. That said, they still need to have technical contact back and forth with us. They’re also very interested in product development in terms of, “Hey, I can get X, Y, or Z from these different providers. How do I get those types of things through the exchange on your side? Or how do I get this type of level of service?”

The demands have increased from a service perspective. In my experience, there’s is still quite a bit of manual work that’s going on in the background on both sides, in terms of optimization, product development and innovation. It’s not as robotic or as automated as someone sitting outside our space may think.

Still we see different sources of buying across the agency community. And I think the agencies are still putting together their internal service models, in terms of how they coordinate a buy. We will map to what the agencies look like and how they function. Right now many of the trading desks are still working to bring that service model and the type of value proposition that they have internally to the different account teams, who may have a whole host of different alternatives out there.

Can you talk a little bit about the new sales team you’re creating at Yahoo!?

The team, for which I have responsibility, is called the Global Agency Development Team. It’s a global team, whereas in the past, Yahoo has had an Americas-focused team that has worked primarily with agencies in the US – primarily media agencies. The team that I’ve been asked to build is one with global responsibility. So I’ve been interviewing people in Europe and here. Obviously, the bases of the agency is where we want to have the people staffed.

That’s been a huge focus – trying to find people that have the range to move from a traditional sponsorship campaign from the agency side all the way into the automated trading desk conversations.

I think historically the bent at Yahoo has really been towards that former piece of the agency, as opposed to the latter. Now we know that the latter component, the trading desks and the way that the agencies are approaching audience‑based buying or any type of programmatic campaigns and purchasing, is something that is very important to that group.

They’re putting a lot of people power and/or technology power against making sure that they’re creating a new service for their clients and figuring out how to manage the complexity of all of the ad technology that sits between the planning or purchase of an audience buy and the actual execution and the output.

Beyond trading desks, what sort of changes are you seeing on the agency side right now, as it relates to buying or understanding opportunity through your group, that you perhaps didn’t see a year ago?

Some of the asks that the agencies have, related to ad tech, related to audience‑based buying, are very different and much more sophisticated than they were a year ago. I was speaking with a candidate today for one of our agency development roles, who had worked at a rich media provider which me of five or six years ago, when rich media conversations were occurring, and you had companies like PointRoll, Eyewonder, and so on, talking about the benefits of rich media and, in many cases, doing a lot of evangelism that the agencies would then take to the portal.

The portal would say, “Of what benefit is this? How do we integrate this into our current [offering] ‑‑ and we have to use a third‑party provider?” It’s not a one-to-one analogy, but I think there’s a lot of similarity. And the number of conversations that are occurring right now from the ad technology space into the agency has only increased over the past year. It has not decreased. So that would be the first one.

I also think that, specific to the team that I’m building at Yahoo, there’s an expectation of a service level that has not been met today.

So when I go in and talk with leaders at the agencies, they’ll say, “Hey look, your competitors are doing this. I know who to call over there. I know that they have X number of people working on my business. My expectation is that you guys are going to do the same thing.…”

You have to make a commitment to this role, in terms of putting bodies against it. So when I spoke with [Yahoo! execs] Wayne [Powers] and Ross Levinson about the role and the need for it, they were behind it. They are media executives and have a lot of experience in this space. They know how important the agency community is to us. They recognize the importance and the urgency around getting this team up to speed.

In the past, before I came to Yahoo!, Yahoo! really had the best in breed relationships across the agencies. I think they set the template for how to work with the agency community which is one that has been used by Google, Microsoft, AOL and Facebook. I think that some of those things, through all the executive transition that we’ve had over the past couple of years, have kind of been lost in the shuffle.

It’s been important to knock on every door here internally and say, “This is a need that’s not being addressed.” It’s a certain level of service that we [need to] provide on a daily basis.

We have a commitment to them to let them know about how we’re looking to position ourselves in the market, about the types of products or capabilities that we want to build. Also, there’s a great opportunity for us to learn from them, where they can tell us, “This is what we need. Can you build this?”

Is the world of the “three martini lunch” going away in your opinion?

I think things are definitely changing. But, there’s still a need to make sure that you are building personal relationships with people on the agency side. A lot of the ways that you build those relationships, particularly with the larger branded account teams, is by being present and being responsive. It’s not necessarily the big lunch or event.

That model still exists. Now there are some brands that you could be a member of their family and if you’re not performing, they’re going to cut you off the buy. We may move at some point into that purely objective state of planning and buying in the future at the media agency, but there are still expectations to play on both sides of that.

How much is the client getting directly involved in your business?

I think the client’s always been involved in our business. The level of just how direct that involvement has varied. It depends on the types of clients that you’re working with, but I think that the types of asks that we’re getting from agencies on behalf of their clients are far more transparent than they’ve ever been before, and explicit.

To the point about audience‑based buying, a client may say, “I am looking for women, 18‑34 in the Chicago DMA who have demonstrated this particular interest.” I know that I can go out and market and find them specifically. I can locate that market and do it in a way that’s highly efficient, if not purely efficient, depending on how you want to measure.

Previously, the conversation might have been ‑ and some of the conversations still exist – where they’re more about contextual in that I know that this brand or this publisher or this site has a certain audience that goes there. Within that audience that certain group of people that I want to speak to may exist.

But I’m either unwilling to cut up that particular contextual placement with a pure audience buy or the publisher won’t let me. In either case, I’m still going to make the buy over here. The level of specificity I think is often something that ties back to the client, in that they’re giving specific orders about definitions that may be tied back to lifetime value of a customer, perhaps something in their CRM database.

What are the important milestones ahead for you and your team?

The most important milestone ahead for me is feedback from the agency community about our service level. They are brutally candid and will say, “Hey, you’re meeting the bar here and you’re not meeting the bar there. Here is a reasonable level of service that we would expect from a publisher like Yahoo.” If you’re not meeting it, then I would consider that “fail.”

Once we’re at a point where they say, “OK, we know who to contact. We know who the people are that are invested in our business, are dedicated to it. They understand our perspective. They talk like we talk. They think like we think” and we’re getting satisfactory reports back from them about how we’re performing and the level of service that we’re providing, then I consider that the most important milestone.

Now secondarily, the number of people that I have on the team is an important milestone as well. I can’t go put on a cape and run out and make it all happen myself. I need to make sure that I’ve got other people that understand the agency community and make them feel as if they’re getting the type of attention that they deserve. That’s important, too.

There are different staffing levels across the board at our competitors that go from everything from a couple hundred people down to a handful of people. I don’t know what the right, ideal size for the organization is, but I’m going to take my feedback from the agencies about what’s right. I don’t want to overwhelm them with people and just have folks crawling around because we can afford people.

When do you think you will have your team in place?

Earlier today, I had two interviews with candidates. I had two new hires last week, I’m putting out two offers this week. I’ve been focusing most of my time, in terms of the hiring effort, in the cities that have the largest agency communities.

It’s a competitive job market out there for our space, as you know. Finding the right skillset and the right type of people is a game that you have to play and you have to be able to move quickly. So I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to vet candidates, make sure that they’re the right types of people. But then, if they are the right people, make the move quickly.

What I don’t want are just pure salespeople. Agencies have enough salespeople coming in the door. They would probably tell you that they have too many or they don’t have enough time to work with all of them. They’re looking to really focus their effort around doing more with fewer partners. That’s a consistent and common refrain across all of the holding companies.

I want to be one of those people. I want Yahoo to be one of those companies. If we’re not staffing up to really talk with them or create a certain cadence of our communication, then we could be sidelined. That would be a real problem.

By John Ebbert

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