How Can We Move To A Programmatic-First Future?

The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Rachel Parkin, senior vice president of strategy and sales at CafeMedia.

Two years ago, I looked in my crystal ball and envisioned a future where all media would run programmatically.

Today, we have all the right building blocks in place to embrace a programmatic-first world. Agencies and publishers alike can realize significant operational efficiencies by moving in that direction. While there are a few pioneers on both the buy and sell sides advocating for “programmatic only” media buying, how can our industry make the case to take a collective step forward?

A programmatic-first mentality means that all media elements on a campaign will be executed programmatically. Paperwork goes the way of the dinosaurs, shifting instead to programmatic guaranteed technologies. Discrepancy management and tracking massively simplifies with advertisers and publishers able to access data from the same clearing house, in real time. And invoicing centralizes through programmatic guaranteed platforms. Finance teams rejoice in only needing to “bank” with a small set of partners.

Programmatic guaranteed is no replacement for the unreserved buying that accounts for most programmatic spending via open auction or private marketplaces. Rather it’s an enhancement to the reserved inventory buys currently made through insertion orders (IOs). Supplanting IOs with programmatic-only buys would make the future a reality.

Though we’ve talked about this notion for a long time, very few advertisers and publishers today run media exclusively via programmatic channels. An overwhelming majority of reserved inventory buys transact via traditional IOs. Rather than a technical obstacle, it largely seems that inertia and, to some extent, organizational alignment are holding progress back.

Benefits for agencies and advertisers

Beyond the operational efficiencies, transparency and visibility are some of the main benefits for buyers in setting up reserved media buys programmatically. With programmatic guaranteed, all creative tag control and management takes place on the buy side. This leads to fewer trafficking mishaps and faster updates when something must change mid-flight – not to mention, the ability to pause a campaign instantaneously without waiting for a publisher’s ad ops team to take action. Advertisers also get an integrated view of global frequency and reach, including both reserved and non-reserved elements of a campaign.

Eliminating the manual back-and-forth involved in paperwork, tagging and tracking also means client teams can spend more time thinking. The massive amount of data generated by digital advertising is a commodity – it’s the insight that counts. Shifting energy toward understanding what elements work best for an advertiser’s goals, how to optimize a campaign and what to do differently next time will improve ROI and serve as the greatest proof point for programmatic automation.

Benefits for publishers

Once publishers get comfortable with running reserved media buys exclusively via programmatic guaranteed, it presents a huge opportunity for simplification across the board. That starts with media plans moving away from complex bundles toward straightforward menus. Reducing unnecessary duplication of line items and streamlining trafficking is an easy win. Improving sales strategy has potential to be even bigger. Implicit in this is setting the same reserved rate card, regardless of direct IO or programmatic guaranteed sales channel. From a team perspective, it can also serve as the vehicle to force integration between programmatic and direct sellers. To succeed in a programmatic-first world, publishers must unite their teams around a single goal.

Programmatic-first selling challenges publishers to broaden their perspective on what can be delivered through programmatic guaranteed, too. Innovation differentiates publishers and encourages thinking outside the traditional “banner” box to come up with creative, custom programmatic solutions that will drive more wins with advertisers.

How we move forward

To move into the programmatic-first universe, pioneers and early adopters must proactively socialize the concept. Agencies can start by asking publishers to indicate which elements can run programmatically as part of every proposal, as some already do. Publishers should call out every element that can run programmatically and advocate to execute those packages as programmatic guaranteed, whether asked or not.

We must also navigate new ways of delivering on old concepts. Added-value impressions seem like a foreign object in programmatic transactions. If these exist solely to allow publishers to maintain rate card premiums, while at the same time giving advertisers efficiencies they want, could this not be more easily accomplished by having the net CPM applied equally across all impressions?

Perceptions about paying yet another tech fee could potentially stymie progress toward a programmatic-first future, especially as both buyers and sellers incur platform fees. Yet, when you look at the gains in simplification, transparency, trafficking, tracking, invoicing and more, not to mention increased brainpower and bandwidth, the benefits surpass any costs.

The programmatic-first future is possible now for those who choose to grab it.

Follow CafeMedia (@CafeMedia_) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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