CHE Proximity quietly builds programmatic team to combat ‘wasteful’ broad persuasion

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 27 February 2017
Elizabeth Geor and Chris Howatson

CHE Proximity has been quietly building out a 23-person strong programmatic team over the last 18 months, hiring former MCN head of programmatic trading Cameron Dinnie at the end of 2016 to lead the division. 

The agency also poached from major holding groups, as well as independents like Atomic 212. Former UM exec Daniel Bradley joins CHE as head of investment, while Liz Geor was promoted internally to lead its media unit, Experience.

Part of the Clemenger Group, the agency has had a data-focused heritage, having formed in 2012 when creative agency CHE and digital agency Proximity merged. It now has 280 employees across Melbourne and Sydney, working as one agency to service clients. 

With an analytical team of eight and a data insights team of four, CEO Chris Howatson tells AdNews its programmatic trading desk was the missing piece for its clients and also a necessary move as creative and media comes back together.

“If you don’t have a trading desk you are missing a massive part of the customer journey and you are blind to a lot of channels that your customers are exposed to,” Howatson says.

While the programmatic division is only sitting at 10% of the agency at this stage, Howatson expects to see it grow to 35% over the next three years.

CHE has access to first party data from its clients, which it layers with third party data from Adobe and Oracle. The agency also struck a deal with US data firm Annalect in 2015 to provide clients with a single customer view.

Data exclusivity and access is a huge part of CHE’s negotiation tactics and it says it actively reviews all new third party data sources using a proprietary scoring system to pair them with its client’s business problems.

“Having this insight reveals just how wasteful broad persuasion can be. When you truly understand the customer, there are multiple messages, moments, journeys and acceptable investment that we need to balance to influence their behaviour,” Howatson says.

“Insight is nothing if you can’t activate it… As we collected more data, it became more obvious that a one blanket campaign is wasteful.

“We have all been trained that the power of advertising is in board persuasion, but we know it’s actually in daily missions and how we can understand a customer’s next best action.

“We can no longer rely on broad persuasion to do the job and that’s essentially the big change point for our industry.”

After 12 years in creative agencies, Geor now sits at the helm of CHE’s media offering. She didn’t have any media experience, but rather an understanding of how brands could use data to understanding how to drive ROI.

Geor believes for media and creative to truly merge back together, a few egos need to be squashed and the industry needs to move past its Mad Men days.

“The entire culture has to become equal and stop seeing it as different hierarchies. The creative idea is no longer the most important thing, rather the whole lifecycle of a message,” she says.

Howatson and Geor agree the ideal of using one single message to drive consumer behaviour is "irresponsible", and creative agencies are no longer about just the big idea. 

"Equally, missing valuable data insight can mean that you don't truly understand the size of your audience, or the value of different people within that audience. Driving precision without proper market sizing can lead brands down a rabbit hole of chasing the wrong objective or the wrong customer ultimately eroding commercial return," Howatson says.

"For us, being able to manage bought media is a small part of the overall capability required to better influence the customer." 

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