Hyland bids to plug client holes left in wake of dirty agencies

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 1 November 2017

Clients have been burnt and 'fleeced' thanks to some greedy agency practices and while brands may feel 'trapped' with their network agencies of record, independent media agency boss Virginia Hyland has come up with a solution that she says plugs the gap that marketers need.

In December last year Hyland launched independent agency Programmatic Media, specialising in transparent programmatic media buying and planning. It also trains and educates advertisers about programmatic trading. Foundation clients included Coty, Lilydale, Calvin Klein, Olympus, Rimmel, Pet Insurance, Thomas Sabo and more.

The business is separate to HM Communications.

The training and education element of Programmatic Media proved such a hit, she says the spin-off business was seeing stacks of brands that weren't even on its books queuing up to take the courses. Marketers were keen to find out and understand more about what goes on behind the big cheque they pass on to their agencies.

Now, 10 months in, following feedback, requests and notable gaps in what marketers need, it's shifting Programmatic Media into a full-blown consultancy. This means the new model focuses on helping clients “get more value” from their existing agencies. This can be helping clients take media planning and buying in-house; running in-house for them as a managed service; helping them assess what value their agency is giving them or even helping staff up when clients do take buying in-house.

It starts by carrying out tech partner and data audits and Hyland says the move to in-house is not only suitable for large companies, with small to medium businesses looking to get in on the action.

See: Critics of programmatic; listen up

“The clients with high value data - they were the ones to take in-house first - but more and more people, as they start getting better data and they start realising the value of their data, will look to take it in-house,” she says. Hyland warns that when clients “throw” data out there to a programmatic partner they can use that to try and “lock you in”.

Hyland says unlike most big agencies, Programmatic Media can give unbiased impartial advice and assistance in all things programmatic, and has opened up marketers to a whole new transparent world – and they seem to like it.

Former business director at media management consultancy TrinityP3, Stephen Wright (below right), who heads up Programmatic Media, tells AdNews at the moment, “agency is like a dirty word”.

He says as Programmatic Media is transparent and charges a fair mark up, it doesn't “fleece people in the programmatic area”.

“All of the multinationals - because they have margins, kick-backs, alignments, ownership of middle men - that's the only model they really want. Whereas for us, we are saying, 'we are here to help advertisers'. It doesn't matter whether you're an advertiser with an agency and that's a relationship you've got globally. We can work with you to get more value from that agency,” Wright says.

“If you want to give us your planning and buying we can do that. If you want to take your business in-house we can help you transition. We can hold your hand, we understand the market, we can make it work for you.”

Stephen WrightStephen Wright

Staffing woes

Wright says while lots of businesses that took media buying in-house have ended up struggling for various reasons – it's often to do with staff. As a result the agency has put together an offering that helps the client manage this by using Programmatic Media's (PM) staff. Staff would go in and set it up, teach the client everything and would either remain in house with the client or return to the business. PM can dial up or down the staff numbers depending on the client's needs. This also gives PM staff more opportunity to be client facing and to experience working in-house client-side – while still being employed by PM.

Wright says you don't need lots of people, just key people, and it can help fill the gap.

“Some clients have got a mandate from overseas as it's been decided the business is going to be taken in-house globally. Now, that's great in the bigger markets, but you get down to Australia it's far harder to take it in-house. So, they're the ones that will need support and they might end up being better off with a managed service rather than taking the responsibility and running it as an island like the big guys,” Wright says.

Another issue is that it's often more complicated to manage internally than is envisaged, and there are competing internal and external agendas. Wright and Hyland believe their new service will help simplify it.

As revealed by AdNews in 2015, CommBank made moves to establish an in-house programmatic trading desk. It poached Alexis Spurgeon, the then director of display advertising at Omnicom's Accuen and ex-senior digital trader, to spearhead the venture. In September this year Spurgeon left for a job at Amazon in London, with some suggesting she had done all she could for the bank now everything was up and running and was after a new challenge.

“Finding and maintaining a good programmatic team in-house is difficult. So, we're looking at setting up a service whereby if someone leaves, we can plug a short-term gap with a well-trained programmatic person,” Wright says.

PwC show ponies

Wright says PM is acting like a consultancy and has several proposals for consultancy services like a 'health check on programmatic'.

Wright and Hyland believe while some of the big consultancies are trying to get a slice of the action, they're expensive and they lack the hands on experience to deliver what they promise. 

“When you look at someone like PwC - and they've just bought in a whole load of show ponies – yes they can sit there and talk at a really senior level, but it's the hands on practical advice at the coalface that clients are needing.”

See: Five consultancy shake-ups that have rocked adland this year

Agencies 'deliberately' hiding trading desk practices

He also says the big agency trading desks and the programmatic arm is “hidden away” with little or no direct relationships with the clients. He says a lot of programmatic people at the large agencies are “stuck in the barrel”, deliberately hidden and have no exposure to clients.

“It's almost discreet. I mean, how many people do you see championing those trading desks and those programmatic brands? They're invisible. They're deliberately pushed aside. There's no profile. When you think about the volume of business those trading desks are doing now - they're very, low profile and don't seek PR and attention.

“The reason is, really, they don't want the spotlight because as soon as the spotlight goes on them, questions are asked.”

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