Transparency: A response from the much maligned

Dan Robins
By Dan Robins | 1 October 2014
Dan Robins

There has been a huge amount of column inches in the last few weeks given over to the subject of a perceived lack of accountability in digital from agencies, particularly their group trading desks. Boiled down, the talk is of a murky world of inventory and technology arbitrage (buy low, sell high) which agency group trading desks supposedly use to skim grey cost off advertisers.

We regularly hear talk, from both technology vendors and the press, about advertisers taking digital (any part, though the current trendy topic is programmatic) “in-house”. I can understand where this idea comes from: it’s a space viewed as fraught with loopholes and unaccountability so therefore it’s safer for the advertiser to keep it within the safety of its walls, right? When we add in the client using their own highly sensitive data to the mix, why would they ever even consider working with an agency?

Now, full disclosure, I work for an agency. An agency with a couple of trading desks. But I think this puts me in a pretty strong position to give the case for the agency relationship: above all a quickly scalable resource with a breadth of knowledge and expertise. For the vast majority of brands to dip a toe in any given channel, particularly something as new and fast moving a programmatic, is far too big a risk and too slow an exercise, without the use of the aggregated resource and expertise an agency offers. Additionally, if you remove a certain channel from the media mix to run in-house, what does that do for your “integrated cross-channel planning”? Silos are the bane of media planning which is exactly what this would create and are the direct opposite of the integration clients are continuously pushing for.

There are also the other, more traditional reasons for working with an agency where a single view of all activity and its performance leads to optimization to drive the best overall performance. There’s also greater leverage with technology and media partners (something only the very largest advertisers wouldn’t find some value in), economies of scale and the ability to shield the brand from risk when it comes to new processes and products.

Another important point is the data and insights that can be generated from a trading desk, both from creative and media, which are increasingly becoming the lifeblood of campaign insight mining, all in real time. Plugging this directly into planning and optimization of all channels is where the magic starts to take hold.

What also doesn’t get a great deal of air time is a hybrid model. It’s been proven hugely successful having the client very much involved in all key decisions and working hand in hand on technology and data management, and utilising the agency expertise, experience and greater leverage to drive overall performance. It’s a system that offers a strong level of transparency to all parties and creates a relationship built on trust and performance.

Why doesn’t this get airtime? Because it clips the wings of technology providers and removes oxygen from the flames of the press fires. Additionally, in the same way not every advertiser is going to be big enough to move their activity in house, the hybrid model will not work for all, but for those smaller brands, we should be looking to build trust, starting with transparency from those few parts of corners of the industry still operating in the murky depths and tarnishing the image for the rest.

As an industry it would be far more productive to look at ways we can try to protect our clients’ activity from the ever accelerating and advanced attacks by the fraudsters of the world (I’ll save that for another time), rather than pointing fingers.

My challenge to the industry is to ask the question: why wouldn’t you work with an agency given the single view of performance, scalable resource and opportunity to drive campaigns based on actual in-play audience insights? If the main impediments revolve around transparency and therefore trust, it’s probably time to pick up the phone to your agency.

Dan Robins,
Head of Performance

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