Today’s Burning Question: Are Ad Sales People Becoming Irrelevant? (Pt. 2)



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“The answer is: no. The advertising ecosystem will likely always need a direct salesforce.  What it doesn’t need however is more people to sell, traffic and optimize standardized banner ads – programmatic mechanisms are clearly compressing these taxes out of the system.  The need for a qualified, educated direct sales team to connect marketers with publishers will never go away and in fact, opportunities will increase as the industry continues to grow and options diversify. The rise of programmatic simply means that salespeople will have to up–level and broaden their game.  Really great salespeople work on behalf of their clients to get them what they want and need and that will never go away. Right now there is more money and more attention flowing online. This simply means that the opportunities for marketers to find and connect with consumers are only getting better and more sophisticated. Salespeople still perform a critical role in helping present and make better sense of the constantly evolving landscape of opportunities.  Programmatic is a mechanism that helps achieve a better result for both publishers and marketers, but it won’t remove the sales role – it just demands more from it.”   — Walter Knapp, EVP and GM of Media Platform at Federated Media Publishing.

“Given the conversations I’ve been having with my colleagues at agencies, trading desks and DSPs, I’m constantly reminded that advertising is still very much a “people” business, regardless of the automated algorithms that programmatic advertising has provided. To get video advertising deals done programmatically, it takes people who share the passion to tackle and solve the many inefficiencies associated with buying/selling digital media. True, the algorithms and technology platforms do the heavy lifting to automate and streamline processes, but it’s people who make the right products and make decisions that really move the needle for an advertiser or publisher. At the end of day, programmatic just automates mundane tasks and allows direct connections between buyers and sellers. Would you rather have people focused on menial tasks or on doing things that add real value and improve the strategy? Machines will help streamline the buying and selling process in advertising, but it’s the people who always have been and always will be the driving force.” — Paul Bowlin, VP, Regional Advertising Sales, SpotXchange.

“Ad sales people will never go away; they’re just going to start to look a lot different as the market changes. Where we’re likely to see the biggest evolution in skill set will be around an ad seller’s ability to package custom solutions around 1st and 3rd party data and demonstrate how their inventory will drive real value beyond outdated metrics like impressions and clicks.” — Danny Kourianos, Vice President of Product Development, Rakuten MediaForge.

“Absolutely not, programmatic will never entirely replace human sales teams; but it will make those team much smaller and force them to focus on selling more creative, high-value sponsorship-style packages. Advertising is just the latest of many industries to be impacted by technology and automation, all the way back to 18th Century when technology began revolutionizing the textile industry. The deployment of technology to automate low-skilled manual tasks has always been controversial, but it’s a fundamental driver of efficiency, economic growth and progress. Few would argue the world would be a better place if The Luddites had got their way and all clothes were still made entirely by hand! Right now we’re seeing the same reaction to automation in advertising. Sales teams are being forced to adapt rapidly, and that change can be painful. But we are moving to a world in which ad sales professionals must become craftsman, using skill and creativity to add value that machines can never replicate or replace.” — Mark Trefgarne, Founder/CEO, LiveRail.

“For now and the foreseeable future, sales people are not going to be replaced. I do, however, see their role transitioning to sell our programmatic offering alongside our premium placements quicker than we had initially expected. Even though programmatic bidding is gaining in momentum, many people think that the machines simply connect to each other selling and buying ads. This is certainly true for performance-type advertisers buying on a retargeting and behavioral targeting basis. As we start to see significant brand dollars flowing into programmatic and exchange-traded inventory, sales staff will be as important as they are today. I believe the sales person of the future will need to have a more technical understanding of the RTB process than they do today. Gourmet Ads is just about to start recruiting our first RTB-focused sales staff who will be selling Deal ID for premium placements, like background skins, over the page placements, First Look etc.” — Benjamin Christie of Gourmet Ads.

“The online ad industry has not solved a way for supply and demand to connect in an automated way. So whether you are acquiring publishers via an SSP, or on-boarding demand at a DSP or exchange, you are still going to need a skilled sales force. Once connected, the delivery, optimization and management of that programmatic campaign becomes highly scalable, assuming that you’re running a sound algorithm. As we lean more on the automated delivery and optimization of ad campaigns, the ad ops and traffickers will become less relevant when compared to sales.” — Michael Connolly, CEO, Sonobi Media.

“Not exactly.  If all that is needed is an algorithm, then how do we explain the large number of sales staff working at Google? There are several companies who are advancing the sophistication of ad technologies and breaking new ground.  We still compete for mindshare and for opportunities to solve clients’ problems with our “algorithms.” Good sales people are still needed to truly build and maintain client relationships.  Having said that, it is important to recognize that sales people whose companies do not bring forth powerful and unique technologies will increasingly struggle. We’ve seen the market favor technological approaches over “plain old media,” and this trend is only accelerating.  Sales people who do not represent winning technologies, along with those who cannot translate technology into client relevant solutions, will find themselves much less relevant in years to come.” —  Ammiel Kamon, EVP, Mobile & Marketing, Kontera.

“I think the exposure of more inventory – regardless of quality – to programmatic-bidding is a good thing, but I don’t think it will signal the redundancy of ad sales peoples.  For example, the emerging trend of private exchanges (mostly driven by publishers) still requires the same level of human interaction and negotiation that other forms of media do, and more importantly, programmatic-buying is still only one tool in a digital marketer’s toolbox.  Publishers still need people who can work collaboratively with agencies and brands to drive innovation and create “media firsts”; building custom (dare I say native) executions that tie content and brand more closely together. That said, while I strongly believe that programmatic-buying will not lead to fewer people, it does mean that the skillset of people who succeed in the industry will be different.  On the agency-side, it’s incredibly important that we find people who can fuse the traditionally sought-after creative thinking with real analytical ability.  Ensuring they don’t have to rely on an analyst to interpret large volumes of data and identify key trends and insights that can drive step changes in marketing, beyond machine-led optimization.” — Richard Mooney, Partner & Managing Director, North America of Essence.

“Ad sales people are not going away. What they sell might evolve however. Some aspects of publisher inventory will be available in marketplaces, some through programmatic means, and some will only be available by having a conversation with a sales rep at the publisher. Even in situations where there might be a programatic execution, the deal itself will likely take place between a human buyer and seller. “ — Alex White, GM, Data and Trading, DG Peer39.

“I’ve been an advocate of the human element in ad sales for as long as I’ve been in the business. Programmatic advertising and RTB can seem to be a strictly automated model with algorithms processing hundreds of thousands of impressions per second and buying on science alone. But regardless of the technology available, people do not do business with computers, they do business with other people. We actually asked this very same question in a study we commissioned recently with Advertiser Perceptions on RTB and programmatic ad buying. It found that one in four publishers are concerned that programmatic buying will eliminate the ‘human element’ in ad selling. And while this didn’t surprise us, the study also found that advertisers and publishers like to network and form human relationships. So, while automation will continue to make processes more efficient and cost effective, you’re always going to need human relationships to move the needle along. We’ve spoken with dozens of publishers that were initially afraid to launch into programmatic advertising because they feared sales channel conflicts and eroding relationships with media buyers but the truth is that even when a programatic advertising program is in place, transactions between media buyers and publishers can still occur.” — Andrew Casale, VP of Strategy, Casale Media.

“No, ad sales people will not be replaced by the algorithm. When you talk to publishers, the amount of money they’re making through direct sales still outweighs what they’re making through programmatic bidding. The expansion of programmatic bidding augments direct sales, but is not a pure replacement. There isn’t a universal algorithm that works across the full inventory span – it’s too complex. Remnant is sold in a different way, with different variables, than how premium is sold. The same algorithm does not work for both. The tools required for premium and remnant are actually quite different.

“Furthermore, there are elements of ad sales that algorithms can never take into consideration. You simply can’t replace a human connection when it comes to dealing with an irate call from an advertiser or a new relationship of which a machine wouldn’t be aware. When you’re working with quality brands, they want a human touch. They want to be assured of where their ad is going to show up and what it’s going to look like. We’ve been hearing for some time now that RTB will take over everything, but we’re still talking numbers south of 20 percent; direct-sold ads are still performing better.

“When it comes to optimization we actively encourage that the human touch remains a key ingredient. While, for example, you can automate the campaign optimization recommendations generated by our solution at Maxifier, as campaign improvements for one advertiser can negatively impact another client, it requires the human touch to make the ultimate decision as to if a change is a good or bad thing to implement: if this negative impact is on a major advertiser, for example, it may not be worth implementing the change. Algorithms simply cannot detect and consider such subtleties.

“At Maxifier, we consider programmatic premium the art of automation that enhances the way the publisher handles their premium inventory. While RTB is an important element in the publisher toolbox, when used correctly and on the appropriate inventory, it should receive a level of attention and priority commensurate with the revenue it generates.  Unfortunately what we see today in market is more time and attention spent on RTB and related solutions rather than ensuring optimization and efficiencies based around the publishers’ cash cow: Premium.” — Denise Colella, President, Maxifier.



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