Five Things Agencies Should Look for When Choosing a Programmatic Solution


1. Look for Aligned Incentives: There is a healthy tension in any healthy marketplace where buyers want to buy for the lowest price, and sellers shoot for the highest. As agencies move into the programmatic waters, they may be tempted by the siren song of the “all-in-one” solution, or technology companies who represent both agency and publisher.

There are all sorts of carrots dangled here during the sales pitch. Exclusive relationships with publishers, bespoke inventory you can’t buy anywhere else, stability in an uncertain marketplace… But a buyer needs a buy-side platform, pure and simple.

It’s impossible for any company truly representing both sides of the coin to have an honest conversation with its customers. One sales team is promising the agency a competitive CPM rate, while across the hall, publishers are being told they’ll benefit from higher CPMs and better fill rates. Or, even worse, the buyer is told that a technology solution will optimize to only the best ad impressions, totally agnostic of publisher, when in reality there can be biases to purchase the “house” inventory first.

This misalignment of incentives for the “all-in-one” platform means that the agency is always wondering if they’ve been left holding the bag. As we say sometimes around the office, you want the best defense attorney money can buy – not a “courtroom-in-a-box,” an all-in-one judge, prosecutor, and defender.

2.  Make Sure There is Room for the Service Layer: A technology platform doesn’t replace people; it allows them to exercise their expertise instead of just being order takers. The best way to tell if your programmatic partner is leaving room for you to provide a service layer to your clients is to see what kind of visibility you’re given into how the tech works. If you’re being kept in the dark, you’re being edged out of the stack. Push your potential programmatic partner on where they see agencies a year from now, or two years from now. Are they rooting for you? Are they counting on your success? Or are you running up against them in your pitches to new clients?

3.  Look for Room to Build on Top of the Technology:  In the same vein, a best-in-class tech partner lets others bring their own differentiators to the party. That could mean building optimization rules on top of a DSP’s APIs. It could mean linking DSP reporting into your agency’s proprietary reporting or attribution dashboard. Part of an agency’s role is to act as the service layer. But increasingly, it’s important to consider what “gaps in the stack” remain – what else can an agency and a DSP do to complement one another?

4.  Think ahead to Guaranteed Media, Not Just RTB:  Before RTB, media was transacted almost entirely on an upfront basis. The advertiser commits money up front – say, $4M for a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl – while the network guarantees the advertiser that their ad will air sometime in the 1st quarter.

There would never be a case where an advertiser would set aside budgets for Super Bowl creatives without having an airtight agreement that their ad would run as promised.

For the past few years, RTB has suffered from a lack of guarantees. Sophisticated advertisers jumped into RTB for audience targeting capabilities and advanced decisioning. Now they want those capabilities AND the best of the guaranteed media universe. RTB and guaranteed are coming together faster than anyone predicted, so finding a programmatic partner that is betting big on private marketplaces and the forward market is key.

5. People still matter: During the evaluation process, it’s easy to write up a 20 page RFP document comparing DSPs on price or contrasting how many rich media impressions each one is bidding on in Latvia. Those things are important. But in so many cases, agencies forget to evaluate the client services and support team sitting behind the technology, the training provided, the investment made by the DSP in onboarding new agencies.

A strong programmatic partner will meet you every step of the way: from educating on technical capabilities, to supporting training and onboarding, to pushing data-driven insights up the marketing chain. The tech is hugely important, but so are the people.


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