Amnet’s Bet On Automated Guaranteed

Automated-GuaranteedAutomated guaranteed has been the slowest part of programmatic to get off the ground. But one of its biggest proponents is the Dentsu Aegis-owned trading desk Amnet, which sees the technology as key to making programmatic a central part of everything an agency does.

From January to December last year, budgets going to automated guaranteed – which automates the IO process in a direct deal for reserved inventory – grew 44% within Amnet’s pool of direct programmatic spend, which includes private marketplaces and other preferred programmatic deals.

“We’ve seen months where we’ve transacted more on automated guaranteed than on some types of private marketplaces,” said Vincent Bareges, director of publisher development at Amnet.

The publishing community considers Amnet one of the fastest movers into automated guaranteed, sending more budget its way than many other trading desks or agencies.

“Amnet is at the top of the agencies committing to automated guaranteed,” said Ross Geier, Gannett’s programmatic director. Amnet has been executing these deals from multiple company offices, he said, “indicating that they've instituted the strategy companywide.”

That growth isn’t just coming from automated guaranteed tech improving (though it is), but from structural changes in how Amnet thinks about programmatic.

“Programmatic cannot be on an island anymore,” said Bareges, who is spearheading the charge into automated guaranteed. “Programmatic is infused more in everything an agency does, especially when you’re talking about planning against a specific audience.”

In most setups, agencies plan campaigns, and allocate a certain amount of media to be executed via the agency trading desk – the “island” approach, where programmatic is often a line item, rather than a way of executing media.

But because automated guaranteed is meant to streamline workflow, it “sits squarely between the responsibilities of the media agencies and Amnet,” Bareges said.

For it to take off, agency processes must change, moving toward what Bareges calls a “holistic planning approach.”

Select Amnet clients are embracing this idea, though Amnet wouldn’t say how many. At the beginning of the planning process, they will figure out what can be executed via automated guaranteed, direct IOs or private marketplaces, then send out RFPs and plan campaigns accordingly.

The clients choose this way because they want greater efficiency, access and data. All of these are available in varying amounts at this stage in automated guaranteed.

The “Pick Up The Phone” Hurdle

Because automated guaranteed is still getting off the ground, the planning process is still a bit more manual than the term “automated” implies. Technology, in this case, is still less efficient than an old-fashioned phone call.

“If I’m at a big agency and have been working with a publisher for years, when I want to buy [direct] it takes me a five-minute phone call,” noted Dina Srinivasan, managing director of emerging media for Kantar Media. That’s a high bar of efficiency for automated guaranteed to cross. She sees “a lot of hand holding” in the current iteration of automated guaranteed.

Bareges and other publishers pursuing automated guaranteed acknowledged those inefficiencies.

“We are not giving up just because direct sales is there,” Bareges said. “Every time we have a new product and new evolution in the marketplace, there is always a lot of friction until it works better.”

“The promise of programmatic is that we get rid of the human element, but we still need the relationships and people we trust to try new things,” said Julie Clark, VP of programmatic sales and strategy for Hearst’s Core Audience, noting that Amnet has been a partner “digging into this learning curve.”

There’s at least one case, though, where the workflow automation in automated guaranteed is approaching efficiency: global activations.

Amnet has been able to plan global campaigns using automated guaranteed, accessing inventory that would have been complex to secure in the past, such as inventory in smaller markets without direct sales support.

Publishers like The New York Times are already benefiting from the efficiency of using automated guaranteed for global campaigns.

The Times, which has worked on a number of “dynamic and fruitful” automated guaranteed campaigns with Amnet as a publisher, calls the agency’s efforts “extremely advanced,” said Sara Badler, director of programmatic advertising at the Times.

“They are transacting in an automated way with various clients and in many different markets,” said Badler, who has met with the Amnet team in Paris to discuss these opportunities.

Automated guaranteed also offers benefits for clients who have “a certain portion of buys that are recurring buys that are relatively standardized,” Bareges said. “A lot of agencies resources are going to fulfilling those, so centralizing those buys is an easy win for them and translates to financial benefits.”

Snapping Up Inventory

Automated guaranteed so far has been used to secure the kind of inventory previously only available via direct sales channels.

“Automated guaranteed campaigns have been predominantly home-page takeovers and high-impact units provided at the same priority as our direct deals,” Geier said. “Amnet benefits from the speed of execution, cost efficiencies of using a platform and tracking results on the back end.”

It’s also being used to guarantee inventory during high-demand times.

In 2015, Amnet’s automated guaranteed activity spiked around select cultural events, even surpassing spend in private marketplaces. While programmatic has an “always-on” mentality, “there is a lot of fluctuation in spending in automated guaranteed,” Bareges said, similar to traditional media campaigns, which are “reflective of seasonality and highly sought after tentpole events.”

As automated guaranteed technology improves, Bareges envisions being able to guarantee not just inventory, but audiences ahead of time, similar to how an upfront works. “An in-demand partner might be sold out every other month,” he said as an example. “How do we lock down budgets a month in advance to make sure advertiser X is there?”

Publishers, and automated guaranteed technology partners, still have work to do in onboarding all their inventory into the platforms so it can be purchased via automated guaranteed. Unfortunately, this work requires technological improvements in audience forecasting, which don't exist yet.

“There is a feeling that anything can be run through automated guaranteed, but that isn’t the truth yet,” Clark said, echoing a common refrain.

AG’s Possibility (And Reality)

Though automated guaranteed promises workflow automation, it also centralizes buying. That can make it easier to extract data across a campaign. It also opens the possibility of global frequency capping, a coveted feature that reduces waste.

Though some tech partners are offering “iterations” of global frequency capping, which would benefit Amnet’s clients, the technology “is still in its infancy,” Bareges said. Improving that technology will increase agency spend via automated guaranteed, Bareges predicted. “We expect such capabilities to become widespread in the future as technology partners take on the challenge.”

To better gather data, Amnet has experimented (with close publisher partners) pixeling certain campaigns and audiences and retargeting those users.

“The audiences are captured into the DMP, and then we can dig deeper into those audiences profiles and model off them,” Bareges said. It can use those insights to figure out “what differentiates a converter vs. someone just exposed to the ads.”

“Bottom line, we’re getting a lot more audience insights than you would through straight-up IOs, “Bareges said. “That’s the added value.”

Right now, Amnet’s focus on programmatic guaranteed has skewed toward high-impact, 100% share-of-voice placements and global activations, which are particularly challenging to fulfill via RTB. As technology improves, and as marketers grow more comfortable with buying automated guaranteed, Bareges expects the use of automated guaranteed to expand.

“We’re seeing a holistic approach to media planning that wasn’t there six months ago,” Bareges said. But in terms of what automated guaranteed will look like in the future? It’s anyone’s guess.

“There’s so much in flux,” Bareges said, and automated guaranteed offerings have evolved over the past 18 months. “Some clients are using it for home-page takeovers, others to lock down high-impact media inventory you can’t find at scale. The same way a media plan is going to look dramatically different from one client to another, automated guaranteed looks very different for each client.”

 

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