Kurt Unkel is stepping down from VivaKi Audience On Demand (AOD), where he has for the past five years been a key figure in evolving Publicis Groupe's entry in the trading desk space.
Adweek's Noreen O'Leary first reported the news earlier today, noting Unkel has accepted the chief digital officer role at WPP's Ford agency, Team Detroit.
In a memo to staff that was shared with AdExchanger, Unkel confirmed his exit at the end of February. He said the move was motivated by a wish to be closer to family, including two young daughters born in the five years since AOD's launch.
"It's been an incredibly difficult decision to have to make, as we are on a strong trajectory and with the merger coming up, it's honestly a very exciting time, especially for what we do," Unkel wrote.
Under Unkel's supervision, AOD has seen its headcount surpass 300, including dozens of traders in each of several hubs (75 in New York, 50 in Chicago, 25 in Detroit, 25 in London, 20 in Paris). Despite the growth, the two years since he took the reins at AOD have been a polarizing time for trading desks in general, as some clients continue to raise concerns about price transparency and the high margins associated with the trading desk model.
AOD has also had to respond to shifting supply dynamics – such as when its close association with Google's ad stack led to a temporary lockout from Facebook Exchange (the demand-side platform it used, DoubleClick Bid Manager, was excluded from Facebook’s new programmatic marketplace). Since then AOD has diversified to other DSPs.
Unkel was preceded out the door by Chris Paul, general manager of AOD, who took a position late last year as the global director of paid media at public relations giant Edelman.
VivaKi said in a statement, "We can confirm that Kurt is leaving VivaKi in pursuit of greater work/life balance and an opportunity that keeps him in Detroit. We have a succession plan in place that will be announced shortly."
Team Detroit was created in 2006 from components of several WPP agencies that all did work for Ford Motors. It later added work for smaller clients such as Sports Authority and Carhartt.
In his memo Unkel also praised his colleagues and what they'd built, noting the creation of AOD required "long hours, longer meetings, tons of energy, but we persevere because there's nothing better than when it all works and we prove the theory true that this is the future of media buying!"