Questions For MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan And Programmatic Lead Matt Spiegel

medialink-kassan-spiegelMediaLink, long a dabbler in ad tech, has now jumped in with both feet.

The strategic advisory firm tapped agency and startup veteran Matt Spiegel to ramp up its consulting work in the marketing technology area. That work will include advising marketers, publishers and tech companies on how to capitalize on the data-driven media automation trend.

Spiegel is steeped in media mechanization, having founded and run the first iteration of Omnicom Group's Accuen trading desk. Later he worked for MediaMath, running North American revenue operations. In spring 2014 he founded a programmatic consulting firm, Concept Corridor, which led him to MediaLink's door.

AdExchanger spoke with Spiegel and MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan.

AdExchanger: What changes for MediaLink with this hire?

MICHAEL KASSAN: I don't know that it's a change. It's just a ramping up. The ramp-up is coming from the marketplace. I can judge that by the number of phone calls we're getting from both sides of the equation, or all three sides of the equation if you will.

"Three sides." Are they the advertiser, the publisher and the technology vendor?

MATT SPIEGEL: More broadly you might say the buyer, the seller and all the intermediaries. The key point, and certainly something I've witnessed over the last 12 months, is that the word "programmatic" has gone from not really mattering to people to impacting all of marketing. Something I've made a point of saying is, let's get past the word programmatic and talk about what the objectives are. What are marketers trying to accomplish? What does it mean for how you use data and apply technology to your business?

And as marketers have to change, how you sell to them has to change, and the technology tools they need have to change. [MediaLink's play] is very much is about being an independent voice that has operational expertise in this area, and getting beyond the hype and noise to assist with business-building.

Just to be clear, you will align with tech startups correct?

MK: Yes, we represent a lot of the vendors. Even competitors in the same category, we represent a lot of them. We are very comfortable recommending and aligning our clients with our clients. And even sometimes our clients with those who are not our clients. We are not always going to say, “You've got to choose one of our existing clients.”

MediaLink's unique model is that with total transparency and total disclosure we are very comfortable representing buyers and sellers, publishers and brands, publishers and agencies, agencies and clients. Because we're disclosed.

As a tax lawyer, I learned disclosure and transparency obviates any issue of conflict. If both sides know you're representing both sides of the equation, then it's not a conflict. It's just a decision.

MS: As Michael points out, we represent lots of clients and lots of potential solutions for marketers. A key point is, we are not taking a preferred vendor approach when a marketer calls and says, "What is the solution I need?" It's a consultative approach. It's very much a needs [and] analysis approach.

So are you primarily a connector for the cluttered ecosystem?

MK: "Connector" is one way to say it. Elevating it a bit, I think you could say "systems integrator."

There are gigantic, multibillion companies in the systems integrator business. We're kind of in the systems integrator business as well. I didn't want MediaLink ever to be a consulting company. We're not your father's Oldsmobile. We're not a standard-issue consulting firm that says, "Here's a deck, good luck, see you later." I don't like the goodbye girl story. We're here to help. Matt Spiegel is a great example. Matt's an operator, he's in the trenches getting his fingernails dirty.

MS: What attracted me to MediaLink is that operational mindset. Michael and the team are committed to expanding on the roster of folks at MediaLink who have a direct ad tech implementation experience. You'll see us add people that have managed a DMP implementation, chosen a DSP and implemented it with their teams. We will very much be in that last mile of helping companies operationalize strategy.

How many people do you need in the programmatic area?

MS: To be clear, we're not getting into the business of day-to-day use of the tools. That's for the agencies, clients and technology companies to do themselves. We help get you to the implementation. The systems integration model is the right one.

In terms of how many, it's a function of client demand and need. We'll start by adding three or four people in the short term. After that we'll find out what demand dictates. There is not a long list of people that have expertise, but there's certainly a growing crop. The investment in this area doesn't end with me, it begins with me.

What are the use cases where you can create the most value?

MS: With marketers, they're seeing the headlines and want to understand, what does this mean for the business? How should I be thinking about my digital marketing investments? What's the future role of my agency? How do I license and utilize technology? How do I organize my department? What skills do I need to have internally? How do I build for this new world?

It's everything from education, to organizational design, to marketing and media strategy. If you're going to continue to be a leading brand over the next several decades, then the market has clearly stated and I certainly believe that that's going to be rooted in your use of technology and data. As you start to use technology to build a set of skills and new techniques, that impacts everything in your organization. It's not just about putting programmatic as a line item in your media plan. It's about thinking differently about how to create plans and allocate budgets.

A big use case is creating that playbook for marketers – helping them understand that we're in that type of evolution.

What about publishers?

MS: For the sellers, whether that be a direct media company or the technology companies, it's everything from helping identify their unique selling propositions, where they potentially fit in the marketplace, how to help them design solutions that meet the expectations of the buyer. And in many cases that's an education process as well. Sometimes it gets into org design. Or helping them identify and choose technology partners.

The overarching narrative right now is that agencies are being squeezed, and clients are re-evaluating those relationships. What's your take?

MS: It is not black and white. And I think the industry is only beginning to talk about that in the right way. This blanket idea of in-house vs. outsourcing simplifies it too much. The reality is that most clients the headlines suggest are "insourcing" programmatic buying are … actually doing direct-to-detechnology partnerships and having those technology companies pull the levers. That's not "in-house."

It's part of what I would call the right trend, which is marketers recognizing the need to have a strong POV on their enterprise marketing technology stack. To me that's no different from other categories of work, where large companies have relationships with the technology companies they like. It's true of ecommerce, it's true of email marketing, and so on. There will be plenty of clients that still turn to agencies to facilitate those relationships. But I do think marketers should be taking a look at their enterprise approach, and should have direct relationships, if for no other reason than the capabilities of these tools go way beyond the scope of their relationships with their agencies.

 

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