Five years into the exchange-buying trend, attention tends to focus on what's broken in agency/network relationships. Black-box algorithms, opaque margins, impression fraud, and a tendency to overpromise and underdeliver have damaged trust in digital ads and the platforms that traffic them.
So the story goes. But for many agencies, these concerns are outweighed by the value being generated through display ad vendors.
San Francisco-based ROI DNA works with a number of clients and, as its name suggests, is focused on performance-driven marketing. Among its clients are Bay Area startups like DropBox, Ning and Apsalar. The firm offers search, mobile, site development and branding services. Most of its display ad solution outside of AdWords comes through Run DSP.
ROI DNA's Director of Paid Acquisition Julia Kung says not all clients work with Run, but the ones who do dedicate a significant portion of their spend to it. Often the display ad outlay is a complement to the search capability ROI DNA offers in-house.
Campaigns are based on insertion orders, not a dashboard or licensing fee, so in that sense Run DSP functions as a network buy rather than a demand-side platform, as its name would suggest. But unlike a network buy, Run is impression-focused. No upfront deals with publishers, no sitting on inventory and then reselling it.
"I think of them as an ad network that is much more flexible than networks I have worked with in the past," Kung says. "Run is probably flexible enough to be considered either [ad network or DSP]. We work with them in a certain way, as an extension of our team."
Run DSP does have a self-serve, fee-based platform that ROI DNA doesn't use, since managed services and advice are part of the package it wants. Run COO Dan Schwartz calls the SaaS dashboard offering "the faster growing piece of the business." He declined to characterize what percentage of Run's revenue it contributes today.
"If a client wants to pull their own levers on a self-service solution, that's game-ready and we're all for it," Schwartz said. "We absolutely think of ourselves as a platform that is as self-service oriented as any other one out there."
Run is self-funded and profitable. It employs 12 staff today, up from two a year ago; according to Schwartz, the company is hiring aggressively, especially engineers and ad ops people. On any given day it has 100 to 150 campaigns live, represented by about a dozen key agency partners.
For ROI DNA, Run DSP is often the only display ad offering leveraged, according to Kung. So why not go around the agency to serve brands directly?
Both Schwartz and Kung say there would be no upside in usurping client business since ROI DNA brings demand to Run through multiple clients.
"I've never worried about that," says Kung. "Because they know we bring in great clients, we want to keep the relationship strong. We're mutually motivated."
Schwartz says Run prefers to surround agency customers with a cozy layer of digital ad buying tools and managed services.
"That's what enables us to not have to go out and hire an army of salespeople," he says. "I don't think of McDonald's as my customer per se. I think of the agency or sales organization that we partner with, who works closely with McDonald's, as my partner in this thing."