Brands like Uber, Ubisoft and Bayer have evolved their programmatic in-housing tactics in recent years – and all three outlined those changes at AdExchanger’s Programmatic I/O conference in San Francisco Wednesday.
In the early days of in-housing, brands often bit off more than they could chew – or lacked the proper resources to implement and maintain their programmatic tech stack.
However, brands are savvier and more strategic in terms of what tasks they do by themselves, and what tasks they delegate to their agencies.
Uber: In-housing performance, but leaving branding at the agency
Uber, which buys most of its own media, began its journey in 2016 by focusing on acquisition marketing before branching out into new territory like retention, said Bennett Rosenblatt, head of programmatic display for Uber.
“That increased sophistication has required us to bring more data talent in-house,” he said.
Initially, Uber’s marketing was performance-driven, but lately the company has shifted its focus to brand marketing.
“We think of ourselves as the programmatic performance experts, especially in mobile, not the branding experts,” Rosenblatt said.
Uber views its agency partner as an extension of its in-house team, not a siloed unit it pushes budget to every now and then.
But there are a few key things Uber prefers to do itself – like tech selection.
“As a big brand, we constantly get inbound [from tech vendors] and sometimes those solutions seem dubious, but we try to take as many of those calls as we can,” Rosenblatt said.
Whenever possible, Uber’s in-house team dives into the weeds of new vendor pitches, instead of outsourcing that responsibility to its agency.
“We don’t want to take a backseat and have an agency tell us what’s right or not …we want to be involved in tech selection,” he said. “We also built out close relationships with exchanges, ad servers and meet once a month with [our DMP partners] to learn about what’s new. It’s about having allies at every point of the supply chain.”
Ubisoft: Harnessing agency buying power
Video game publisher Ubisoft also transitioned in 2016, when it changed agencies and increased its digital spend significantly.
It ramped up its internal team, growing to 14 programmatic experts.
Ubisoft relies on its agency UM for its channel expertise – and for its buying power.
“UM has diverse experience working on different brands from entertainment to non-entertainment brands, as well as TV,” said Sacha Xavier, director of media for Ubisoft. “It makes absolutely no sense to buy TV in house. We wouldn’t get the rates our agency gets.”
Ubisoft also relies on its agency to share the responsibility on partner selection.
“We don’t have time to meet with a new publisher everyday, so it’s great to collaborate on strategic thinking,” Xavier said.
Collaboration is equally important to ensure its agency partner has the data it needs to execute.
“We believe media and marketing should be tied closely to segmentation and audience management,” Xavier said. “We have anonymized data and targeting [segments, which] the agency [uses] to buy based on what we plan. … They also ad serve everything, so we’re well aware of what they’re buying.”
Bayer: Multiple agencies working under one directive
Bayer’s prescription for successful in-housing is a hybrid approach: putting hands on keyboards when it makes sense and choosing partners that know how to communicate and collaborate.
The process works smoothest when everyone weighs in on decision-making, including reps from Google and Facebook, said Josh Palau, VP of digital strategy and platforms at Bayer Consumer Health.
“We’re trying to come up with this holistic plan that puts the right partners in front of us and puts them working together,” he said. “That’s when you start to see these things work really well, when the experts are all working together and you’re getting the best partners for the pieces of business that matter the most.”
After several months of conversation, Bayer moved into a new model in which different agencies work with a single marching order from the brand.
Planning and strategy lives with Mediacom; Essence helps lead biddable programmatic, paid search and social; and endemic and lifecycle digital comes out of GroupM. Another WPP agency, Possible, is starting to handle organic search and ecommerce.
That might sound like a recipe for disaster (how many territorial agency egos can you fit onto one media plan?), but hey, “The Avengers” managed to come together for the greater good, and there’s no reason agency partners can’t do the same, Palau said.
“It’s incumbent upon you as a brand but even you as a partner to break down silos and figure out how to work within this model,” he said. “The more [people] we can get to the table at the very beginning to just hash things out and say things like, ‘I don’t agree with your approach’ – that’s okay. We shy away from these conversations all too often when in the reality we’re all in it to get the same thing.”
Update: An earlier version of this story included information on Uber's partner strategy that has been removed from the current version.
Allison Schiff contributed.