Merkle’s Global COO On Navigating Platforms, Publishers And Cloud Stacks

As the global COO of Merkle, Michael Komasinski keeps the proverbial engines running both internally and in the agency’s services business.

After joining Merkle in 2015 from his post as COO of Razorfish North America, Komasinski helped drive 30% revenue growth across the business in 2016.

Komasinski also was largely responsible for leading the integration efforts across several key Merkle acquisitions.

These days, successful integration increasingly means ensuring that Merkle’s emerging tech platforms and M1, its people-based planning and activation system that includes the ID-syncing system Publisher Addressable Marketplaces, are interoperable with third-party marketplaces, publishers and platforms.

Komasinski spoke with AdExchanger about Merkle’s evolving services strategy.

AdExchanger: How has your role at Merkle evolved?

MICHAEL KOMASINSKI: When I joined, we primarily had two operating groups: agency services and marketing solutions. Agency services was search, programmatic and paid media capabilities we’d acquired or grown. Marketing solutions was the legacy CRM part of the business or related solutions.

When I joined, I was global COO of agency services, but what we saw in-market was this convergence of CRM capabilities with paid media.

So we reorganized in late 2016 and moved that all under one operating group under Craig Dempster called the global services group. The idea was that we shouldn’t have our CRM and programmatic capabilities live apart from one another if an addressable experience is what we want to bring to clients. When we created this global integrated structure, my job got bigger, and I took over as global COO of that integrated group.

What’s your role at the agency?

I’m a little more internally focused, but I do meet with our clients either because they’re big and strategic or occasionally because there’s something wrong that needs to be fixed, and I’ll jump in on those. As a COO, a lot of it is about how we are structured. Do we have the right people in the right places for the right accounts? And how are we adapting our processes to a company that continues to grow rapidly in terms of size and geographic scale?

Does Merkle still identify with its CRM and database roots, or have they taken on greater meaning with your push to digital?

It’s definitely taken on bigger meaning because the proposition of more addressable data in paid media is such a fundamental change. And I guess even the more legacy CRM space is evolving pretty rapidly with all of the marketing platforms, which has become a huge part of our business. More and more, our CRM relationships are about standing up the Adobe, Oracle or Google stacks and how we orchestrate customers’ data as opposed to just standing up a database.

Are you setting up Amazon stacks?

I don’t have any [special] knowledge on that, but we’re seeing [Amazon] finally starting to introduce a more cohesive story that has a bigger proposition for clients and more access for agencies to get into that platform, invest clients’ money in it and drive performance.

What’s most compelling about Amazon’s evolution?

That ability to link content through Amazon Prime with the NFL deal, the investments they’ve made in their search platform and the ability to link that to browsing behavior within their product platform or transactions on it is very powerful.

What I’d look for now is, let’s see how it performs in Q4. The NFL season just kicked off, the biggest shopping season of the year is coming up, so it’d be interesting to see how it made a difference in clients’ Q4 results. Some Amazon investment is part of every media plan we have for clients, but it is still not a huge proportion of the overall plan – yet.

But you can’t be a retailer or packaged-goods maker and not have it be part of the Q4 plan. Time will tell what proportion of client media dollars they will get.

What data sets are most compelling to Merkle?

Let’s start with publishers. We’re seeing lot of traditional and digital publishers [like Pandora and CBS] working on data deals with companies like Merkle and our M1 team to create ID syncs for their logged-in viewers, which helps to increase the value of their inventory and makes it more measurable and attractive to buy on behalf of our clients.

We’ve gone out to a variety of publishers and will send them our Merkle ID and do a hashed, anonymized match with their logged-in data set, which allows us to set that up in M1 as something people can buy. That gives us a return feed on action taken, so it’s not a walled garden.

Would you liken it to the data exchange effect we’ve also seen from big marketing clouds?

I’d say we are more complementary to those [marketing cloud] offerings. It’s a really powerful trend where you see publishers using their data to compete with walled gardens and make their own inventory more valuable. Most of the publishers we’ve signed up are very large publishers and typically this data sync is one of the first they’ve done.

What about ID syncing in over-the-top (OTT) environments, where identity resolution remains a big issue?

We have developed a nice client niche with several OTT clients where they’re creating a way to distribute their content in connected TV. Those clients are a really good match for Merkle in the way they approach gaining subscribers with a direct-response component to it.

We typically help them launch and scale a new platform. And then, on the tune-in side, we’ve developed a lot of competency around how to find audiences for specific TV programs and pieces of content. So that’s a really exciting client niche for us.

Interview condensed.

 

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