The Many Shades Of In-Housing

"Brand Aware” explores the data-driven digital ad ecosystem from the marketer's point of view.

Today's column is written by Belinda J. Smith, global director of media activation at Electronic Arts. Belinda will present "EA's Programmatic Arts" at AdExchanger's upcoming PROGRAMMATIC I/O New York conference on Oct. 25-26.   

Of all the trends happening in programmatic, “in-housing” seems to be reaching near-epidemic status.

Many marketers are actively evaluating or experimenting with ways to bring their media buying in-house – most commonly by creating teams that function like the media-buying teams found at agencies.

There are differing reasons why brands think in-housing may be for them. These include a lack of transparency, an interest in understanding more about digital and programmatic, desired cost savings and protection of sensitive or competitive information, among others.

And while brands with large budgets and resources get more involved in media buying, many smaller brands wonder if and how they can make the trend work for them.

While hiring a team of buyers is certainly one path to in-housing, there are many other entry points that can be suitable to brands in different stages of their journey. Below are a few setups I’ve seen work out for all involved. I would love to hear more about what’s happening in this space in the comments section.

Choose An Agency You Trust And Get Logins

One way to increase a brand’s media understanding and expertise is simply to work much closer with its agency. Brands must be transparent with their agency about their desire to be hands-on with campaigns and have them help educate brands and their teams about media.

Brand teams should have logins to the platforms their agencies use for buying. Instead of having weekly calls to review performance reports, they should use that time to actually walk through the platform and get the agency’s view on how things are set up, what’s working well and what optimizations they’re making to the campaign.

Most agencies would be overjoyed to have a client that cares deeply and understands the value and complexity of the work they do. This kind of partnership can immediately improve performance, as the close collaboration will help the agency better understand what’s truly important to the brand and the brand will develop an understanding of how those priorities translate to buying decisions. And if an agency pushes back on giving brands access to their own campaigns, that may be its own kind of sign.

Own Your Own Paper

Brands can go one step further and directly negotiate deals with their technology partners. Just because a brand has an agency executing its buys doesn’t mean it can’t own the contracts for the tools they use.

Creating direct agreements with demand-side platforms, data management platforms and other vendors offers full sight of the terms, pricing structures, product warranties, protections and incentives that come with these relationships. And if a brand is leveraging sensitive customer data to execute media buys, contracting directly with the platforms that use this data gives them the added benefit of negotiating custom data protection terms that best suit their needs. With more strenuous regulation such as GDPR happening around the world, having control and oversight over any entities that have access to data will continue to be fundamental.

An additional benefit of contracting directly with tech platforms and vendors is having another layer of access and support for campaigns. Even though an agency may be executing the buys, vendors realize the importance of nurturing and growing their relationship with brands. When brands make themselves the end client, they open opportunities for more support, communication and education from partners. They are able to understand more about the business and goals and offer brands dedicated resources and custom solutions.

Work Side By Side

Agencies add a lot of value outside of just executing campaigns. Just because brands would like some of their buying to be in house doesn’t mean they should walk away from their agencies. They can choose a piece of media buying that they’d like to bring in-house while relying on their agencies for other types of buys or strategic support.

Perhaps there’s a critical channel that they’d like to control, such as something that’s incredibly data targeted, the channel responsible for most of their revenue, or their ecommerce or direct-response business. Having agency support combined with an in-house team is another way to build a brand’s media muscle at its own pace.

Flip The Switch

And, of course, brands can always join the perceived masses and create a full buying team that sits in-house.

I should note here that anyone outside of a major market will find it difficult to make this a reality. There’s no college degree for programmatic buying and, for now, talent in this arena is concentrated in the major media markets, namely New York, Chicago and Los Angeles/San Francisco. While there are burgeoning practices in cities such as Atlanta, Dallas and DC, even those can still be tough markets to find experienced talent in meaningful numbers.

This means that brands will need to get creative for how they train and grow talent. For example, candidates from the sciences and financial sectors are usually able to ramp quickly and make successful buyers. Additionally, brands should lean on their vendors to help train and guide their teams. Of course, there is no shortage of conferences to attend in this space.

No matter what the goals are or where a business is currently situated, there are ways for brands to take steps today to get much closer to their media dollars.

Follow Belinda J. Smith (@BJStech), Electronic Arts (@EA) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

 

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