Collective CEO Joe Apprendi would rather not describe his company’s shift toward self-service as a “pivot.”
“We use the word ‘diversification,’” Apprendi told AdExchanger. “We realize that there are clients out there who want to engage with our capabilities in a variety of different ways.”
Historically, Collective didn’t offer that variety. Like a lot of ad networks that cut their teeth in the mid-2000s, Collective’s business centered on performing media buying services and executing insertion orders on a CPM basis.
Apprendi admits that the process was pretty opaque.
“It was largely done with arbitrage pricing and it was not fully transparent in terms of the platforms employed, let alone the quality of the impressions,” he said. “Today, transparency is what we want to lead with.”
Apprendi is referring to VISTO, the data and reporting self-serve interface Collective released on Wednesday.
The tool, which sits on top of the company’s media-buying functionality, is designed to allow clients to log in and see side-by-side comparisons of performance, pricing, data and tech costs, media optimization and inventory placement details down to screen, format type and domain across their DSP, SSP, exchange, ad server and publisher partners.
“We’re execution-agnostic and ad tech-agnostic – we’ve always acquired audience and inventory agnostically,” Apprendi said. “And what I mean by agnostic is that we’re not trying to compete with the SSPs or the DSPs or the ad servers. We embrace them all and we want to integrate with them all so that they can be successfully managed through our single reporting and managed-service capabilities.”
As it stands today, Collective offers two service models. One is the company’s original bread and butter, a fully managed business charged on an IO basis. The second is a hybrid managed and self-serve option that combines the reporting in VISTO with managed executions against programmatic buys on a contract basis. Clients pay a recurring monthly fee to access to the VISTO dashboard.
There’s been a trend in the industry for ad networks to move toward self-serve as a way to bring on more renewable forms of revenue, but Apprendi claims Collective is a profitable company and has been eight out of 10 years since it was founded in 2006.
VISTO is part of a larger product the company calls Collective Desk, which combines reporting with workflow management and analytics. Collective is planning to make the rest of Desk available as self-service tools – eventually a fully self-service option will be on the table for those clients who want it, Apprendi said – but those are still road map items.
Collective’s recent hires of former MediaMath chief strategy officer Eoin Townsend as chief product officer in May and former Dassault Systèmes VP of product development John Vandermay as CTO in September are helping to fuel those plans. Before Dassault, Vandermay spent nearly five years as VP of worldwide engineering at Omniture.
According to Apprendi, Collective is on track to have 10 agency partners and marketer customers using the VISTO platform by the end of the quarter. One client already taking advantage is Allscope Media, a mid-size independent media agency headquartered in New York, which has done business with Foot Locker, National Geographic, Univision, Jackson Hewitt Tax Services, Blimpie and Smashburger.
Roughly a dozen of Allscope’s 75 employees are focused on digital planning and research – and that’s exactly where Allscope CEO Evan Greenberg wants them to stay focused.
“We want our digital people doing the thinking, the strategy, being creative,” Greenberg said. “Basically, we work with Collective as an extension of our team. That automatically gives me a lot more scale and a lot of hands on board.”
For the moment, Allscope is accessing Collective’s inventory and its programmatic platform as a managed service, but that might change to a managed/self-serve hybrid down the line as the team gets more comfortable with the tech.
It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, though, said Greenberg, noting that he’ll be evaluating the process over the next 12 to 24 months.
“At the end of the day, if all of this was that simple, then every client would just say, ‘I’ll grab this platform, hire a couple of people and let them sit in front of it all day like they’re playing 'Space Invaders' or 'World of Warcraft,'’” he said. “It’s not like that.”