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Palmer | Advertising, Events

GUEST BLOG: The Most Meaningful Debate At Cannes: Building The Bridge To 2020

Improve Digital, Staff Blog, Blog, Tech company, Programmatic

I’ve been going to Cannes “ad festival” for a number of years. It used to be about advertising, then about creative work, then media, then digital media and more recently it seems populated by technology companies.

This year, it was my refreshing pleasure to join Improve Digital’s annual Publisher Summit that runs in parallel at Cannes. The advertising industry has a habit of forgetting the views of publishers when looking at where the industry is heading, but for four years now, Improve Digital has brought together some of the best and the brightest from across the continent to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing the industry.

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The goal of this year’s event was to look forwards, or indeed backwards from 2020.

The goal of this year’s event was to look forwards, or indeed backwards from 2020. As Improve Digital provides a programmatic monetisation platform for publishers and media owners, it’s not surprising much of the two-day event was focused on the impact of sales automation on the advertising sales process. I was asked to lead an interactive session delving into some of the impacts they see today – and anticipate for tomorrow. Here’s how sixty of the industry’s brightest framed the challenges on the path before them:


1. People and the looming skills gap

In a world where many advertising support functions are rapidly transitioning from transactional to data-centric, not all the staff of today will make the grade moving forward. Simply put, much of the operational work will be done by machines and publishers and media owners will be faced with a skills gap. Different skills and mindsets will be needed. One view was that sales would become more a marketing function but a key highlight was the need for tech- and data-savvy sales directors. All agreed analysts and techies were of critical importance, and having sales leaders that spoke their language was crucial. Whilst now it’s: Meet, Greet and Close, by 2020 it will change to Analyse, Understand and Advise.

The challenge will be in recruiting, training and keeping the talent. And the biggest shock to me was the massive lack of women in media tech businesses today – typically no more that 20-25% of staff. Something I admire Improve Digital for – with two female founders, they are campaigning for diversity across the industry.

2. Sales process and the changes to the ad sales status quo

Businesses change and so will ours. Online banking became just banking. Online shopping became simply retail. Programmatic sales will soon just become sales too. But what will sales mean in 2020? Processes are still rough and there’s a ton of human intervention required. The general view was that rather than legions of glad-handers peddling banners and buttons, publishers of tomorrow are going to need a much more focused business development function.

Regarding the sales process, one counterintuitive conclusion was reached: while programmatic challenges the direct sales underpinnings of media businesses, it reinforces the importance of one critical direct sales discipline – pricing management. What automation brings with it is a sales channel management challenge, and the best (perhaps only?) way to manage boundaries and protect product value is via smart pricing and discounting practices.


3. Technology requirements as transaction models evolve

As reliance on programmatic revenues grow (approaching 50% of receipts for many premium publishers), so grows the reliance on programmatic technology providers. In terms of technology and tools in the future, sell-siders are beginning to ask questions like these:

  • Should the SSP one day replace the primary ad server? (In the name of cost-of-sale, that just makes sense).
  • When making those platform investments, is it a conflict of interest when a provider also has a stake in the buy-side or runs an exchange? (See: almost everyone)
  • In an environment that is entirely SAAS and cloud-based, what functions must be kept in house? What systems of record need to be yours and yours alone?

When attention was turned to the technology stack, we asked what the most important component would be. The answer? People. The overarching point? All the technology in the world is worthless without the right team. As machines take on more responsibility for our bottom lines, the folks with their hands on the switches become more important than ever.


4. Creativity

The creative discipline is critical to any seller’s bottom-line. It impacts every impression you serve, every page view you generate, but it’s also (almost) entirely beyond the seller’s control. Yet, the creative vs. programmatic debate rages on, and programmatic limitations (vis-a-vis creative) is often cited as the barrier to significant growth of brand spending in the channel.

People from the creative side will tell you the need for the creative craft and inspiration and argue that it doesn’t and can’t be aligned to a machine. People from a data and technology background will talk about how effectiveness and performance hinges on creative being made more relevant, personal, and tailored to the individual user.

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The truth, as always, is somewhere in between.

The truth, as always, is somewhere in between. At the Summit, there were two common views amongst the publishers – frustration or complacency. Many expressed frustration with the frequent disconnect between buying and planning tactics and the true spirit of the client’s original brief. On the complacency front, some thought there wasn’t an issue (as business was growing).

The creative conundrum remains of particular importance given creative gaps that throttle advances in video and mobile. Here, there was consensus: at every turn there must be clear, concise, and consistent communications from the client, through the creative and planning functions, down to individual media sellers. It was also agreed this creative and programmatic digital issue wasn’t just tactical. The common view in the room was programmatic being on all forms of media – including TV – would be here by 2020.

5. Data

Data wasn’t in truth discussed as a specific area, but it was clearly the 5th element and a common thread running through the other five. Data – it’s the lifeblood of programmatic with tracking and consumer targeting rewriting the media selling/buying playbook – and surely the creative playbook too. But for now, we’ll table the “data” issue specifically for another post.

Start building the bridge now

It was clear that everyone realised change was fundamental. If you didn’t have a strategy for automation, you’d soon find your business or its model in trouble.

When taken on their own, no one of the areas discussed seems insurmountable. When taken as a whole, it’s clear a herculean effort will be required by many to adapt to the new market model. There’s not a piece of the media operator’s organisation that will go untouched. Most importantly, there is no time to waste. It’s easy to put it off and focus on the now – but being cautious is now perhaps the biggest risk of all.

This is the reason why the Improve Summit was a brilliant opportunity to reflect and jointly garner the insight and courage not just to go back and do things as normal. I learned loads, had a great time and met some very interesting people. Hope I’m booked in for 2020 to see how they do.