Programmatic Summit
Q&A with Dan Robins

All things programmatic, ad tech & digital with Dan Robins, Director, CMO Advisory, PwC

A digital marketing, data and technology specialist with a continuous history of high achievement in the UK, Australia and across the APAC region, Dan Robins works with some of the largest blue-chip brands, creating innovative, brand and revenue growth strategies. We talked to him about all things programmatic at present and beyond.

AM: We sat down with Dan Robins, Director, CMO Advisory with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and we’re here to talk about programmatic advertising with relation to the Programmatic Summit 2020 which takes place on 3rd March in Melbourne and 5th March in Sydney. Find out more about Programmatic Summit Sydney here and Programmatic Summit Melbourne here.

DR: Hi there

Q: You’ve got nearly a decade of experience in programmatic and data technology strategies from both agency and sales sides. Briefly talk us through the evolution of your journey.

A: Sure, I started in kind of the original programmatic channel, search engine marketing, and started as a specialist in the UK. Like a lot of people who get into media, I sort of fell into It. It wasn’t by design. I did economics at uni and thought I’d get into a finance role at some point, but was taken by [programmatic] from day one. I loved the opportunity to use platforms and technology to get a marketing message and advertising out instantly. You know, you upload your creative, what you want to pay for it, you put it into the system, and it’s out in the world straight away. Unlike most of the media channels that work from backward to forward. I’m thinking of negotiations to signing off and faxing pieces of paper between each other and then it goes through a whole process and then being pasted up on the wall or out in the TV networks. It’s still being out in the world, but with programmatic that instant nature of it has always been something I really enjoyed.

Then the other side of it all is just the volume of data that managed to come back to you almost instantly. You can come back the following day and see what happened, see if people liked your ad by clicking on it. You instantly got a sense of whether your advertising was working and then ultimately getting people to buy the product. Maybe it’s the economist in me, maybe it’s the control freak in me, I don’t know, but I really really liked that side of digital media.

From that time, I just sort of expanded out from that base always within a performance marketing area. So, search first, then SEO and then later into, as the space developed, into what you call programmatic today with display, and then we added video and affiliates and things like that.

Then when I moved to Australia, we built the first hybrid agency/client trading desk for Telstra.

It was a new model. Rather than it being the holding company trading desk or in-house desk, it was sort of a middle-ground to use agency staff, built in the agency, but had full access to the client, and the team only worked with Telstra. They had access to customer data for targeting, etcetera. I probably wouldn’t talk too much publicly about the data, given privacy questions these days, but from a performance point of view, we did all that, and it was pretty well-proven and award-winning.

Then from there, at agency OMD I held a broad role as Head of Digital where I generally focused more on working with clients on my data and tech-led approaches. Then I moved across to Spotify and basically built out their programmatic approach across APAC. I launched and grew out Australia & New Zealand trading, and then Southeast Asia and Japan. We were just getting started in India last year. Spotify trades on an old school IO basis. You can buy things like audio and display and video ads, but I mean we got stuck into the programmatic pipes and really developed the audio programmatic space. Which is really interesting.

At the end of last year, I joined PwC. The role here is probably broader than any of the roles I’ve done before. It’s covering the media stakes, so while my background is media tech and data, here I’m part of the CMO advisory team. We give advice to clients and brands on all parts of their marketing and media. That can be everything from brand and brand strategy and customer insights, through to marcomms and marketing strategy into media and what media can be at the full media mix and looking at how brands spend their money through to how to use technology and data and that kind of thing.

Q: Wow! That’s quite an impressive resume.

A: Well, thank you. Probably wasn’t by design, but you know, I enjoy just getting broader and broader experience. I moved to Spotify because I wanted more commercial experience. You know agencies are great, and there are some that are heavily client-focused, OMD is one of those. And there are some which are a bit more commercially focussed. But even then, they’re not like, “What was our revenue yesterday?”, “What’s our pipeline?” “What are the opportunities?”, “Should we use SalesForce?”, that kind of thing. Because that’s not the role of an agency. They’re an agent on behalf of their client, and it’s on their retainer. So moving to Spotify gave me the opportunity to broaden my experience on that, to be more commercial as well as to see how things work on the other side, learn how to work with salespeople. Not just deal with them, but actually work with them, learn how the tech works on the sales side as much as a buyer; you log into a platform, well how does it end up coming to being in that platform? So, I think as the consultant I get to pull all that together for brands.

Q: In 2019, in the U.S. alone, programmatic accounted for about 75% of the total digital ad expenditure and it’s expected that advertisers will spend nearly $60 billion us on programmatic display in 2020. When you first entered the game, did you ever expect it to take hold the way it has or has it actually exceeded your expectations?

A: I was pretty green and junior when I first got in, so thinking about where our industry would go in the market wasn’t really on my radar, to be honest. I mean in the slightly more recent past, I would say it’s not about predicting where things can go to in terms of revenue and spending. A lot of the inefficiencies in buying, for example, by not using technology feel so obvious to me and feel so broken but solvable. It’s not like there’s a completely unsolvable outcome. So would I say I always felt like this would continue to grow? Definitely. Because I’m a firm believer in “the right message, at the right time to the right person” and have always been a firm believer of using technology to create efficiencies in processes. That can be as simple as Excel shortcuts, as it can be all the way through to full platform buying.

So would I say that I’ve always thought that programmatic would continue to grow? Definitely.

I would also say that I don’t see programmatic as a channel. I think programmatic is getting a bad rap by being a separate channel because programmatic is actually just a way of buying. It’s using data and technology to automate the media buying process. So, I guess I almost question why wasn’t it going faster.

The reason all of this came about was because there was more inventory on websites to sell than the salespeople physically could. Either because they didn’t have big enough sales teams or because they were focused on premium parts of the website. So, it makes sense to have a technology like that can do it for you for the billions and billions of ad requests. That was when it was all remnant, which gets a bad rap for being the crap. But remnant just means “what is remaining”, what we physically couldn’t sell.
But that could be, ‘ I can’t sell any of this because I don’t have a ‘salesperson’, as much as it could be the shit that we couldn’t get off our books (laughs). So when it was just remnant, that was one point in time, and if that’s what you’re using it for then it will probably always get a bad rap. Because ultimately, you’re only going to have poor quality stuff. But if you’re more thinking about it from a,
“This is to drive efficiency in a process and effect a good output”, then you’d work out a way, as most publishers have, of making everything available.

There’s lots of hoops and lots of business practices we need to work out to make it the perfect world, but I think we’re on our way at least.

Q: Despite the undeniable efficiency of programmatic, what would you say to the ‘nay-sayers’ who claim that it only automates the easy parts, i.e. how the media itself is bought and sold, but lacks effectiveness in terms of cut-through with relevant creative solutions?

A: That’s probably, to an extent, partly because we’ve come from a place where it was just the remnant inventory that was originally only a handful of formats like MRECs & leaderboards and not too much else. Whereas, now more and more nonstandard units are being traded, be that through simple stuff like video or takeovers. You’ve got things like TV and outdoor, so first and foremost, for the creative piece you’ve got more formats that are tradable rather than in the automated way.

Secondly, it’s been difficult to connect the buy through to what message you put in there. I think that’s probably partially due to a knowledge and education piece. Programmatic is heavily in the media and media agency and media people space, and it needs a lot of work just to get creative agency and creative process up to speed of these capabilities. We’re seeing so many of the current media pitches won by interactive solutions. Brands are seeing the value in, “we want to do this all together“, and programmatic will underpin that. On top of that, you look at technologies around dynamic creative that are vastly improving. Google stack can be that. Flashtalking can be that. I’m not particularly pushing any one of them but they’re improving. So if we’re in a place now where a wider range of spots can be bought on the technology in terms of relevant messages being built by dynamics that can be dropped into that, then everything should improve.

The other thing I would say is to the nay-sayers is that there is a lot of fairness in that in terms of the processes are all still quite clunky, you know, buying guaranteed delivery is still the same as signing an IO and negotiating it between each other. Often the legal processes for understanding and signing off
this “dynamic creative” can still be like, “Well the legal team still wants to see all the thousand variations“. That means you aren’t really using dynamic creative. Just because you can serve a different message to every one of the 1000 people, is that necessary for effectiveness? It still needs to be worked out, and this is why it’s an interesting part of the industry, because it’s changing, and we’re making decisions while learning more together.

Q: With Connected TVs, streaming services and voice activation options on the rise, in your opinion what will offer the biggest ad tech innovation in 2020 and why?

A: Can I have two? First, all of what you just described starting to come online. I think it’s really interesting because you start to get closer to being able to run all of your buy across channels all in one platform. That in itself creates a great efficiency. Processing efficiency isn’t necessarily the sexiest thing, but when buyers are being able to really handle huge waves of a buy in one platform, that’s really interesting. It’s not necessarily about the programmatic channel. It’s about using automation for the majority of a buy, and I think we’re now starting to get that place with connected TV and outdoor.

The other one that I’m super interested in this year is particularly outdoor and programmatic outdoor. I think measurement in that space is a long way off and that’s because it’s a channel that hasn’t had lots of measurement to date, and any measurement is good measurement. There’s a small enough marketplace, the players in that marketplace are all coming from a low base but wanting to learn from the other channels. But you know while mistakes might be made, if we put our best foot forward, I just think it’s going to be a channel that, as the pipeworks are ready, the buyers are ready to jump into. I think it’s pretty exciting. It’s also a really interesting channel, and they definitely broadcast. You know it’s getting by thousands of people on screens as people walk past. But they’re not standing around and clicking on it and going through to the website and purchasing. So we’ll really start to see the value of audience targeting and trying to drive one sale like a retargeting type of programmatic. For example, how do I find data points that give me broad audiences at the right day of the week or time of day and serve broad messages effectively and still be cognizant of the fact that it is a broadcast moment, if that makes sense. Compared to traditionally these programmatic people are just like pure DR people who think, buy it cheaper and drive it through to the CPA outcome.

Actually that would be a terrible approach to buying outdoor programmatically because it’s a broadcast channel for starters, and you’re out in the world.

Q: Sure. And we’re not just talking about tram stops, bus stops, the side of a building. I mean we could be looking at digital petrol pumps or virtually anywhere. Right?

A: The feature points are interesting too, because it’s going to be non-cookie based, so that’s great for the future market. You mentioned that petrol pump which could potentially be individuals targeted based on a beacon device. But in the immediate future, I’m about looking at broad-ish audiences and doing interesting things with that kind of context, audience, location, time-based stuff that advertisers jump into it and really work out interesting strategies.

The outdoor industry, from a sales point of view, is going to have to go through a time of understanding it’s not remnant and understanding that there’s not going to be a pressure that people are going to just cherry-pick spots. That they actually could charge a premium for those because that works really well for the advertiser.

While the flipside of even if it’s not a premium, that advertiser having a better experience by only buying the spots they want and not the wastage and have them come back again in the future. That leads to an all-around good experience, and sell the other spots to somebody else. But it’s relevant to sell the rest off to people who are out there doing grocery shopping or whatever it might take. So, yeah I’m excited about outdoor. I just see as being a previously inefficient marketplace that’s now going to be driven to efficiency.

Q: Great stuff. Anything you’d like to close off with, in regards to programmatic in general? A message for 2020, the summit itself or just anything you like the tie it up with?
A: I’m pretty excited to be there. You see the scale of this event now and the variety of people. This isn’t just like super techie performance marketing. This is now becoming just how you buy media, and I’m excited that people are picking up on that. We’re about to go through some really choppy waters with things like the removal of cookies and the news that came out the other week. But we want people to be leaning in and understanding, getting to grips with it rather than stepping out and going to the old days of faxing.

Q: Good stuff Dan. Thank you so much. You’ve enlightened me in just a short time and I really look forward to running into each other at the summit, and I wish you all the best.
A: Thank you

More hot topics in programmatic will be discussed at the Programmatic Summit on Tuesday March 3rd in Melbourne and Thursday March 5th in Sydney.

Check out the agenda here and buy your tickets here.

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