The Future for Trading Desks

Last week’s Cog Blog described the current shake up happening in the crazy world of digital media – a world where ad impressions delivered to robots are it seems worth nearly as much as ads not viewed for more than one second.

There is the slightest hint that the digiterati are sort-of coming to their senses. At the same time the publishers – those people who deliver the content people actually want to read, as opposed to the content that people simply want to write – are aware that they are sitting on something of rather greater value than the price put on it by their friends at the agency trading desks.

At the same time advertisers are continuing to ask difficult questions. When Unilever dared to suggest that what they meant by an ad being viewed, was that the ad, the whole ad had been viewed the howls from many occupying the Lumascape were pure comedy gold.

As I said last time: “The mixing of publisher data with advertiser knowledge and insight can be a potent one. The natural home of such mixology is the media planning agency”. The problem for the agencies (by ‘agencies’ I mean the likes of Carat, Mindshare or OMD) is that their reputations have been damaged by the models employed by their trading desk siblings.

For siblings they are. In a comment a few months ago that reveals more than was perhaps picked up on, Rob Norman of GroupM made the point that within his organisation it was up to “media agencies to ‘manage programmatic execution’ as an element in being responsible to their clients for all aspects of delivery”.

It must hurt those leading the media agencies that their organisations’ reputations have been impacted by ‘programmatic execution’. For years, decades even, they have been focussed on the values they bring to their clients through all aspects of their planning resources. Miles of trade press articles, books, conference papers and the rest have been given over to making the point that media agencies are well placed to become the key central communications partner for advertisers. It must be galling having to spend hours defending the behaviours of a group responsible for one element within delivery.

So where does this all leave trading desks? The first thing wrong is the generic descriptor – the very words ‘trading desk’ conjures up images of financial traders, of wide boys bringing the economy to the brink of collapse by using tools and techniques that far too many of their bosses (let alone anyone else) didn’t understand.

It’s interesting that one group, Vivaki uses the term ‘Audience on Demand’, a clunky name but at least one that moves away from a focus on buying. Vivaki also speaks of ‘supporting our agencies’ and of ‘bringing science to the art of communication’.

I think that they’re on the right track. Words like ‘support’, ‘science’ and ‘communication’ speak to integration over modular margin-chasing. I also think that GroupM’s remarks about their media agencies ‘being responsible’ are directionally correct.

Trading desks (let’s stick with that name for now) should evolve into a resource delivering a function to the central client teams within the media agency. In that way they’re really no different from content creation, innovation groups or research.

Trading desks can be an invaluable resource at the heart of the media agency. They are the place where data knowledge and analytics sit and where services can be developed centrally for all group agencies. ‘Data knowledge’ should include a brief to make sense of and combine all sources of data relevant to the agency’s work. Plus there’s the need to evaluate and manage elements of digital buys, notably in the RTB space. It’s clear that the TD can touch and indeed positively influence many aspects of the agency’s work.

In a nutshell – agencies need to deliver a service within which the plans shape the buys. It’s when the buys shape the plans that things go wrong.

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