Vivaki Scores

The temptation to say ‘I told you so’ has been strong this week. I shall resist first because I don’t think you need to be a genius to see what is likely to happen to agency trading desks, although being old undoubtedly helps, and second because I’m quite sure that those of my old Leo Burnett colleagues who now form the top management at Vivaki don’t read my blog. And even if they do I am sure they ignore it completely.

The news that prompted this sudden attack of boastfulness on my part came at the end of last week when it was announced in Ad Age that Vivaki would move its online traders into their media agencies, Starcom, Mediavest, Zenith and (in the UK) Walker Media.

The rump that remains at Vivaki will now focus on ‘training, research and development, data management and analytics’ although ‘Media Week’ here replaced the word ‘training’ with the word ‘trading’ and thus no doubt confused a few people.

I never did understand the public point of separated trading desks. I fully understand the private point of them, namely to take part in the modern day gold-rush that is digital media placement, but of course in these days of objective planning we are not really supposed to talk about the planning agencies’ drive to push more and more of their clients’ budgets through their trading desks in order to improve their margins.

Talking of objective planning I listened in on an intriguing webinar organised by Millward Brown a few days ago. This was all about the digital media future, and featured participants from MB, Mediacom, and Xaxis. What I found intriguing was how the three speakers, chosen no doubt as an example of WPP unified thinking, simply ignored each other’s views. The Mediacom chap spoke about the benefits of contextual planning, including several erudite references to books and research papers on the importance of great content over platforms, whereas the Xaxis man simply showed a chart to illustrate the growing importance of programmatic buying. These two things (you wanted to yell at the screen) do not happily fit together.

Anyway, back at Vivaki Laura Desmond, Starcom’s CEO was waxing lyrical about the benefits of integration: “If you’re a marketer, do you want your programmatic decisions siloed and balkanized from everything else that you’re doing? No. You want it integrated.”

Indeed, and that has been the case for ages, surely. Laura’s recent Damascene conversion was rather diluted by the fact buried further down the Ad Age story that under the principle of Buggins’ turn: ‘Vivaki (is currently) under the control of….Laura Desmond and ZenithOptimedia Group CEO Steve King, with each getting a year at the helm on a rotating basis’.

Maybe Steve will be swayed by the public clamour swelling even now amongst the digiterati to return the much quoted and platformed Marco Bertozzi, Vivaki’s Head of Absolutely Everything to what is surely his rightful spot in the limelight when his turn at the wheel comes.

More seriously, it makes perfect sense to move digital traders into the planning agencies. Separating them is as daft as moving your agency’s TV buyers into a separate division (although some would say that the holding company deal structures created by GroupM and Opera amongst others have almost managed to do that).

Clients hire planning agencies – the likes of Starcom and Zenith. They quite rightly hold their planning agencies responsible for delivery, as well as for planning. So separating the digital traders, both physically and so often in P&L terms too is not helpful.

When the trading desk either fails to deliver, or, more likely delivers something that suits them far better than the carefully crafted plan then the client gets upset. Who does he yell at? The planning agency. Can the agency do anything about it? Nope.

So – well done Vivaki for seeing sense. The others will follow, you’ll see. Then I may permit myself a boast or several.


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