Is programmatic ‘easy’, or do you need an expert?

Over the last couple of years there have been two very different beliefs we’ve heard people discuss in programmatic.

The first one is that running a programmatic campaign is quite easy, so you shouldn’t need to pay a high margin (hidden or otherwise) for a supplier to do it.

The second one is that there are many detailed issues that programmatic needs to resolve. These include performance, viewability, fraud, brand safety, attribution, device/cross device, programmatic creative, data usage, planning, machine learning, GDPR and many, many more. And for these, you need an expert.

It takes significant resources to run a programmatic campaign

So which one is correct? Well it’s certainly true that it doesn’t take much to run a programmatic campaign, either in house or with a programmatic supplier. Graduates can be trained in weeks on how to use a DSP and set to work.

However anyone doing simple buying on an exchange, even if they can get their performance metrics right, would almost certainly suffer from awful viewability, brand safety and fraud concerns. And that’s before we begin to look at more advanced topics, such as attribution, machine learning and data usage.

Some of these problems can be solved through resource. By adding more manpower to a campaign you can apply more techniques and optimise more precisely. More resource means more testing of new areas, more optimisation and more analysis – all of which leads to greater results and better campaigns.

The trick is to apply the right amount of resource to the campaign, which can be done as a function of spend. However, some campaign types need and deserve more resource than others.

And, despite the fact that resource is often thrown at programmatic issues, and programmatic exchange buying is over 10 years old, only a very small proportion of advertisers’ programmatic systems get close to addressing all of the concerns to an acceptable level.

The right expertise is also crucial

In fact, defining what is an “acceptable level” is a crucial point to be considered. Almost any programmatic campaign can use an almost unlimited amount of manpower, so it’s important to add expertise to judge what to improve on, and how to improve it.

Imagine an advertiser with spend on the low side. This requires a very limited amount of resource to run (let’s say half the time of an inexperienced programmatic buyer’s time). However it also needs to be looked over from time to time by an expert and given a health check on areas such as viewability, brand safety, fraud, strategy and so on.

The expert might advise a change in KPI’s, shift in bids, some tactical changes to the strategy or optimisation, or many other pieces of advice and mentoring. They would also advise on the technology needed.

A much larger campaign would need more resource, but also a much larger amount of expertise and more advanced technology (perhaps specialist technology for DMP, attribution, fraud and creative).

How do you split your budget?

So, as an advertiser, you know you need resource, expertise and technology – but you also need creative, data and media. And how much should you spend on each as a percentage? Recent articles have come up with a figure of around 60% going to media, 10-15% on service, 10-15% on technology and 10-15% on data. (The exact amount is dependent on a number of variables, including industry, strategy and scale.)

I have left creative out of these costs because it can be part of a wider conversation and so a different budget, though I would recommend spending up to as much as 20% of media spend on creative.

Lastly then, this is where we have to be agile. The world of programmatic is constantly changing. New opportunities emerge, such as video, native, OOH, over the top TV, new technology solutions to old challenges such as attribution and dynamic creative are created, and new challenges arise.

So expertise working alongside an agile culture are vital. Expertise and resource can be wasted when tethered to rigid structures built for the challenges of the past. As programmatic activity scales, teamwork and shared learning become more important – and agility essential.

So which belief is correct?

So where does that leave us when weighing up the two beliefs we started with? Which one is correct?

Actually, they both are. Yes, running programmatic can be easy and should be transparent. However, to be done properly it needs the right amount of resource, expertise and technology in a nimble environment. And for that, you need an expert

Need help with your programmatic campaigns? We’d love to explain how our in-house experts can improve your results. To find out more, call us on 020 3262 0415 or email