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Pitching in a Programmatic World
Tom DenfordOct 12, 20235 min read

Pitching in a Programmatic World - Part 2

Brands Deserve Better Media

A weekly column from @tomjdenford


How do marketers evaluate and rate agencies in a high-tech landscape?



In my last column, I shared how Pitching In A Programmatic World has created the need for new methods of agency assessment when marketers are looking to upgrade their agency relationships. This week we explore how to do that, concluding with three tips for success. 


It's no secret that media pitches are fairly complex undertakings already. Now that programmatic media buying has both grown to scale and increasingly fraught with risk, how should a marketer decide between different agency capabilities to find out which agency best suits their programmatic needs?



What type of programmatic advertiser are you? 

Firstly, marketers have to recognize that when it comes to programmatic media buying, the needs of their brand will be different than other brands. It is a nuanced and technical specialism, meaning there is (sadly) no template approach to programmatic buying techniques. 


The excellent guidelines published by trade associations like the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), ISBA and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) in the US are super helpful to raise awareness of the general risks to advertisers and they offer some truly best practices to reduce waste. But these industry guidelines are, by definition, general and broad in their recommendations. 


Our advice to marketers is always to start with a simple assessment to determine what type of programmatic advertiser they are, thereby highlighting the priority skills they will require from their agency selection process. This identifies the areas where greatest value can be created for that brand by applying the right agency capabilities. 



You don’t go shopping for a programmatic agency

Once we understand the specific agency capabilities your brand will need to achieve success in the coming five years, it's time to consider the brief. The brief you share with agencies is customized to the brand, with a heavy focus on those areas of priority identified in the initial assessment. 


We remind marketers that they never go shopping for an agency. You don’t have to buy an agency ‘off-the-shelf’ like spaghetti sauce. Actually that’s a poor analogy, like spaghetti sauce, agencies come in many different shapes, colors, flavors and price. Still, that’s not enough for your brand. If you truly want to find competitive advantage in programmatic then you need a solution designed around your brand’s long-term needs.


To get a fully customized solution from agencies, one which is built around the specific needs of your brand in programmatic (now and into the future), you have to think of the pitch process a different way. Backwards in fact. 


You take the time to create a brief which explains the exact needs of your brand and then you allow a short-list of well-qualified agencies (we’ll help you with that) to explain how they will organize and mobilize their programmatic resources to fit your needs. 



Not all programmatic agencies are equal

What we have found over the years of doing assessments of agency programmatic capabilities is that agencies have distinct strengths and weaknesses in different areas. This makes sense in a still relatively nascent discipline like programmatic buying where innovation runs wild and over-promising outcomes is standard practice (no surprise some call it the Wild West). 


All agencies approach programmatic buying differently, nobody is built the same. Every agency has strengths and weaknesses in this area, so assessment helps map the agency capabilities (strengths) to the specific client requirements. 


Outside of the pitch cycle, advertisers are able to perform a one-off assessment of their agency’s programmatic capabilities. We work directly with the agency to provide a fair and objective benchmark perspective, with the aim to encourage performance improvements from the agency and the investments in programmatic media. 



To test drive is to know

When was the last time you bought a car just from looking at the glossy brochure? Moved house without ever making a viewing? Booked a holiday without looking at TripAdvisor? Unlikely these days huh? 


Still you’d be amazed at how some brand teams are still happy to make agency selection decisions based largely on some slick powerpoint slides, without considering a ‘test drive.’ 


At ID Comms we encourage any brand pitching their media agency to conduct a Live Buying Exercise, a real-time assessment of agency programmatic buying covering audience definition, campaign set up, monitoring, optimization and reporting. It gives our clients the ability to observe up close how each agency tackles the objectives of the brief differently, how well they responded to campaign performance and how they work in partnership with the client team. 


“ID Comms Live Buying Exercise gave me confidence in who and why we should choose the partner overall… We gained a far richer understanding of each agency’s programmatic strengths” - Director of Integrated Media (CPG brand)



Three tips for pitching in a programmatic world
  • Accountability: Include an actual real-time programmatic buying exercise in any agency pitch. These days, as more % spend goes into programmatic, knowing that your agency can set up, plan and execute programmatic campaigns well is increasingly important. 

  • Testing: Accepting the agency’s ‘theory’ about programmatic isn’t sufficient. What is said on presentation slides doesn't always come true. The only way to genuinely know and differentiate agencies capabilities is to test them in real time, side by side with a real life brief.

  • Learning: Getting your marketing and procurement stakeholders to participate in a live buying exercise with agencies as part of the pitch is a great way to improve knowledge and develop new programmatic skills in your teams. 


Brands deserve better from programmatic media. The ID Comms Live Buying Exercise is a simple way to ensure your brands get the programmatic media they deserve. Participating agencies have appreciated the structure of the process and the opportunity for them to learn about new best practices and how they can evolve and improve their own programmatic capabilities as a result. 


When brands get the media they deserve they flourish. 


When brands grow, we all win!





This post was featured in ID Comms’ weekly column, Brands Deserve Better Media. Each week, CEO Tom Denford shares insights on media and advertising and inspires us to work together to build a better future for the industry.

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