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Why every planner wants to be a programmatic buyer

Why every planner wants to be a programmatic buyer Dax Hamman

The glory days for media buyers


Not so long ago, being a media buyer was one of the most glamorous jobs in marketing. The media buyers were the superstars. They rubbed shoulders with important clients and major publishers -- who loved them for the money they sent their way.


But a few years back, the role of the media buyer began to change in a rather dramatic way. As the economy slowed and agencies came under increasing pressure to reduce costs, it was often up to the media buyers to find the savings. They began spending less time with clients and publishers and more time thinking about operating efficiency.


And there was plenty to think about. The tech landscape was growing more complicated each year, and many media buyers were caught by surprise. One day, real-time ad exchanges were an exciting new idea that just might reinvent display advertising. The next day, or so it seemed, media buyers who didn't know the ins and outs of exchanges were being looked at like old-timers. It was exciting and overwhelming all at once.


Media buying goes geek


Fast forward to today's ad world, and we find that many of the media buyers who were slow to appreciate the importance of real-time bidding now realize that it presents a tremendous opportunity. And they realize that the more they understand about the technology and the myriad different forms of retargeting, the greater the return they'll see on their spends.


And so, sure enough, media buyers are beginning to reclaim much of the prestige that was once taken for granted. Only now it's a different type of prestige. The prestige used to come from the way media buyers understood relationships and people. Now the prestige comes from the way they understand technology and innovation. Yesterday's media buyer is today's programmatic media buyer.


Keeping search marketers at bay


Why have so many media buyers been ready and willing to make the shift from a more creative, qualitative approach to a more quantitative outlook? In part because their jobs depended on it. As Google, Yahoo, and MSN moved into the display space, they brought the tools and precise metrics of search advertising with them. It didn't take much imagination to envision a future in which the search marketers took over all of display. To own the future and retain control of the media plan that is rightfully theirs, media buyers had to go programmatic -- and do it quickly. 


Yes, that meant spending lots of time figuring out complex problems around attribution modeling. And, yes, that meant learning the critical distinctions between techniques like site retargeting and search retargeting. And, yes, that could be a headache now and then. But, for many media buyers, one of the biggest surprises of the digital era is how much fun it has turned out to be. For those who enjoy solving problems and learning on the job, the complexity can often become almost addicting. After all, as with all addictions, there are regular rewards that make it hard to stop.


The joy of ad tech


In the case of an ad-tech addiction, the rewards, first and foremost, are efficiency and savings. But the rewards don't end there. If you're one of the lucky few who has already mastered every aspect of traditional desktop display, that doesn't mean you can sit back and relax. On the contrary, it means it's time to learn more about how RTB is expanding into video, mobile, and native campaigns. And, while you're at it, you can be learning about the new technologies that will inevitably make the tools you've just mastered obsolete in a few years.


Sure, all of this technology can be daunting at times, even for the true pros. But the good news for media buyers is that the same technological wave that brought them real-time bidding and retargeting has also led to much smarter reporting tools. And smarter reporting means that media buyers can spend more time discussing valued-added tasks, such as optimization tactics or creative alignment with the client's brand.


Why humans still matter


If all this talk of the technological future -- or, rather, the present -- worries you, remember this: The human side of the job isn't going away. A programmatic media buyer needs to know a lot about technology. But the money is still being spent by real people who mostly just want to see that you're helping their businesses grow. And that's the strange paradox that sits at the heart of the media buyer's new role. The more the technology advances, the more important it will be for media buyers to be able to explain the technologies they're putting money into. The programmatic mind isn't replacing the personal mind. It's making it more powerful.


Dax Hamman is chief strategy officer at Chango.


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