Why people are the most important thing in the machine dominated world of programmatic

While the ‘robot overlords’ will eventually see much of our marketing activity automated, finding and structuring your people is the key to success according to a panel of experts at Programmatic Media’s recent Demystifying Programmatic event

“For me first and foremost this is all about people. One day we’ll have the robot overlords take it from us,” proclaims Spotify’s Dan Robins ominously.

“But right now it’s still very much about the people pushing and pulling the levers and making the most of the technology available to us.”

Dan Robins is Spotify’s ANZ head of programmatic and data


Robins, considered to be one of the leading lights in the programmatic space and the architect of Telstra’s ‘world first’ trading arrangements, is setting out what a trading desk consists of at the Demystifying Programmatic event in Melbourne.

Spotify’s regional head of programmatic says whether brands are looking to build an in-house capability or are relying on their agency for it, finding the right people to run that growing part of the business is vital.

But as Programmatic Media founder Virginia Hyland points out, most marketers never actually meet the people who are trading their programmatic media.

“It’s really important you understand the quality of the people and meet the people,” she says. “A lot of the time the programmatic traders are kept in the back room. You don’t see them and they’re at arm’s length. There are account directors on some businesses who have never actually met the people doing the trading.

“Have you asked them what their thoughts are around the space, and why is it that you’re not seeing them? You need to gain confidence in the people who are working on your business and spending your money on your behalf.”

“Ask your agency how do they attract and keep good talent?” she adds. “Right now in agency land we have a 40% churn rate on staff and we’re really stressed around how we keep great people in our business.

“So where are the incentives for these people in the business? I was working with a client recently talking about skin in the game, and I said if that’s the case every person on that team should get a bonus boost. It’s a very competitive landscape, and we found that by offering good incentives we were able to cut the churn rate to about 5%.”

For Kathy Damatopoulos, Suncorp’s senior digital manager – performance media manager, brand and marketing, staffing is “my biggest concern”.

For the last 18 months, Damatopoulos has been scoping out the needs for the business should they decide to take their programmatic trading in-house.

“The biggest key learning for me in the last 18 months is you’re not going to get operational success of bringing programmatic in-house if you’re not considering the internal ecosystem you need to set up and the business unit it needs to function in.”

Damatopoulos describes the need to evolve the marketing team structure, and the roles within the marketing team in the business.

Kathy Damatopoulos is a senior digital manager at Suncorp


“Staffing is my biggest concern,” she admits. “Finding the right people and how am I going to keep them motivated? The example of agency staff wanting to work on site is a major thing. I think clients do have opportunities, especially if you’re looking at hiring some of those more analytical people.

“If you look at our business, I could see how someone in trading could work across our e-comms platforms teams, or activating experiences online, or data or technology. So I think we have to be a bit broader in how we look to hire people and look at career progression. At the end of the day, I think culture is the biggest one and that’s going to take a lot of time.”

For Robins, the important thing for anyone running programmatic, either in-house or at an agency, is structuring the desk right, and understanding what the job roles needed are.

“A trading desk is a team of people. There are various different skills you need compared to an agency team working in planning and buying,” he explains.

“It’s probably a little different from the typical planner/buyer in the roles they now do on a trading desk. Where before it was probably a case of splitting time between planning and buying and negotiating with publishers and sending campaigns live and doing some reporting, when a campaign was pushed live that was kind of it, you could go to lunch.

“The big difference when it comes to programmatic is that real-time element – the fact that campaigns are running and decisions are being made on every single element. Really once a campaign is running and is pushed live, that’s really where the work starts.

“For programmatic traders, it’s about being in the platforms day in day out, optimising, be that inventory, be that data, working on the creative to maximise the best possible outcomes throughout the whole process. There’s as much work that goes on on a day-to-day basis through a campaign as there is beforehand.”

Robins says that ability to be “on the tools” and using the technology daily is important for traders, who need to be able to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the technology.

However, he warns that because the space is still relatively new and evolving, it can be hard to find people with much first-hand experience. Consequently, he says there are a couple of traits you need to look for when hiring.

“As long as the individuals have more of that analytical mind and are very comfortable working with numbers, drawing the insights and putting that into action, that’s far more important than a massive media background of negotiation,” he says.

“On top of that, it’s key that the people you hire in this space are super comfortable with change – there’s always something new to test and always changes in the technology that might come in from one day to the next that you didn’t know was going to happen.”

That pace of change element is something that also causes issues for people working on the vendor side of the business. Sam Smith, managing director of the Adobe Ad Cloud in ANZ, says the company’s product suite is updating so rapidly they have a weekly newsletter that goes out to keep staff on top of the changes.

Those staff are then being tasked to go out and talk to clients in both agencies and marketing teams to give on-the-job training and advice.

Damatopoulos says the ability to stay on top of the changes in the technology and techniques is important for the industry as it looks to evolve, and encourages people to seek out more training to enhance their skills.

And to that end, Hyland adds that her Programmatic Media business has partnered with a number of blue-chip companies to develop formalised training to help skill people up properly and to help develop in-house teams for companies who are nervous about sharing their data outwardly with agencies.