Magna Consortium Effort To Automate Media Buying Is Ongoing Challenge

Since Mediabrands unveiled its Magna Consortium this summer, the Interpublic unit has been quiet about the initiative’s progress. On Wednesday, the agency and some Consortium charter partners -- including newly added ESPN -- dished openly for a big Advertising Week audience.

Despite a general sense of optimism, charter members say getting brands onboard remains difficult. “Buyers and planners need to see that something [within the old system] is missing,” Peter Olsen, executive vice president of national ad sales at History, A+E Networks, said.

There also remains a widely held fear that automation equates to lower-quality inventory, noted Tim Castelli, president of national sales, marketing and partnerships at Clear Channel Media and Entertainment. “This doesn’t have to be one big race to the bottom,” Castelli said. “That’s not what this is about.” The problem, as Castelli sees it, is that “there are a ton of inefficiencies.”

Great as it is, data actually makes the buying and selling of media more complicated, says Bob Lord, CEO of AOL Networks, the company's programmatic ad-buying arm -- and previously CEO of Publicis Groupe's Razorfish. “It’s going to challenge us … how to pull the ecosystem together,” Lord said.

But that won’t prevent Olsen and his peers from continuing to to push the envelope, he said. “Audience buying makes so much more sense,” he said.

On Tuesday, Mediabrands officially added ESPN to the Magna Consortium.

ESPN joins five charter big media companies -- A&E Networks, AOL, Cablevision, Clear Channel and Tribune -- in the initiative to utilize data and technology to automate the media-buying process for Interpublic and its brand clients.

Not discussed on Wednesday were details about how the deals have been structured. The birth of the Consortium is part of Interpublic’s broader mission to automate 50% of its media-buying by 2016. The effort is being driven by Interpublic's desire for greater operating efficiency for its agencies and its clients as media buying becomes ever fragmented and complex.

The holding company also expects to achieve greater precision in targeting audiences, thanks to a shift away from conventional audience-buying data. As for getting more brands onboard, Tad Smith, president of local media at Cablevision, says it is critical that the data make sense to them. “We have to tell narratives,” he said. As its stands, however, “the complexity is overwhelming.”

According to AOL’s Lord, it is important for Consortium members to “start to think about how … you get to audiences in different ways;” “what services can you provide on behalf of brands;” and “what service layers can we provide for [brands].”

Giving his old agency partners hope for the future, Lord said the increasing automation of media buying actually bodes well for Madison Avenue. “No one should be threatened by this movement,” Lord said, predicting that agencies are more vital than ever and “more money’s going to be spent.”

Similarly optimistic, Eric Johnson, EVP of multimedia sales at ESPN, says that markets naturally reject “what’s complicated.” As for the next six months, Johnson says he is not sure whether ESPN would have “tangible results” to show for its new Mediabrands deal. That said, “we’re going to discover a lot of what we need to do for the future.”

Regarding efforts to better utilize data and technology to automate the media-buying process, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment has already made “great strides,” said Castelli.

Before Christmas, Cablevision vows to have at least one Mediabrands client generating significant revenue with far greater efficiency, said Smith.
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