Commentary

Help Me Help You

It’s one of those seasoned trade journalist/blogger confession times: I am not as smart as you think. Fortunately, a lot of the people I get to talk to are. And one of them is Frank Addante, the founder and CEO of Rubicon Project. If you read the story I wrote today based on some important insights about critical flaws in the RTB market’s bidding infrastructure, you will understand why. At least I hope you do. It took me awhile to understand it before I could write it. It took several conversations with Addante and some consultation with Rubicon’s Chief Scientist Neal Richter, who happens to be one of the best people at explaining the complexity of technology to laypeople like me.

But the reason for this post isn’t to blow smoke up Rubicon’s algorithms -- it’s actually to make an appeal to some of you out there. Not all of you -- just the really smart ones. The appeal is to ask you to help make me smarter. And the only reason I want to become smarter is to help make the rest of us smarter, so that the advertising and media industry can work better, more efficiently, grow, get healthier and we all prosper based on genuine, underlying merits. All of us: advertisers, agencies, trading desks, publishers, platforms, and yes, even consumers. Oh, and if I can add one more -- trade publication editors, too. That’s always been my only goal, because I knew if I could pull it off, it would, in fact, make everyone more successful, including myself and my organization.

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Trade publishers like MediaPost operate a very simple, but incredibly important, model -- we give valuable (hopefully) information to people for free. In exchange, they give us their time and attention. Which we then “monetize” by sharing with certain brands. You know -- advertising. Sometimes, it actually works. But for it to work, my colleagues and I have to come up with the goods that keep you coming back, so all those B2B brands will shell out big bucks to try and influence you on their behalf by buying those impressions next to those goods. Simple model, and I’m sticking with it. So help me. Or to quote Jerry Maguire, “help me, help you.” (Sorry, but I love that movie, and I love that line -- so imagine me delivering the way Tom Cruise does. Heck, just imagine me as Tom Cruise.)

So here it is, plain and simple: Help me get smarter by sharing the insights you believe will make other people in this business smarter, and I will turn around and share it with them. That’s all I’ve got. The problem is, this business has gotten really complicated and I need your help.

Yeah sure, we -- especially Tyler Loechner and me -- poke a lot of fun at the complexity of this business with things like “Hyperbabble," but the truth is I know there’s some truth under all that gobbledygook. I know there’s some smart stuff, good information, great stories. You just need to explain them to me.

It’s difficult for me to concede just how ignorant I am about the advertising technology marketplace, and the way it works, but it’s a little easier knowing that there aren’t that many people who fully understand it themselves. Even fewer like Addante who can both understand them and see the solutions that are necessary to fix the problems. Addante is an interesting guy. He got the idea for Rubicon when he was milling around the floor of an ad technology conference some years ago, and was struck by the cacaphony of players, and the noise -- and confusion -- they were creating. He realized that what the industry needed to make it grow was technology that made it more simple, not more complex. And he set out to create it.

Rubicon has been classified as an SSP (sell-side platform), though it’s never a term Rubiconions have ever used to describe themselves. And while they did start out by helping to simplify and automate the processes for the sell-side, they always had the demand-side in mind too. More recently, they have expanded their offering explicitly to help the buy-side. A lot of people argue against that, citing “neutrality” and conflict issues. I can see that point, but I agree more with Addante’s vision that the only way for both sides to work better is to have greater “visibility” into each others’ business objectives and simpler and more automated ways to make them come together. That’s what creates “liquidity” in markets, he says. Whether those markets are Wall Street equities and commodities or Madison Avenue’s.

We want to play a role in that too. And there are a lot of other fine trade publications who want to do it too. All I can say is if you come to us, we’ll try our darndest to get the story right, or at the very least, keep covering it until we do. That’s what we do.

It was easier doing this when we covered simple markets like television. As complex and arcane as the upfront and scatter markets are, they’re nothing compared to programmatic exchanges. Especially when you begin looking under the hood as I have been trying to do the last year. Not all of that under-the-hood peeking has yielded the kind of fruit I had hoped for. Part of that is my problem, not my sources. I spent a couple of months shadowing the team at MDC Partners’ Varick Media Management -- especially top trader Keith Gooberman -- in the hopes that I could understand how agency trading desks actually work. It proved to be more complex than I imagined, and I had a difficult time trying to explain it to others. Ditto with GroupM’s Xaxis.

But the good news is my knowledge is cumulative, and I’m getting better at understanding the relationships and idiosyncrasies of this business. Thanks to people like that. So please stick with me -- keep trying to make me smarter. And I’ll try to return the favor.
2 comments about "Help Me Help You".
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  1. Tommaso Ridolfi from ADC Group, June 27, 2013 at 9:17 p.m.

    Joe,
    writing from Italy, I'm with you in spirit if not in presence.
    I have been a journalist covering the marketing, communication and media fields for nearly 25 years, and I feel I can subscribe to each and every word you wrote...

    Just to add a personal woe that you should be safe from, consider the fact that more than half the terms in marketing are English and/or American with no corresponding Italian word, so when I try and tell any kind of story I have to rely on a language that I'm not even sure all of my readers will fully comprehend!

    Anyway, I've been following Mediapost for about 4 or 5 years now, and you and your team have always done a great job! Keep it up!

    PS: an Italian proverb says: "help yourself and heaven will help you" (aiutati che il ciel t'aiuta), meaning that (most of the times) the best help you'll ever get is from yourself :-)

  2. Patrick Giblin from 451 Degrees Inc, July 8, 2013 at 4:45 p.m.

    Wish this was true...we tried to share with you via email, twitter and Comments our Patented SaaS that brings Comments into value for SEO and ADN and RTB markets but you have NEVER reached out. Laurie Sullivan did a small mention to us after an interview and we thank her but seems there is not real interest in discussing 3 Patents and values inside Community Comments...curious because we have sent infographics and offered 3 page Exec Summaries as quick study too...IF you want to talk we are ready to share. Been waiting a long time...we will see what comes

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