I was recently invited to Centro's office to get a demo of their software meant to speed up media planning, which Online Media Daily covered back in March. Essentially, the software helps automate the request for proposal (RFP) stage. Online Media Daily wrote of the software: "…it claims [it] will automate many of the worst labor-intensive tasks done by agency media planners."
They claimed. I went and saw. Seeing really is believing.
I write about these kinds of things all of the time, but the stuff that impresses me most is the stuff that I can actually do. A few weeks ago, five video companies partnered to launch an open source video viewability tech. To prove its open source-ness, or perhaps just to let anyone test it first, they had a website running to show exactly how the tech worked. That's the kind of stuff that walks the walk in addition to talking the talk.
As I'm writing this, I realize I'm echoing something Joe Mandese wrote in RTBlog about a week ago: "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."
Back to the Centro office visit. One of the people that ran me through the demo was Shawn Riegsecker, the company's CEO and founder. The demo I
received was on the first of three steps meant to automate media planning, and the software is called Centro Planner. The next step is a real-time results tracker, something Riegsecker hopes will be
in beta by the end of the year.
"Automating human activity in a way that is flexible, logical, and creating something they want to use is the hardest part," Riegsecker said. He called big holding company efficiencies "archaic," and said that Centro wants to automate "the other 80% that isn't real-time bidding."
Think of the Centro Planner as a software with a Facebook-esque interface and Google Doc functionality. The media planner opens up a spreadsheet with all of the usual sections - size, duration, campaign type, prices, etc. Once the proposal is ready to go, the planner chooses from what is essentially their "friends list" and sends out the RFP. Riegsecker also noted that he hopes to add a real-time chat function not unlike Facebook's in the future.
The publishers then act on the exact same spreadsheet, agreeing to what they like and changing what they don't. Once they are ready to send a proposal back, it's marked up with red for changes and green for good. Then it's the buyers turn to make adjustments. You get the picture.
What was so nice about the software was that everything was in one place. You saw the original RFP, the changes, and the end result all on the same page. You could track which sides made what changes and when all in one interface. That was cool to see, and definitely something that convinced me that stuff like this really will speed up the whole process of media planning.
Centro isn't the only company attempting to automate more and more in the
media planning/buying world, but Riegsecker welcomes the challenge of competition. He called Mediaocean the 800-pound gorilla in the room and also mentioned NextMark. "I don't think the future is a
foregone conclusion by any stretch," Riegsecker said. "It's going to be a wonderful dogfight. No winners are preordained."
Taking that final quote a little out of context, I think it's safe to say that the winners here are anyone involved in the advertising industry willing to accept helpful tech and automation.