How To Evaluate And Select Programmatic Partners

As someone who has toiled for a decade in the trenches of the exchange-based media-buying arena, I have seen the programmatic media space evolve from nascence to prominence in the minds and wallets of advertisers. While this space holds great promise, marketers have navigated it with varying degrees of commitment and success. 

A main reason many brands have been slow to embrace programmatic media, or have not found success as yet, is that they are unsure how to properly identify marketplace partners that can steward them through the nuances necessary to fully realize the benefits of this new paradigm. It is complicated to be sure, but there are steps a marketer can take to simplify the selection process.

First, the brand must determine goals and business objectives.  Typically these include specific key performance indicators (KPIs), but can also include testing/learning scenarios, analytics/attribution modeling, cross-channel effectiveness, leveraging CRM data across digital channels, as well as other business and marketing exploration enabled by programmatic methods. As usual, goal determines best solution. This is critically important, given the vast array of possible solution configurations in the marketplace.



There are four fundamental pillars within a successful programmatic solution: the ability to aggregate and manage data (DMP), a buying platform (DSP), a way to measure effectiveness (analytics/attribution) and a robust reporting interface. Often brands are romanced by point solutions that mostly fit into just one or two of those buckets, which can lead a marketer to end up stitching together a number of disparate point solutions that create a “Frankenstack” scenario that doesn’t achieve optimal cohesion and inter-operability.  On the opposite end of the spectrum are marketers who choose to build a solution internally, raising a host of challenges, including a sizable investment in resources and talent.  There are also a wide range of solutions that reside between the two poles offering various levels of flexibility, compatibility and relative cost-effectiveness.

There are no “must buys” or “one-size fits alls” in the programmatic space. Each marketer must carefully consider needs, goals, resources and business practices before deciding on a solution. Only then can they evaluate the myriad of solutions available, best done through a framework consisting of six key dimensions. I suggest using them as a scorecard to evaluate how well potential partners meet your needs:

  • Service: The two ends of the service spectrum are self-serve (software-as-a-service or SAAS model) and full service (a hands-on-keyboard partner doing all the heavy lifting).  In many cases, marketers feel the only way to know what’s going on with their programmatic buys is to do it themselves.  This is largely in response to the opacity that has traditionally existed within the non-direct-to-publisher space.  However, there are ways marketers can take more ownership of their programmatic programs without bringing it in-house. Where is the optimal spot on this spectrum for your particular brand?
  • Transparency: This is one of the biggest differentiators in the space. There are plenty of successful black-box solutions available, but increasingly marketers are demanding full transparency into their campaign metrics. Advertisers want to know how much of their budget is going to working media as opposed to vendor margins.  Beyond this, they want to know site lists, pricing, and tactics, as well as performance metrics.   What level of transparency do you require?
  • Compatibility & Inter-Operability: Brands can opt for the “Frankenstack” approach or a more thoughtful configuration involving a focused, smaller number of partners or a single comprehensive solution. There are certainly benefits to each model, but marketers should understand and question whether each piece of their solution will integrate seamlessly and deliver against their overall business goals.
  • Customization: There are many good SAAS platforms available but they are often rigid and inflexible. While digital media buying is increasingly automated, programmatic solutions still need to be structured by humans. How important is the ability to execute customized solutions to your business? 
  • Data Analytics & Measurement: This facet is increasingly crucial, as savvy marketers are moving away from last-click attribution and looking for deeper analysis to assess what’s truly driving performance both in upper and lower funnels. An integrated measurement/attribution solution can aid in this understanding, as well as provide valuable insights for real-time optimizations.  How do you want to measure success?
  • Data Privacy: This is probably the most sensitive consideration, but receives the least focus.  Data is a core asset. Some vendors protect marketer data, while many others pool data.  How important is it that your data is siloed away from other advertisers’ and is only being applied for your specific campaigns? 

In summary, there is no silver bullet solution.  These considerations are meant to be an informed set of questions that marketers can ask of potential partners to determine fit.  There are no right or wrong answers.  Rather, it is the responses to these questions measured against a marketer’s needs and goals that will help determine the right solution.

2 comments about "How To Evaluate And Select Programmatic Partners".
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  1. Elise Musumano from ChoiceStream, October 30, 2014 at 10:50 a.m.

    Great article, Garret. You hit the nail on the head with the four fundamental pillars and six key dimensions that you discuss. I would add to this the ability to optimize targeting and incorporate machine learning into automated buying decisions. Here's a link to a whitepaper for brands, agencies, and trading desks that are evaluating vendors: It runs through 10 questions to ask vendors (and how to find any holes in answers).

  2. Michael Loustalot from Digital Caddies, October 30, 2014 at 11:35 a.m.

    Interesting article and very helpful for an advertiser. As a publisher I am very interested to learn how to navigate the maze of 3rd Party networks (as I refer to them) and find the best fit and highest fill and cpm for our impressions.

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