Fantastic Four: Comparing Agency Trading Desks' Programmatic Efforts

The Fantastic Four agency holding groups, and their respective trading desk efforts in programmatic, have been debated, followed, loved and hated. Many have even made recent game-changing acquisitions and investments to strengthen their offerings and position for premium programmatic.

Let’s compare and contrast the big data and programmatic efforts of the Fantastic Four agency holding groups.


WPP has a tradition of digital leadership dating back to when it bought 24/7 Real Media, as well as its recent investment in and partnership with AppNexus. These companies are the base on which Xaxis is built, which is the world’s largest programmatic media platform. It directs over $750 million U.S. audience-targeted media buys.  Per WPP, Xaxis would be worth over $4 billion on its own, in comparison to WPP’s own market cap.



Ari Bluman, the chief digital investment officer in the GroupM organization, has recently drawn attention at WPP by working with all the premium brands and premium publishers. Bluman is the colorful leader who rattled the programmatic world by mentioning GroupM’s plans to ditch the open ad exchanges.  Following this announcement, GroupM’s Chief Digital Officer Rob Norman mentioned offering a more flexible alternative to Xaxis for premium brand advertisers under the GroupM banner.   

Recently, Bluman has been on a public mission to clean up digital media buys. He announced a deal last week with Conde Nast ensuring 100% viewability of video and display ads.  GroupM’s new premium programmatic group wants to lead, build, buy and partner for brand advertising.


Omnicom owns agencies including BBDO, TBWA/Chiat/Day, Omnicom Media Group, and FleishmanHillard, making it the second largest agency holding group by revenue.  Long-time programmatic leader Steve Katelman, EVP of Global Strategic Partnerships, along with Josh Jacobs, the Global CEO at Accuen, have quietly led the programmatic brand advertising technology and buying deals.

The Accuen trading desk has been doing private exchange and programmatic direct buying for years now.  Accuen is positioned well inside Annalect, the data and technology network at the holding group, which reportedly has invested “tens of millions” of dollars since 2009.

Currently, Omnicom has struck digital partnerships with Twitter and Instagram. This is on top of its previous big deals with Facebook, Google, and others on behalf of its digital media buying groups.


Publicis is the third largest of the Fantastic Four and has recently been the most active in programmatic acquisitions after the failed merger of Publicis-Omnicom. This month, Publicis announced it had acquired U.S.-based digital marketing company Sapient for $3.7 billion  Before this big deal, it also acquired the programmatic platform RUN (DMP and DSP).  The new acquisition will be part of VivaKi’s Audience on Demand platform (AOD).  AOD and RUN will help Starcom MediaVest with premium programmatic for cross-channel advertising.  

These acquisitions help Publicis take the lead in mobile and native programmatic.  Many believe these moves into the programmatic brand advertising space better fit Publicis than its possible acquisition of the retargeting  firm,Criteo.

Interpublic Group

IPG Mediabrands is the global media holding company of Interpublic.  IPG was one of the first holding company leaders to talk about automating 50% of its media buying and to expand programmatically.  The Magna Global and Cadreon groups head up many of IPG’s programmatic buying capabilities and leads its technical partnerships.  

Cadreon’s RTB digital performance platform focuses on technology, data, inventory, and human intelligence.  Mediabrands Audience Platform (MAP) helps IPG keep audience targeting front and center.  Its CEO, Matt Seiler, has been working directly with the AOL One platform to begin and lead programmatic TV buying.

Just like the group of scientists that are mutated into superpowered beings, these leaders of the Fantastic Four media holding groups need to become heroes in digital advertising by leading premium programmatic!
1 comment about "Fantastic Four: Comparing Agency Trading Desks' Programmatic Efforts ".
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  1. Ken Nicholas from VideoAmp, November 26, 2014 at 1:33 p.m.

    I get that this is about the "4"...but interesting that "two" others are missing, which seem to be key players in their own right and also tied to global holding co's: AmNet from Carat [working on a tiny client called GM], and Varick/VMM. Still a nice snapshot summary either way.

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