The rise of programmatic advertising sales was greeted with some trepidation on the part of human sales staff and media buyers alike, both understandably worried about encroaching automation -- in short, the fear that they would be replaced by computers.
And while there is doubtless still some fear in the air, there are also some encouraging signs that programmatic sales by computers and human ad sellers can play nicely together, and indeed profit from each other.
At least that’s the impression left by panelists and speakers at MediaPost’s Publishing Insider Summit in Key Largo, Florida, where top execs from major publishers described a growing trend of hybrid deals combining direct and programmatic sales, with the latter element pitched by sales staff as part of the deal
Barry Lee Myers, CEO of AccuWeather, noted: “It’s possible we’ll do a direct sale to a brand, say a million dollars, and they’ll want to reserve a quarter of that to spend programmatically, when and where and how they wish to.” Meanwhile, Chip Schenck, vice president of programmatic sales and strategy for Meredith Corp., described similar deals in which the ad client asked to set aside about a fifth of the total price tag for programmatic sales.
Schenck added that the structure of these deals contains no real threat to a competent salesperson: “The salesperson, if their focus is selling what’s unique about us -- cool native, video, special audience aspects, whatever it may be -- then there should be no issue. All we’re solving in a hybrid deal is how to deliver rotational media effectively.”
Not surprisingly publishers also noted growing demand for sales personnel comfortable with programmatic sales. Asked about qualifications in the programmatic era, Myers ventured: “Salespeople need to be more entrepreneurial, more creative and understanding of programmatic,” but quickly added there’s no particular profile: “We’ve had people who are even my age who can do the job.”
Schenck struck a similar note, saying publishers need an “ability to go out to customers and talk about something holistic [incorporating programmatic along with direct]. It starts with finding the right salespeople, who are not just more solution driven but more imaginative, more creative, where they can understand a constantly changing environment.”
In many cases publishers are hiring programmatic specialists to work with direct ad sales staff. According to Zach Friedman, vice president of digital ad sales for Fox News Channel, “while we have a unified sales team, we have some specialists in the team, who are focused on meeting the needs of the client based on what they’re trying to achieve with us.” And Susan Bidel, an analyst with Forrester, advised publishers: “Hire programmatic specialists, have your direct sellers continue to sell, and bring the programmatic salesperson in when it becomes a core piece of the conversation.”