WireColumn: The Planner/Buyer Title Should Be Made Redundant; Time To Embrace Programmatic

Today's edition of WireColumn is written by Ben Downing, Head of Programmatic Buying, Arena Media.

It’s become a cliché amongst the programmatic and adtech crowd that the planner/buyers are the problem. Ill-equipped for a technology led approach to buying, they default to swapping test budget for trainers and clinging to badly built spreadsheets with the tenacity of the drowning. Even the job title is confusing, are they planners or buyers? Are they both? Should they be both? The wonderful age of automation and efficiency is being, if not frustrated, then slowed by a bunch of scruffily dressed kids in their early twenties who just won’t adapt. If the industry is to move on, then the planner/buyer must die.

So prevalent is this view that the rest of this column will read like heterodoxy because it argues that not only are planner/buyers largely victims of circumstance, but that the planner/buyer is the best hope for a programmatic evolution of the industry.

A victim of circumstance

There are three groups responsible for the current fate of the planner/buyer: Agency management, adtech and clients.

Agency Management have had a tough job over the last few years. Digital has grown ever more fragmented, we’ve lived through the sharpest sustained contraction in ad spend of the last ten years and agency fees are under constant pressure. In this environment, it has been tough to care about the lowly planner/buyer. Mostly they’ve been left alone to slave over spreadsheets and antiquated billing systems without help in developing the process and infrastructure to deliver the complex campaigns 2013 requires. Too often, for every hour of brilliant campaign planning, there are two hours of admin.

Adtech probably bears the most guilt for the current lot of the planner/buyer. The ability to communicate with a media guy is inversely proportionate to the amount of VC poured into the industry. Good agency staffers should be trying to deliver their client’s business objectives with solid media strategies, rather than decide which platform has the better bidder, or which point solution to use for ad visibility tracking. The adtech guys also created the monster that ‘knows all about QPS’ and now uses it to sort out share of a media plan.

Clients are just trying to grow their business using advertising and are arguably as much victims of circumstance as the planner/buyer. The best clients side with the planner/buyer, who is just trying to deliver a brief to the best of his ability.

Automation, Automation, Automation

It’s a pretty bleak picture for the planner/buyer in 2013. Struggling with antiquated processes and portrayed as being under threat of obsolescence, the planner/buyer isn’t able to focus on what they are best at – delivering results for clients and creative media planning.

Programmatic media can free the planner/buyer through automation. Using a smart application of today’s stack, the administration and implementation of digital can be handled by a combination of programmatic tech and team. This approach frees a significant pool of talent to reinvigorate the agency world through expanded or new roles in:

Planning - with the need to execute buys handled by a team of programmatic traders, agency staffers can focus on macro level and communications planning

Account Management  - clients don’t necessarily want to have their accounts and business handled by weird obsessives like the author of this column or the ExchangeWire audience; they need a more rounded approach and a close understanding of their business

Partnerships - and content Rich and deep partnerships take time to plan, and their inherent creativity demands focus

Programmatic - the industry is already tapping this talent pool for the next generation of optimisers and product specialists

I’ll finish this column with a direct appeal to agency staffers. A programmatic approach can free you; it can let you do what you’re best at. The planner/buyer title needs to be retired, but only so the planner can evolve. To my colleagues in adtech I remind you that if change does not come quickly enough from above, it can come from below.