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Stop the fuzzy fireside chats – let’s start a bonfire instead

In March, a panel of advertising industry executives gathered in Singapore to debate the future of programmatic. Their wide-ranging discussion included standing up to the duopoly of Google and Facebook, the role of agencies, and whether ad shops are better off aggregating or building solutions for clients.

Though I love a good programmatic debate, a comment at the bottom of an article about the debate actually struck me more than the content of the discussion itself. The commenter applauded the panellists for their candid discussion of substantive issues — noting that most fireside chats are no more than “soft PR.”

Of course, they’re right, but the problem of “soft” questioning on critical programmatic issues extends far beyond trade conferences– it permeates our day to day working lives. So, despite many claiming they are having open and honest discussions with partners, the reality is far from it.

Transparency, ad fraud and brand safety are all topics we must face head-on. We can’t ignore these elephants in the room just because we’d much rather pretend they weren’t there.

So how can we finally start to have open, honest discussions about the issues facing our industry? We need to skip the fireside chats and start initiating bonfire conversations.

Keith Weed, Unilever’s CMCO for 36 years, is definitely a fan of starting bonfires. He’s happy to tackle the elephant in the room, and as a result, he sparked some important conversations about cleaning up the industry, reducing ad fraud and improving brand safety.

But you don’t need to be the top marketer at one of the world’s biggest advertisers to start a bonfire conversation: we should all be following Weed’s lead. All you need is curiosity and a willingness to tackle issues head-on, no matter which side of the agency / publisher fence you’re on.

Top of the list for our bonfire conversations should be transparency. Being softly spoken about fees and auction dynamics has contributed to the de facto acceptance of opaque, proprietary platforms which mask fees and win rates. Instead, buyers and sellers should be actively searching for transparent, open source platforms that deliver visibility across every step of the buying process.

So let’s all take a more forward looking approach. If you know what you want then ask more bonfire style questions to get the answers you need. And if you are not sure what you should be asking, then push hard for more education and support from your partners. Thankfully, bonfire conversations are the perfect way to start the learning process.

Either way I’d encourage all in our industry to stop taking things at face value, and start probing beneath the surface. I certainly am. Ask for more detailed information. Ask about seller fees, auction type and traffic sources. We all know our industry loves an acronym, but make sure those letters aren’t being intentionally confusing. Don’t rest until you have strong, clear and transparent answers. Push beyond polite responses that are light on detail, and doggedly pursue the information you need.

As an industry, we need to step away from the fireside and get comfortable with the bonfire. Although it might seem awkward at first, the benefits we’ll reap will be well worth the struggle.

Yogesh Sehgal

Yogesh Sehgal is regional manager, Asia at Rubicon Project.