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10 programmatic questions to ask your prospective media agency

Programmatic Media
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This post is by Stephan Argent, CEO of Argedia Group and a member of the Marketing FIRST Forum, the global consulting collective co-founded by TrinityP3

Whether you refer to it as Programmatic Advertising or Programmatic Media – the term “Programmatic” continues to be one of the hottest topics among marketers, agencies and publishers alike.

While I believe programmatic will ultimately revolutionize the way all media is planned and bought, it continues to live under a menacingly dark cloud: Concerns around a lack of transparency, media rebates, arbitrage, data security and advertising fraud have all become synonymous with the arrival of programmatic activities.

At the same time, there’s been an unprecedented deluge of North American and indeed global media reviews including Coca-Cola, J&J, L’Oreal, P&G, Sony, Unilever and Visa. Whether all these are directly attributable to programmatic, nobody can say for sure. But you can bet your bottom dollar programmatic will play a pivotal role in those pitches so some of the lingering issues and that menacing cloud can (at least partially) be broken apart.

As marketers seek to educate themselves, talk to their agencies and look at alternatives, they’re repeatedly told – “ask the right questions” – which is all well and good if you know the right questions to ask. But what are the right questions?

From our experience based on the media pitches we’ve helped manage, I’d venture to suggest some or perhaps all of these are going to be helpful for marketers in their deliberations.

1. How do you manage privacy?

As you might expect, this is perhaps the most important question to ask when it comes to programmatic activities. Marketers should expect a clear understanding as to what protocols are in place for managing privacy, how and where data will be sourced and managed, and what proof points can be provided.

2. How do you detect fraud and what protection controls do you use?

The goal here is to determine whether there are technologies or human controls to oversee what technology can’t, and to understand how sophisticated and how often black or white lists are vetted to maintain quality. And ultimately, do these answers give comfort?

3. How will my brand be safeguarded?

This question also speaks to the quality of the programmatic offering. What you’re looking for here is an agency’s ability to apply data to buy (only) reputable sites and adjust quickly if and required, as well as assurances your brand will never appear in inappropriate sites.

4. What intermediaries are involved?

What you’re looking for here is an understanding of who’s getting a percentage commission before it gets to the publisher? According to the WFA guide to programmatic media, more than half of an advertiser’s spend goes to intermediaries, so you should understand who they are.

5. How much are intermediaries being paid?

Understanding what each intermediary’s respective cut is along the way will then give you a clear picture of exactly how much of your advertising dollars are being spent on the media for which they were intended.

6. What are the agency team’s strengths?


When it comes down to it, “programmatic” is just another word for “automation” and automation can only do so much. Technology aside, what you’re looking for is your programmatic activity to be supported by the brightest strategists and analysts to decipher data and results, then adjust, refine and improve for the best possible results.

7. How are you attracting and keeping the best talent?

This is a helpful question to build off and endorse the strengths question. As marketers have squeezed their agencies and margins have declined, technology and investment costs have sky-rocketed. Ask how the agency has tackled this new business model and is investing in its people – they are the ones who’ll ultimately make the difference on your business.

8. How will you measure results?

A key differentiator in how programmatic activity is making its mark with marketers is in how KPIs are developed. In a programmatic world, KPIs can be far more specific and relevant to the individual marketer and traditional KPIs such as lower CPMs don’t cut it because they don’t speak to quality or effectiveness.

9. What reports do you provide?

This can be a revealing question simply because you’re looking for an answer that provides insight to enable optimization and adjustment throughout your campaign – not just after it. Anything that smacks of a “post analysis” only isn’t taking advantage of what programmatic really has to offer.

10. Who else can we talk to?

Most agencies will have a great proposition in a pitch, so it’s important to reach out to other marketers who are on the same journey. What references can agencies provide and how comfortable are fellow marketers and references with the programmatic work that’s been done for them?

Whether you ask some or all of these questions, the goal is to ensure the questions and answers are geared towards you, your needs, your business and how your business operates.

From our experience, most marketers are facing the same issues and nobody has come-up with a solution that’s without drawbacks of some kind. So without sharing too many secrets, most marketers are happy to talk about their respective experiences.

And that’s just one more example of a human providing greater insight than a computer ever will.

Find out about TrinityP3’s Media Transparency, Performance and Value Assessment here

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