Chris Romano, Director of Activation at Essence

Ask The Experts: Buyers

August 3, 2018

These days, effective advertising requires just as much Don Draper intuition as it does an ability to parse through dense data and act on that data. Essence, a part of GroupM, does just that on behalf of companies including Target, NBCUniversal and Google connecting some of the world’s most prominent brands to consumers. With a team of nearly 1,500 thinkers and tinkerers, Essence manages over $3.6 billion in media spend in over 70 markets worldwide. We were fortunate to get some time with Essence’s Director of Activation Chris Romano to chat about how his team develops best video practices in a programmatic ecosystem.

How does video factor into your buying strategy?

Video is the buying strategy. Even though metrics like brand recall have decreased, TV is still a $70 billion industry because it offers the best canvas for creative storytelling. High quality video on a large screen immerses people in the moment. Display ads have their place when there’s a direct call to action, but video is the best way to bring stories to life.

What excites you about connected TV advertising?

Connected TV is bridging the gap between linear buying and digital and everyone should be excited about that. The old adage “I know 50% of my marketing budget is wasted but I don’t know which half” is no longer true. We finally have the ability to capture audience attention with real time bidding and the ability to optimize. We’re marketing to the right person at the right time at the right place. We’ve never had this kind of efficiency in marketing before.

The more fragmented our media environment is, the harder it can be to reach broad or even qualified audiences while capturing their attention. But just because people aren’t watching linear TV today, doesn’t mean they’re not consuming a large amount of content. In fact, they’re consuming more content than ever before. It’s about finding people in the right places, looking at every dollar spent and knowing it was spent effectively.

What does it take to be a successful programmatic buyer?

To get ahead in programmatic, you have to be willing to learn new things. Actually, I should say that to even survive, you have to be able to roll with the punches. That means pivoting at a moment’s notice and being attuned to data and logic.

We’ve always used data to point to gaps and opportunities but we’ve never had this much data before. Smart programmatic buyers know how to use data effectively and not get distracted by what’s irrelevant. At Essence we see ourselves as educators since we’re at the frontline of new technology.

It’s still a very young industry. The things that we’re talking about today – brand safety, viewability, CPMs – they’re not going to be major conversations in the future. The amount of screens we have is only going to increase. The digital ecosystem is here to stay and as marketers we need to understand the changing landscape.

What one misconception about advertising agencies do you want to dispel?

Agencies are a really good alternative for people who want to avoid the tech company conveyor belt. If you want variety and diversity in your work, you’re just as if not more likely to find it at an agency. We get to bring together technology, data science, creativity and culture, and – at an agency like Essence – I’m able to learn things outside of my scope on a weekly, and even daily, basis. There’s a lot of specialization in technology companies which is great, but sometimes people can’t see out of their swim lanes and that potentially creates issues.

People think agencies are slowly dying out and programmatic is going in-house but I don’t find that to be true. Walled gardens can only see what’s within their borders and the more the industry becomes fragmented, the more agencies are necessary to provide the big picture view. In a few years we might have ten walled gardens and it will be really challenging for individual brands to understand how each works so they are going to want to work with agencies who are experts in the space and in the weeds, managing actual campaigns. From where I stand, the future is bright for agencies.

*At the time of our conversation with Chris, he predicted AT&T would make an ad tech acquisition. Less than 24 hours later, his prediction turned into reality. So if you’re interested in having your advertising fortune told, Chris is your guy.

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