Ahhh, big data. This concept has revolutionised the business world, and determines the strategies of many companies who must follow the trend as best they can. But big data has also created a whole new range of experts. A whole new series of jobs has emerged, including data analysts, data scientists, and media buying specialists…
Hey Julien, can you tell us about your job as media buying specialist?
I am a media buying specialist, which means I’m an expert in (good) digital campaign configuration. Quality issues in distribution (display on dubious sites, paid-for but unseen impressions…), poor targeting, lack of transparency on providers’ business models and on the use of personal data… Online advertising has not always had good press in recent years. The key challenge for brands today is to succeed in displaying advertising that is both qualitative and respectful of users, without compromising the efficiency – and, therefore, the profitability – of investments.
We are increasingly exposed to online advertising. Commercial links on Google, sponsored posts on Instagram or in-app banners – digital advertising is omnipresent, and sometimes perceived as intrusive. More and more Internet users are using ad blockers: 11% in the world today according to PageFair, and 30% by the end of 2018 according to eMarketer. The problem is that the quality of ads does not evolve at the same pace as technology, let alone the use of ad blockers. Personally, I am frequently targeted by a banner for women’s products, and I have to put up with the display of inappropriate pop-ups…
As a media buying specialist, it is these pitfalls that I try to avoid. When I started this job three and a half years ago, I remember thinking to myself, “If I’m going to have to put up with advertising, I might as well make it useful or interesting.” In the digital age, advertising is at the heart of many business models, and its disappearance isn’t around the corner! My main mission is therefore to create, optimise and manage one or even several advertising channels, striving to achieve the expected levels of quality and performance.
Isn’t “Media buying specialist” a little complicated for the name of a profession? Why not media “buyer” or “trader”?
That’s true – “media buyer” does exist in English, but the term is a little “old world” sounding, so “media buying specialist” does not sound too bad.
The term ‘Media Buying Specialist’ is specific to fifty-five and truly reflects the company’s core DNA.
What kind of developments have you witnessed in your profession since you started working at 55?
The ecosystem has become much more complex, whether in terms of channels, tools or purchasing methods… We have had to cope with the rise of smartphones, videos, and get to grips with new formats (in-stream, in-app, true-view, etc.). And that’s without mentioning new issues such as attribution, media activation of DMP audience segments, ROPO traceability, etc.
As far as advertisers are concerned, I have felt expectations grow, especially when it comes to the quality of the environment where their ads are displayed (known as brand safety). Measuring the end-to-end efficiency of a campaign in order to report investments to the dime, defining and adjusting the media mix to optimise the ROI, guaranteeing brand safety to protect the brand image… All of these issues have become crucial and they cannot be resolved by waving a magic wand. I still see major brands publishing their ads on websites with sensitive content (see the recent ANA controversy with Breitbart), or, despite many precautions, purchasing non-qualitative ad impressions and only realising it when it is too late. It is, in fact, impossible to guarantee optimal quality right from the first attempt nowadays. We must go through a testing phase to manually control and exclude certain ad inventories, as needed.
What do you do every day, what are your specific tasks?
I propose and roll out campaigns that fulfil my advertising client’s goals, always keeping in mind the need to balance the investment’s profitability with the quality of the ads. Experience has taught me that the more relevant the ad (i.e. adapted to context and audience), the higher the chances of it achieving this dual objective. We must put together a virtuous cycle that encompasses the trio of relevance/experience/effectiveness. This usually involves selecting the right targeting, formats, audience segment or performing A/B tests.
I have a morning monitoring routine – I check the reports to make sure the budget and traffic goals are being met. After that, I scout new functionalities or products on the market and look out for events in the sector that might be interesting for my team or client. I spend a lot of time optimising campaigns – that means producing detailed reports on a particular aspect of a campaign or lever, to understand what is not working or not working well enough. This is a work of investigation and analysis that involves taking into account the “real” context: why is the launch campaign for the Spring/Summer collection not working? Is it because it is not set up correctly or because the temperatures are too low for the season?
With what kind of profiles do you work?
On the client side, I deal mainly with operational acquisition teams, having one-off interactions with the development and integration teams regarding tag and data feed management issues. I also have meetings with digital managers from my client’s team. Client relationship is very important; we are constantly in touch and learning from each other. I am always looking for the best way to explain a specific action or recommended strategy. The media buying specialist is a natural trigger for improving the skills of advertisers, so that these advertisers need not depend on the technical competencies of agencies. Whether to improve specific professional skills or reflect on the potential in-housing of media buying, the “media buying specialist” is an ideal contact person who draws on his/her proximity relation.
We also value experience exchanges internally at 55, which we carry out on a permanent basis. I work very closely with our consultants and regularly collaborate with the tracking experts and engineers for issues surrounding technical parameters: tracking, automation of reports and data feed, access to APIs, data queries…
How is working for the brand indirectly (by carrying out your job via an agency) different from doing so directly, from the actual advertiser’s offices?
The agency offers a wider array of missions, sectors dealt with, levels of budgets managed, advertiser maturity levels, and even objectives (branding and visibility or performance). We get a holistic view much faster. We are in touch with the latest solutions on the market, which we can test and troubleshoot. You become a sort of Swiss army knife.
There are other advantages from working at the advertiser’s. One gets to test the different levers faster and it is easier to balance the strategy on all channels: affiliate marketing, emailing, social media, display, etc. I think the rise in media expertise is slower this way, but more in line with the industry itself.
And what is the difference between doing your job in a conventional agency or at a data company, such as 55?
55 is a data native. We are encouraged to use more advanced tools, to push the analysis further. We pay a lot of attention to the automation and production of state-of-the-art dashboards. The combination of media buying specialists and consultants, and the presence of data experts, allows us to be more efficient when it comes to understanding data-related problems.
I do not know if it is the case in all data companies, but, at 55, we are very autonomous, we are quickly trusted to manage several levers, for instance. And at the same time, we are very well surrounded: we have ongoing training, we are empowered to develop our expertise quickly.
Artificial intelligence is the buzzword of 2018: what do you think the future of your profession will look like?
Artificial intelligence (AI) – or at least automation – is clearly becoming more prevalent in many aspects of my profession, whether in bid management or targeting. I sometimes hear that the media buying specialist profession will thus disappear: I do not agree. I prefer to see automation and artificial intelligence as valuable allies. Used correctly, they allow us to modify our role in a positive manner. Many operational tasks become less time-consuming. It is then possible to spend more time carrying out analyses and making strategic adjustments, allowing us to be even more agile and efficient: creating automatic and personalised ads according to the audiences, data-driven allocation and bidding strategies etc. As effective as they may be, these features require intelligent set-up and careful monitoring. We know the variables of Google and Facebook’s algorithms, but not their weighting. We must remain vigilant, especially as a form of dependence on technologies with little transparency (the so-called “black boxes”) can quickly settle in. Unexpected developments are just around the corner. It then takes a bit of time to properly rectify the course of development. Human intelligence and artificial intelligence, excellence in media campaign management will develop based on the alliance of these two forces.
Translated from French by Charles Rogers.