Train or Die: Ad Tech Needs to Partner With Agencies and Brands to Help Train Talent

How to Cultivate the Next Generation of Media Leaders

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Over the past year, we've seen more and more brands start to build their own in-house media teams. Doing so requires tapping into a pool of digital marketing talent -- and it's this factor that is leading some in the industry to wonder whether there is enough talent for this trend to scale.

There is, depending on how you define "enough."

Within the media ecosystem -- brands, agencies and ad tech -- there's certainly enough talent to feed the programmatic beast we know right now. But the beast is getting bigger.

The size of the programmatic market -- and the share of digital ads that were sold programmatically -- grew exponentially in 2014. A recent Magna Global report showed the programmatic market growing 52% to $21 billion this year, and predicted continued growth at an average annual rate of 27%, reaching $53 billion by 2018.

Now that the pipes are built and the detractors have dispersed -- finally realizing that programmatic doesn't equal remnant -- programmatic is taking off. Looking two to five years out, it's clear that we are going to be facing a serious shortage of talent. So yes, right now there is enough talent. But that doesn't change the fact that soon -- maybe even within the year -- we'll be facing a serious shortage of experience across the board.

Partnering with agencies and brands

The ad-tech industry needs to engage in active partnerships with brands and agencies to develop the talent these companies need to move into the next phase of programmatic adoption. We all need to look for opportunities to train up our teams and our partners' teams. This is not just the burden of the brands and agencies that are building out their teams, but of ad-tech companies as well. Some in the industry have complained that the agency model is broken; they say agency teams just don't have the talent they need to service their clients adequately anymore. I disagree. Agencies still own the strategy, as they always have, and they do it well. But where ad tech is concerned, partnership is the order of the day.

We are already shouldering some of the burden of training in-house teams for agencies and brands (as all smart vendors will). You have to realize that there's no Khan Academy for ad tech; we are the academy. At Turn, we've invested meaningfully in our partnership with brands and agencies by sharing the responsibility of training, maintaining and onboarding the teams that use our tools. I'd even argue that we'll all benefit as our people start to migrate from agency to brand to tech and back again. Cross-pollination is healthy for the industry.

We can also think creatively about ways to cultivate interest in and understanding of our field even earlier in the game. We recently engaged in a partnership with the University of Illinois to develop educational programs focused on ad tech. It's an exciting step forward, one that recognizes how businesses, academic institutions and students will all benefit from innovative thinking about how we train the next generation of media leaders.

Finally, as an industry, we need to shift our values, and place a higher premium on the ad-tech skillset. Agencies need to recognize the benefits of developing their tech bench strength, and come to realize that it's not about hiring an expert or a consultant, but about nurturing skills across the entire organization. Brands wield enormous power here, and can encourage their agencies to train their whole teams on the ad-tech toolset, which we recently saw Kraft do with Starcom. Taking this whole-team approach reframes the conversation about ad tech; it affirms the place of technology as a fundamental media tool within the agency-brand framework.

There is no question that within the next two to three years, programmatic is going to account for the vast majority of media transactions. It'll become an utterly banal bullet on the LinkedIn profiles of all brand and agency talent, as unremarkable as "Microsoft Office" once was. And yes, lots of media buying is likely to move in-house, though the pace of change might not be as expeditious as some in the industry think. This shift will be just one aspect of a broad realignment we'll continue to see within the brand-agency-tech trinity -- one in which we've all got an active role to play.

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