4A's Conference

Marketers, Agencies, Google Spar Over Brands' Precious Data

Clients Unsure Whether to Trust Agencies With Customer Data

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The unhappy scrum over marketers' precious data took center stage at ad agencies' annual convention on Tuesday, as a quartet of brand, agency and tech company execs debated whether that information should be available to outside business partners.

Marketers don't appear to trust others with their data and haven't yet found much reason to feel otherwise.

"The data that I have is more valuable to the equation than ever," said Robert Tas, who until late last month ran digital marketing at JPMorgan Chase, during the session at the 4A's Conference in Los Angeles. But agencies don't seem as interested in that data as they are in, for example, their own business.

"I'm struggling to see how media and agency partners are harnessing that data through me proactively," he said.

Soon after Mr. Tas took over as CMO of business software company Pegasystems in recent weeks, for example, the first question he received from agencies was about his media budget. "The compensation model seems to drive discussion ," Mr. Tas said.

Jackie Poriadjian, senior VP-strategic marketing at the Ultimate Fighting Championship, argued that marketers are able to get deeper campaign insights from their in-house teams than from agencies. UFC relied on agencies' buying power when its media strategies leaned heavily toward TV, but thanks to social media's emphasis on owned and earned media, "it has become more beneficial to manage solutions on our own," she said.

That's only beneficial to a point, said Ian Schafer, CEO of digital agency Deep Focus. "You should know more about your customers than anybody else," he conceded. But "it's important to know about the customers you don't have yet. That's the agency's role."

Marketers' "data is only as good as the data it's connected to," said Tara Walpert Levy, managing director-global ad market development at Google.

But connecting marketers' data with others' could make it vulnerable and potentially less valuable, Mr. Tas suggested. He also wondered whether giving Google access to more of his company's data -- like high-performing search keywords -- would lead to Google using that information to squeeze more money from Mr. Tas's competitors. And Ms. Poriadjian wondered whether agencies would use the data any differently than marketers already do.

"It's not the data itself that's the advantage," Ms. Levy said. "It's the insights."

That only works, however, if agencies have the skills to derive insights from that data. "My challenge to agencies is to say, 'Use my data to be proactive,'" Mr. Tas said. "But I struggle and worry you don't have the talent."