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Q&A: Bruce Kiernan Partner, Senior Director Digital, MEC on Programmatic & Private Marketplaces

May 21, 2014 | By Danielle Block, Director, Agency & Advertiser Relations - DCN
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This Q&A is part of OPA’s “Three on Three” series where we ask three industry executives the same three questions on a topic to uncover actionable insights… If you want to learn more, keep an eye out on our site for more interviews. Today’s Three on Three interview is with Bruce Kiernan Partner, Senior Director Digital, MEC on Programmatic & Private Marketplaces.

Bruce Kiernan HeadshotQ: Are you shifting budget to programmatic, what percentage of budget is being spent in programmatic?

A: Programmatic is a crucial component of our digital strategy for AT&T. We have seen positive growth in both investment and learnings YOY since programmatic became part of our digital planning architecture. With projections indicating continued growth in programmatic we expect further insights and enhancements on the value we are able to capture for our client. We also anticipate the introduction of programmatic capabilities to a broader view of our planning objectives. Leveraging programmatic to drive brand, direct response and retention across all our key KPI’s is a priority to fulfill our primary objective in growing AT&T’s ROI.

Q: Do you use programmatic for upper funnel programs? Do you think you could/would in a private marketplace?

A: While we actively pursue and evaluate the full funnel capabilities of our programmatic partners, the largest portion of AT&T’s programmatic budget remains grounded in driving lower funnel response. The most common roadblocks we have experienced in pushing programmatic up the planning funnel are inventory quality, lack of real-time brand measurement capabilities and customization. Although we have seen tremendous improvement in the inventory quality of key exchanges there is still a sense of the unknown when investing in this model.

Private Marketplaces offer a solution to many of these unknown elements. Many of the private marketplace packages we have evaluated include more customized and measureable media opportunities. We expect these opportunities will lead to a wider adoption of private marketplace activity and, thus more focus on brand metrics and solutions within the programmatic space.

Q: Who sets up private marketplace relationships?  What are important considerations when selecting partners for private marketplaces and what have you learned through the process?

A: Our agency planning team meets directly with publishers to evaluate private marketplace opportunities for AT&T. We find that many of the components discussed in this type of dialogue are closely aligned with some of our direct publisher relationships. Having a more strategic, holistic conversation that could potentially tie in ways to leverage private marketplaces as a complement to our media strategy with each individual publisher is a productive way to craft an integrated relationship that works for both parties.

One of the key objectives we task ourselves and media partners with is identifying tangible value from building a private programmatic channel.  Our open market programmatic buying strategy has yielded positive results and is made up, in part, of the many publishers who are currently promoting private marketplaces as part of their product offering. To justify potential fragmentation of this open model we need to secure considerable benefits in a private marketplace package.

In some cases value is pitched solely as the premium nature of publisher content. However, with growing usage of pre-bid technology filters we are able to identify open market display opportunities in-view and aligned with relevant brand safe content. With these verification capabilities the gap between premium digital publishers and long tail remnant properties appears to be closing.

Additionally, as these pre bid technologies are relatively new we have yet to see the impact it will have on the market value of some of our premium publishers who operate in any open exchange. Should pre-bid verification filters used in the open market begin to form a divide between premium digital publishers and long tail remnant properties the idea of a private marketplace to concentrate programmatic impressions in a more premium environment becomes less valid. As an advertiser it may be more effective for me to use the best pre-bid technology available and let the open market determine where the most efficient brand experiences will be.

When a publisher is able to go beyond or better define the “premium” label by offering unique inventory, data or creative not available in the open market we begin to really see the value in investing within private marketplaces.


Bruce Kiernan is a Senior Director at MEC leading all programmatic strategy for AT&T, focusing on the growth of ROI through the use of data and real-time buying.  In keeping abreast of the evolving media landscape, Bruce’s work has become concentrated on providing guidance and helping clients navigate the complexities of the data and programmatic space. In Bruce’s ten years within the digital media community he has worked across a wide range of well-known brands including IBM, Intel, Sprint Nextel, Reckitt Benckiser, and Farmers Insurance.  Before coming to MEC, he spent five years helping to build digital media strategy for Sprint Nextel as a buyer/strategist for Mindshare’s New York office.


Note: This Q&A is part of OPA’s “Three on Three” series where we ask three industry executives the same three questions on a topic to uncover actionable insights.

Also in this series:

Q&A: Christopher Murphy, VP Media Investment, Accuen on Programmatic & Private Marketplaces

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