Sep 10 2021
Ben Larrison

The Keys to Bringing Programmatic Advertising In-House


Recently, Marketing Brew ran a story about the ongoing trend of brands bringing their programmatic advertising in-house. The rise of in-house media operations has seen the likes of Chase, Molson Coors and Ally Financial take their programmatic ad buying into their own hands.

As you might imagine, given how big some of those brand names are, there are some serious upsides to in-housing your programmatic. However, as the article notes, a successful transition from agency to in-house programmatic buying isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. A few major differentiating factors can make all the difference, and before making any decisions on whether to in-house your programmatic media buying operations, it’s important to consider all the possible benefits and risks of any such move.

Let’s take a quick look at the possible upsides and potential pitfalls of in-house programmatic ad buying, as well as what concrete steps brands can take to mitigate those risks before they begin their programmatic in-housing journey:

The Benefits of In-Housing Programmatic Advertising

First, let’s examine some of the positives.

The motivation behind many in-house media buying teams is a desire for more transparency in the programmatic advertising process. Our industry has seen story after story after story after story after story covering the problems stemming from a lack of trust between brands and their agency partners when it comes to programmatic advertising, so we won’t bore you with the details here. Needless to say, the ability to shirk any further concerns around programmatic transparency by saying “Forget you, I’ll do it myself!” is certainly one of the primary appeals of in-housing programmatic. Having that sort of direct, unfiltered data is no doubt going to appeal to any brand looking to capitalize on its digital advertising efforts, be it programmatic or otherwise.

Then, of course, there are the cost savings: large, mid-sized and challenger brands alike can all stand to save money from cutting out the middleman and doing the programmatic buying themselves. Cutting down on managed services fees—combined with data consolidation, integration and storage cost savings—can equal some serious dollars for a brand’s marketing department. At Basis Technologies, we’ve seen the results first-hand, with brands that in-house their programmatic using Basis achieving a 48% ROI, according to a Forrester study.

Of course, there’s the then-obvious follow-up question of “Are the savings ultimately worth the hassle of having to do everything ourselves?” That brings us nicely to our next topic: the potential risks of in-housing.

The Risks of In-Housing Programmatic Advertising

There’s a good reason people choose to outsource tasks like programmatic ad buying: it can be complicated, time consuming, and require additional personnel and platforms. Why spend upfront costs on training, talent and tech when you can just pay someone to deal with all of that for you?

In the Morning Brew piece, employees from several brands speak to the need for truly investing in the process of programmatic in-housing. It is not, as they note, something you just “try for a year” or hire a few people to do on your behalf. Rather, it involves the same planning, preparedness and commitment as any other major strategic decision.

What’s more, many (but not all!) DSPs involve an unspeakable amount of monotonous, time-consuming manual work—in the Morning Brew article, one VP described it as “deathly boring”—and the time an in-house team spends executing programmatic ad buys can come at the expense of things like strategy and creative discussions. With talent shortages already a problem in the industry, hiring for such positions can be difficult, to say the least.

Between the upsides and the potential risks, brands clearly have a lot to consider when it comes to in-housing their programmatic ad buying. Those looking to shake up their programmatic strategy should be careful to consider all these concerns before making a choice on whether to proceed with in-housing or stick with outsourcing. However, should you decide to move forward with the transition, there are a few major choices that can make all the difference between in-housing being a transformative decision or a bust.

Keys to a Successful Programmatic In-Housing

Ultimately, three key factors can determine whether your brand’s in-housing is a success:

1) The Platform

Your choice of DSP is the foundation upon which your new in-house team will rely. Investing in the right platform can set your team up for success from the outset and will have the tools and capabilities to grow with you as your programmatic efforts increase. What’s more, it can help you make the absolute most of your talent—be they entry level employees or media planning veterans. Think of it this way: you can hire the best driver in the world to lead your new racing team, but if you put them in a 1994 Toyota Camry, they’re probably going to get smoked by that perfectly adequate driver behind the wheel of a Tesla.

So, what does the “right” platform look like? At a minimum, it should address the central problems you were looking to solve when you brought programmatic in-house in the first place: transparency and cost. The right platform should make it easy to see where your dollars are going, find out how a buy performed, and bring everything together into one holistic view—all while respecting the time, competing demands and varying experience levels of your in-house media services team.

This leads us nicely to the next key factor...

2) The Time

On many DSPs, programmatic ad buying is a time-consuming, monotonous process that’s tedious for your talent and takes time and resources away from things like strategy and creative planning. The same problems used to plague email marketing before the advent of marketing automation software, which transformed the industry by streamlining the email marketing process and boosting the productivity (and sanity) of digital marketers.

Today, brands have the opportunity to leverage DSPs that utilize automation for a similar purpose: to take care of time-consuming manual tasks and free up time for your in-house media services team to focus on other, more worthy responsibilities.

While we’re on the subject of time, it’s also important to take the time to plan the transition from agency-driven programmatic buying to an in-house team. And it will take time—we’re talking months or even years here, not weeks. To make the most of the switch, you’ll need to find the right partner to set your team—and your organization—up for success. Which brings us to our last factor...

3) The Training

As you make your way down the path to self-service, it’s critical to identify reliable outside voices who can offer their experience and expertise. Start by looking for someone with digital chops who has done this before. Confirm their media expertise, and ensure they have a viable pool of resources you can tap into. You want a partner who can give not just comprehensive training to your new in-house team, but leave you feeling confident in your ability to take the programmatic reins once they’re handed over (and, of course, that you can still reach out to should you have any questions or needs later on.)

In sum, any brand looking to bring their programmatic buying in-house should try to find a partner that offers not just a DSP, but a platform that automates those “deathly boring” manual tasks, brings together all relevant communication and data into one place for increased transparency, and provides comprehensive training to help you on your path to programmatic self-service.

As with any major strategic decision, there are a myriad of other factors that can help facilitate or impede the success of programmatic in-housing. But if you get it right on those big three, you should be set up for success—and, with it, the transparency and savings in-housing provides.

The Path to In-House Programmatic Readiness

The idea of in-housing programmatic can seem daunting (just look at that “risks” section up above!) That’s why we put together our Programmatic Readiness Guide. The guide can help you and your brand assess what would constitute the ideal solution for your digital buying needs, prepare your organization for digital buying success, and determine programmatic readiness throughout your business, people, process, technology and future. Whatever your thoughts are on in-housing, we hope you’ll give it a read.