August 25, 2020

The following is republished with the permission of the Association of National Advertisers. Find this and similar articles on ANA Newsstand.

By James Rothwell

Roles within the media industry continue to blur: buyers are now sellers, sellers are now buyers, and both are finding new ways to use data, access desirable inventory, and understand campaign performance more deeply. Combined with the fallout of current events, it makes for a media landscape that's never been more fluid or complex. Brands will need deeper, more sophisticated connections with the right industry partners to navigate their way through it.

Partnership breeds trust and collaboration, and there are significant competitive advantages for brands that can establish deep connections with the right set of partners. These collaborative relationships will help to drive the business forward and future-proof against tectonic industry shifts.

"We believe in the power of connection and collaboration in this evolved media landscape. It is vital for all members of the value chain to create the right connections to drive scale, efficiency, and strategic alignment," says Dave Clark, EVP and GM at FreeWheel. "When brands choose their partners carefully, they can create an exponential network effect that can catapult their business forward in previously unforeseen ways."

To help in that selection process, here are the three aspects of connectivity that are vital for marketers looking to create stronger integrations and partnerships across media, data, and technology.

1. Interoperability

To build and maintain scale, marketers require connections to span systems and the full spectrum of media, technology, and data capabilities. For example, agency partners such as ad protection and cybersecurity firm WhiteOps have a built-in and ever-growing ecosystem that can create exponential efficiencies for brands as well as fluid relationships with sellers. "We focus on delivering our fraud and bot mitigation solutions at scale by verifying more than 5 trillion digital touchpoints per week," says Dan Lowden, CMO at WhiteOps. This creates a network of partnerships that enables a large, effective level of collective protection for WhiteOps' clients, he says.

Selecting partners that already have beneficial connections of their own can create efficiency in terms of plugging into different areas of the industry. Data partners can enable meaningful insights for brands while integrating seamlessly into activation platforms.

A depiction of how partners can help brand connectedness in a complex landscape. When brands choose their partners carefully, says Dave Clark, EVP and GM at FreeWheel, "They can create an exponential network effect that can catapult their business forward in previously unforeseen ways." Courtesy of FreeWheel

Interoperability can also create a network effect that drives additional value for brands and their customers, attracting new participants to already existing connections and advocating for standardization. In today's evolved media ecosystem, creating robust connections that capitalize on advanced data and technological executions while promoting workflow efficiency will drive superior results.

Questions marketers should ask themselves about their partners:

  •     Do my partner connections enable me to push the envelope of my capabilities as a marketer?
  •     Are there efficiencies to be gained by choosing one connection over another based on their upstream or downstream connections?
  •     Do a partner's capabilities complement or enhance my own existing workflow?

2. Intent

In selecting partners, it is critical to ensure that they are focused on solving the right problems. Agency partners should be a true extension of a marketer's business with the right incentives to drive results against a mutually agreed-upon set of goals.

Kris Magel, president of media partners at Dentsu Aegis Network, says his company takes pains to seek alignment across every critical aspect of a client's business. In doing so, it elevates the dynamic of a client-vendor relationship into more of a partnership. "As an agency partner, we are better able to serve their needs," Magel says.
Partner Message

Often, partners that take a macro approach to solving industry-level issues make some of the best connections because they see their company's role as part of a greater vision. Some examples of this behavior could be proactively advocating for industry progress and standards, enabling knowledge sharing, and creating thought leadership focused on the broader ecosystem.

Magel notes that, in aligning with a client's objectives, Dentsu ensures a strong partnership that yields benefits for more than just the client's business. "We work together as partners to drive a common result," he says. "This extends to mutually held ethics and policies that are beneficial for our two organizations, our partnership, and the industry at large."

By solving some of the larger issues (and by association representing a more diverse set of stakeholders), partners such as Dentsu have a finer appreciation for what it takes to drive a successful partnership. They also see how solving specific issues benefits the wider business environment and why a more holistic approach can open up new avenues of opportunity.

With many social issues affecting consumers' affinity for brands, it is important that prospective partners also share similar values around ethics, the environment, and championing diversity. For example, selecting media partners who share similar values in terms of social issues and organizational priorities is essential to aligning beyond commercial dynamics. Getting this wrong can have a damaging impact on brand reputation.

Marketers should not be afraid to ask existing clients of potential partners how aligned those partners' views are in the areas that they find most important.

Questions marketers should ask themselves about their partners:

  •     Is a potential partner transparent enough and do its goals align with those of my organization?
  •     How diversified is the prospective partner's business model?
  •     Do the partner's commercial and social-issue priorities align with my organization's?

3. Innovation

If the right connections don't exist, innovation can be a challenge. For example, if the creative and media agencies don't have a healthy connection, the campaign execution may suffer. Progressive seller solutions and packaging should reflect emerging industry capabilities while providing flexibility to achieve specific marketing goals.

Brands must ensure that product road maps are in sync in terms of priorities as well as the timing of planned launches and the business's evolution. Technology and data partners should communicate clear and transparent road maps and provide opportunities for brands to be influential.

With technology and data innovation occurring at an increasing pace, staying on top of all the latest developments is a constant challenge and requires constant communication. "Focusing on our clients' priorities and having clear lines of communication to ensure we continually align on what is most important to them is key to a successful relationship," says Jill Canetta, chief data officer at Experian Marketing Services.

Creating foundational connections with partners is critical to ensuring that basic execution can occur, while enabling more advanced development to be at the leading edge of the industry.

Questions marketers should ask themselves about their partners:

  •     What is the partner's product development cadence and does it align with my own?
  •     What percentage of the partner's resources and development is focused on maintenance versus future innovation?
  •     How would codevelopment work in terms of communication, review, and execution?


All three aspects of connectivity require a clear strategic alignment between the marketers and their partners who choose to invest in deeper, more meaningful connections.

Top-to-top meetings to share vision and north-star strategies as well as connected departmental communications are key to ensuring that partnering organizations are moving in the same direction and at the same pace. Aligning on core organizational values and approaches to social issues is an increasingly important factor because the selection of partners is a reflection of a brand's identity.

Strategies and approaches to marketing often need to be tweaked based on environmental conditions. There have been plenty of examples of this in 2020, with marketers and agencies tightening their collaborative processes as brands pivot in response to unprecedented circumstances. Insights and data are of paramount importance to understanding the current media environment, as well as the broader economy, which makes the right partnerships and information delivery systems particularly critical.

All of these connections can be put to the test in times of crisis, but organizations that work together to successfully navigate change and chart a mutually beneficial course will come out stronger.

The exponential benefit of connectivity offers one of the clearest paths to growth, and aligning interoperability, intent, and innovation will future-proof the business.

About Author: James Rothwell is the VP of global agency, brand, and industry relations at Comcast Advertising, representing FreeWheel, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.

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