What Is Zimmerman’s Media Trading Room, and Does It Really Save Clients Millions?

Inside the agency's anti-programmatic buying strategy

Conventional wisdom holds that programmatic ad buying, and the Big Data that powers it, will dominate media planning for both agencies and presidential campaigns in the coming years. As a panel of Adweek experts put it a year ago, "Programmatic is eating the media world."

But even though the practice has already overtaken the TV medium, it has its shortcomings and share of detractors. Some agencies forego it altogether, while others see it as one piece of a far larger puzzle.

Omnicom shop and self-described "leading retail agency" Zimmerman Advertising has a unique, supplemental solution to the problems posed by programmatic—its own custom-built "Live Media Trading Room." Zimmerman says the project, designed to resemble Wall Street's own famously skittish floors, enables its media team to more dexterously navigate the fast-paced and unforgiving world of real-time media buying.

The trading room has been in the works for some time, but Zimmerman recently created a video to summarize the project.

Zimmerman CEO Michael Goldberg tells Adweek that the project helps the agency better serve as a sort of one-stop shop for its clients with a service that founder Jordan Zimmerman calls "part Google, part Gladiator."

To Goldberg, the room is a modern embodiment of the classic back-and-forth barter system as applied to last-minute media buys for Zimmerman clients. "We started looking at media like a commodities broker would," he says, adding that the setup "allows everyone to see visually what's available and how long we have before its due date."

According to Goldberg, the trading room—which is both a physical room and a mobile-ready software platform—allows Zimmerman's media team to "negotiate deals, act quickly, and re-buy things we've already bought" in the interest of providing clients with the lowest possible price-to-value ratio for all sorts of media buys.

Zimmerman evp/chief integrated media officer Adam Herman explains that the agency's media department set up a flexible budget that allows the team to take advantage of "a spot that might open up that evening during a prime-time show or event and get underneath everyone else's pricing," thereby creating "a pool of quality programming at reduced rates."

It gets more complicated, because the value changing hands might not even take the form of legal currency. Herman says, "We may take inventory from clients that hasn't been sold for whatever reason and turn it into media credit, so we can take a $1 million budget and make it larger via these bartered goods."

Why does Zimmerman believe this approach is more effective than basic programmatic buying? As Goldberg puts it, "This is more man versus machine. We can do programmatic buys in the room too, but they don't get you inside the deals structured by human beings."

If, for example, an area near a Chuck E. Cheese experiences stormy weather, Zimmerman's team can negoatiate with local TV stations to buy ads promoting the brand as nearby parents consider indoor entertainment options for their children. The same model could apply to client Jamba Juice on particularly warm days.

The new offering will not come as a surprise to Zimmerman's media partners. Goldberg tells Adweek that "they have a direct feed into our system, and they were aware that we were working on this" for the past year. Goldberg and Herman argue that the exchange gives both agency and clients a competitive advantage in the market; it also serves as a key selling point during new business pitches.

The next step in the process is figuring out how best to reward employees who negotiate favorable media deals for clients.

Goldberg calls the agency's newly revised media strategy "a team game that lends itself to a more omnichannel approach to solving clients' problems. The answer is not always to run a cheaper TV spot."

Will other media buying operations follow Zimmerman's lead? We would bet on it in real time.