These 2 Agency Execs Are Getting Schooled in Programmatic as Google’s Newest ‘Interns’

BBDO San Francisco mashes up data and creativity

A few months ago, BBDO San Francisco's CEO Jim Lesser was chatting with executive creative director Matt Miller about the agency's upcoming summer internship program and discussing how quickly technology is changing advertising when a crazy idea dawned on them: They should be the ones doing an internship.

"It was one of those things that was a spur of the moment thought," Lesser told Adweek. "[We] laughed about it, and then I thought this is something that we could really gain something from. So, I spoke to the team at Google, and they loved the idea."

Google recommended Lesser and Miller cut their teeth in programmatic advertising. Jeff Blankstein, creative agency lead at Google, created a complete six- to eight-week program outlining the ins and outs of programmatic and covering data, targeting and understanding programmatic inventory across mobile and desktop.

"Jim was saying, 'What's the thing that's coming down the road a year from now, two years from now that our agency can get ahead of?," said Blankstein. "If you see everything from the media side today, the amount of money that's shifting towards programmatic is pretty dramatic year-over-year. While we're getting better inventory and better targeting, what hasn't really changed is better messaging."

Lesser and Miller have rolled up their sleeves the past few Fridays and gotten to work at Google's headquarters with courses focused on understanding how the market is shifting toward programmatic and learning the types of ad inventory that are available for desktop versus mobile. To be clear, it isn't an actual internship. BBDO isn't working with Google's own interns, and they aren't being paid, though Lesser does refer to himself as a "guinea pig."

During the internship, Lesser and Miller will meet with Google's data practitioners and senior leaders. The goal is to create an actual programmatic campaign from scratch. As the curriculum gets more sophisticated in the coming weeks, Blankstein said he plans to bring in more Google staffers, folks from the brand's media agency and possibly the brand itself for a daylong workshop during which the team will pick a brief and work though data and insights to inform the campaign's strategy and execution.

If it sounds unusual for a creative agency to get a deep dive into the nitty-gritty details of technology, that's kind of the point.

"It's been very under the hood right from the get-go," Lesser said. "Everyone in the industry knows the basics of it, [but] this is really getting deeper inside the machinery. If there's going to be a breakthrough where you can use programmatic in a way that hasn't been used before, I think you have to set yourself up with that goal."

Blankstein added that a good chunk of the discussion centers on how the agency's process works and brainstorming new ways to weave programmatic into the early stages of campaigns.

"The goal of this is not to have it be a one-off and done," Blankstein said. "The goal is to create a scalable version of this that we can bring to the rest of BBDO globally, but then we can also package it up to other agencies."

Blankstein envisions building the pilot into an actual program for agencies, similar to how the online giant works with brands and agencies through efforts like YouTube's BrandLab and The Zoo, it's in-house creative team. Last month, YouTube started organizing agency-specific workshops that are an extension of its Brand Partner Program.

"By the time most creative agencies get a brief for a campaign, it's actually past the point where a programmatic strategy can actually work," Blankstein said. "We're realizing that we have to rethink the whole creative process. That's why we're going to start looping in other people from both the media agency and the client because we think that's essential in getting these to work."

This isn't the first time BBDO has tested a new program with Google. The agency was an early partner with YouTube on Unskippable Labs, which tested digital creative of differing lengths. And last year, the agency created a global competition that asked shops to make a YouTube-specific spot for Twix.

So, have Lesser and Miller had to get coffee yet?

"They have an outstanding coffee bar—they treat the interns very well," Lesser laughed. "They have promised that we will get beanies and Google T-shirts. I think that was going to be at the next session."