As OTT Advertising Explodes, Agencies Race to Build Teams to Navigate the Space

Buyers are trying to get up to speed with new offerings while educating clients

Agency execs say there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how they’re handling connected televisions and OTT streaming devices, as well as addressable linear television and programmatic TV buying. Getty Images
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Gibbs Haljun estimates it’s only been about two years since connected television and over-the-top streaming devices reached a scale big enough to attract serious attention from marketers. That rapid growth has left agencies scrambling to capitalize on the estimated seven in 10 U.S. internet users who will use OTT services this year, or the nearly 60 percent who will use connected TVs.

Haljun, managing director of media investment at Mindshare North America, said the agency expects video investment teams to handle over-the-top streaming devices, skinny television bundles and connected TV devices, but that sometimes the traditional television teams, digital teams or addressable teams are tapped to work on OTT, too. “We have lots of people that touch OTT,” Haljun said. “But how we activate against it depends on what the skill set is, and what the client KPIs are.”

That’s a common refrain from agency executives, who say there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how they’re handling “advanced TV”—a catch-all term referring to connected televisions and OTT streaming devices, as well as addressable linear (read: more targeted) television and programmatic TV buying. Agencies traditionally divvy up investment teams based on the medium they’re working with, and advanced TV, with elements of both traditional television and digital, has presented a unique challenge. In response, agencies are constructing ad hoc teams to handle advanced TV planning and buying, all while trying to strengthen their agency-wide knowledge on how advanced TV best fits into a media plan.

“There’s no consistent model across every team right now because everyone is navigating it in different ways,” said Nicole Whitesel, svp, enterprise strategy, Publicis Media.

The priority at Publicis, Whitesel said, is that teams build out the “operational muscle” required to work nimbly and collaboratively on connected platforms, which can have vastly different applications and use cases. “Someone from the broadcast video buying team who would traditionally do national buying might work with someone from the digital team, which is historically an audience-buying team, a precision-buying team and then someone from analytics might join them,” Whitesel said.

At Dentsu Aegis Network, media investment teams have been rebuilt around a “total-screen approach,” responsible for video planning and buying on screens big and small. Doug Ray, Dentsu Aegis’ chairman of media, said a smaller team focuses on the granularities of advanced TV and then shares that information throughout the organization.

Chris Geraci, Omnicom Media Group’s president of national video investment, detailed a similar approach, saying that the agency’s “video investment teams,” which are responsible for handling all online video that touches TV, lean on a smaller team that serves as Omnicom’s “center of excellence” on all things advanced TV.

“A few years ago, it was just a small team or two,” Geraci said. “Now it’s gotten to the point where more and more clients are participating, and so the knowledge base has had to grow from one or two teams to a wide swath of investment teams.”

Haljun said one of Mindshare’s priorities in 2019 is to rotate employees through both video and digital investment teams so investment teams are chock-full of people with cross-platform experience.

“What it really comes down to is that you need to over-communicate,” Haljun said.

The organizational lines often get drawn around what teams are trying to accomplish. At some agencies, work on advanced TV platforms might fall to the digital investment team if the goal is advanced targeting, whereas a larger brand awareness campaign on advanced TV might fall to a traditional television investment team.

Agency executives are optimistic about strengthening their organizations’ advanced TV muscles, but acknowledge that the adjustment hasn’t been easy.

“It’s been a journey,” Ray admitted.

One high-level agency executive, who asked not to be named so as to speak freely, cautioned that investment teams have work to do going into the 2019 upfront season.

“We often fall back into the muscle memory of how we’ve operated with our partners in the past, and it takes a lot of work to shift from that,” the exec said. “We all need to be really prepared.”

With the continued growth of connected devices and OTT services, it’s only going to become more important for those agencies to be ready.

“Even if [connected TV] is only 3 to 5 percent of spend right now, it could double in the next few years,” Geraci said.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 25, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.