GroupM’s New CEO Is Bringing Programmatic to Old-School Media Buying

Brian Lesser leans on his Xaxis background


Current gig North American CEO, GroupM

Previous gig CEO, Xaxis

Twitter @Blesser

Age 41

Adweek: How does your background at Xaxis help in your new role at GroupM?

Brian Lesser: Ultimately, only a machine and data can really match up consumer sentiment with appropriate advertising messages. And that's, of course, not true today in all channels. But I do think that over time, all media will be digital, all digital will be addressable, and all addressable media will be bought and sold programmatically. In my new role, the objective is to continue to push GroupM forward in terms of technology innovation, but instead of technology as it applies to the marketplace—which is still obviously very important—it's also focused on technology that is directed toward consumers to make sure our messages are targeted appropriately.

GroupM is known for its clout in media buying. How does programmatic advertising change the image of the agency?

The concept of leverage has also changed over time in that how much you know about a consumer and how you can apply consumer data to the media buying process is now as important as how much media you buy. And so our leverage now comes both in our position in the marketplace, but also our position in gathering data to apply to media buying in real-time markets, like programmatic buying. So how much you know is now as important—if not more important—than how much you buy in today's market.

What are the big trends you're seeing for 2016?

I think you're going to continue to see a breakdown of channels. Advertisers want to engage their consumers in an ongoing conversation across channels and devices, and you'll see the planning and buying process continue to evolve in that direction. So we want to think less about TV versus online video versus display versus other channels and more about using data to engage those consumers wherever they are. So I think that's No. 1: Channel agnosticism in the planning and buying process.

Some say consolidation is needed within the programmatic ecosystem. Do you agree?

Definitely. There are too many platforms, there are too many point solutions, there are too many venture-backed companies in the advertising technology ecosystem. I think that programmatic is too narrow. I think if you look at advertising technology in general, we're at a saturation point and that there absolutely has to be, will be, consolidation into a handful of cohesive and comprehensive platforms.

Do "walled gardens" need to change and allow more data transparency?

The walled gardens are not going away. Our clients are going to be faced with managing walled gardens, whether it's Facebook or Google or others. The job of our agency, our technology platform and our data platform are to help join up various versions of the truth. Facebook has their version of the truth, Google has their version of the truth—it's basically their definition of a consumer or an audience. But our clients also have a version of the truth, and they know their consumers very, very well.

This story first appeared in the April 4 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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