IAB Fires Back With an Open Letter to Digital Buyers

CEO Rothenberg calls for agencies to address fragmentation issues

For a digital industry, these guys sure love their letters.

In response to yesterday's open letter to the Web video ad seller community from a cadre of top digital buyers, IAB president and CEO Randall Rothenberg fired off an open letter of his own to the digital gang of eight, which includes Digitas' Adam Shlachter, Zenith's John Nitti and GroupM's Rob Norman.

The buyers used their letter to push the Web video industry to raise its collective game by delivering big hits, better metrics and stronger stewardship of the wealth of new shows rolled out during last week's Digital Content NewFronts. Rothenberg and the IAB, which oversaw the execution of the NewFronts, have answered back. Rothenberg and the IAB agree with most of the buyers' assessments but think they didn't go far enough.

"Even if we collaborate on all the actions you outlined in your open letter, we will not achieve our mutual goals," Rothenberg wrote. Why? In part, because agencies are structured in ways that prohibit cross-media planning. "Agencies remain fragmented in the ways they develop strategies, craft creative, plan, and buy different media, reflecting equivalent organizational and process fragmentation inside client companies," Rothenberg wrote.

"All of this threatens to take a remarkable opportunity and shred it into a thousand expensive, proprietary solutions," he added. 

Rothenberg also urged agencies to do better creative, make buying much simpler and work to protect intellectual property. He even put out a request for some seed funding to be used in establishing a Digital Video Center of Excellence aimed at bettering the medium for all.

Here's the full letter:

To: David Cohen/Universal McCann, Adam Shlachter and John McCarus/Digitas, Amanda Richman/Starcom, Walt Cheruk/Carat, Rob Norman/GroupM, John Nitti/Zenith, Ben Winkler/OMD

cc: Advertising Agency Executives Everywhere

From: Randall Rothenberg, IAB

Dear David, Adam, John M., Amanda, Walt, Rob, John N., and Ben:

Thank you for your open letter yesterday praising the presentations, programming, productivity, and outcomes of the Digital Content NewFronts 2013. Fifteen top media companies presented more than one hundred original digital video shows that will soon bring laughter to the lips and stimulate the minds of men, women and children around the world, distributed across laptops, PCs, smartphones, tablets, and connected TVs everywhere. I think I speak on behalf of all NewFronts presenters—indeed, for the entire digital publishing industry—when I say we agree with you: This is a revolution in marketing, advertising, and media…and a transformation in consumer engagement.

We particularly welcome and appreciate the way you positioned the next stage of this revolution: as an activity in which agencies, marketers, publishers, and technology companies must work together to develop consensus solutions that will elevate opportunities for all of us. Sure, we will negotiate hard with each other, and compete fiercely to win business, publisher against publisher and agency against agency. But that should never stop us from collaborating for the greater good of our conjoined industries, our customers, and our consumers.

We also agree that for this revolution to truly alter the way we do business, we've got to commit ourselves to practices that benefit consumers, bolster transparency, build revenues, and boost profits for marketers, agencies, and publishers. So we dedicate ourselves, as individual publishers and collectively through the IAB, to work with you and your clients to, as you put it in your letter, “change the narrative, and leverage measurement—across the now and next screens—that elevates digital video beyond an extension of TV. To disrupt the commodities-like pricing for broad segments of audiences, to new currencies based on the response and reactions of the people we want to reach…[and to] give digital video (and its consumers) the attention, the brands, and yes, the dollars that it deserves.”

To accomplish this, we pledge to collaborate with you on the three items you enumerate in your “call to arms”: program promotion and discovery (including digital and social promotion), processes for audience-delivery guarantees, and measurement solutions that tell the true story of digital content’s reach and influence.

But we cannot stop there. Because even if we collaborate on all the actions you outlined in your open letter, we will not achieve our mutual goals. If we are truly to revolutionize marketing, advertising and consumer engagement, we must work together—unendingly—to embed other principles in our daily activities. Accordingly, speaking for all digital publishers, we ask you and the agencies you represent, as well as all other agencies, to commit to the following.

Make cross-screen programming, marketing, and consumption a reality. Perhaps the biggest message emerging from the 2013 NewFronts is that everyone—consumers, advertisers, and publishers—wants seamless cross-screen experiences. Yet despite our violent agreement, it’s hard to pull off. Agencies remain fragmented in the ways they develop strategies, craft creative, plan, and buy different media, reflecting equivalent organizational and process fragmentation inside client companies. Publishers and technology companies, in turn, pursue their own products and services for cross-screen distribution, measurement, and analytics. All of this threatens to take a remarkable opportunity and shred it into a thousand expensive, proprietary solutions. Let’s collaborate on the essential technologies and standards that will make it easy for consumers to discover programs, start watching shows and ads on one screen, pick them up on another screen, and complete their experience on yet another screen.