What Does a Programmatic Sales Chief Actually Do?

Meredith’s Chip Schenck discusses his new gig


Who Chip Schenck

Age 43

New gig Vp, programmatic sales and strategy, Meredith

Old gig Vp, publisher, development, PubMatic

There’s still a learning curve around programmatic. Do you have an analogy you use to explain it?

The Sotheby’s and Christie’s one is my favorite. Their job is to solicit as many buyers as they can. Then the piece comes up for bid. Instead of the paddles going up consecutively, all the paddles go up simultaneously in an RTB auction. If you don’t get enough bidders, you’re going to have an unsuccessful auction. Your ability to add phone and Web means you add more bidders to the auction.

So what does a programmatic sales head do?

I think everyone is defining it a bit differently. Before, I would have said it’s a form of automation, where buying is assisted with an algorithmic decision engine. Yesterday, I went to a lunch and came out with a simpler definition: It’s anything that allows you to execute in a more operationally efficient matter and creates ease of use. The technology is changing, so more things are being grouped in the programmatic bucket.

Why does Meredith need someone dedicated to this?

As more marketers are asking how to use it for finding audiences at scale, publishers needed to respond. We’ve got fantastic data, and it can be used in a variety of different ways.

What’s a specific example of how it’ll work for Meredith, which specializes in reaching women?

Programmatic has been used to clear remnant inventory. We think it needs to do more. If you’re looking for left-handed moms from Indiana, you need a lot of access to scale. We can already do that today; it’s more about the packaging. You can do three campaigns where the client is identifying them, we’re identifying them, or we’re merging both sets of data or bringing in third-party data.

Salespeople have been wary of programmatic for fear it will erode ad rates and undermine their direct business. How do you resolve that tension?

It seems kind of B.S. to say there is no tension, but I haven’t seen any because of the way Meredith has gone about it. When it warrants, we should have people in the same room together. That makes them feel much more comfortable.

How do you motivate them to sell programmatic when it’s not as lucrative as direct sales?

We’re working on it. We want to incentivize our sellers to be as much of the conversation as they have to be.

Some think all buying will become automated some day. Do you agree?

We’re in a big pendulum swing, and I think that’ll continue until the margins cap out. That will be our new Maginot Line. Then, programmatic will find its place. There will always be a need for sellers. At the end of the day, there are still rules that need to be put in place by a person, and that takes conversation.

Your father was on the publishing side. Do you have any nostalgia for the old days of advertising?

In my dad’s day, it was the three-martini lunch. Maybe the new three-martini lunch is Google and Rubicon throwing these outrageous parties at trade shows. Maybe people will look back and say, I miss those concerts. The only thing I don’t like about our industry is, people don’t listen as much. The agency side is completely overworked, plans are spit out of a box, a lot of conversations with buyers go straight to price.

Isn’t that what programmatic is all about?

That’s what it started as. But if there can be conversation about client goals, that’s where I think it gets exciting. I see it as morphing into more than just a price-sensitive opportunity.

Photo: Alfred Maskeroni