Brands Could ‘Kneecap’ Themselves Without the Right Talent on In-House Programmatic Teams

Industry lacks qualified candidates to take on complex roles that require a breadth of experience

Panel at Adweek NexTech
Ana Milicevic, co-founder of Sparrow Advisers (second from left) addresses bringing programmatic teams in-house, on a NexTech panel with Sloan Broderick, Accenture Interactive (l.); Matt Prohaska, Prohaska Consulting; and Patrick Coffee, Adweek (r.).
Sean T. Smith for Adweek

There are many reasons brands have opted to bring programmatic in-house, as it provides marketers with the promise of greater control, transparency and efficiency. In practice, however, pulling together an in-house team with the right knowledge and experience is no easy feat.

At Adweek’s inaugural NexTech Conference, Ana Milicevic, principal and co-founder at digital advisory firm Sparrow Advisers, was on the “David vs. Goliath” panel moderated by Adweek senior editor Patrick Coffee. Milicevic said that the “biggest question” facing marketers who want to bring programmatic in-house is if there’s enough talent at the right levels to actually fill the roles needed to make it work.

“As much as we’d like there to be an infinite supply of talent and for this to be trainable, it’s really not,” she said, explaining that the best people for a job of this sort are ones who’ve truly gotten their hands dirty with programmatic and have experience with lots of different aspects of it.

Through corporate and team trainings, Milicevic said it’s become clear that there are only so many people who have both the background and industry know-how to build or lead an internal programmatic team.

“It becomes really obvious that there is a talent ceiling, and, honestly, I’m not sure how we solve it as an industry other than … we’re just all going to have to do what we’re doing for a lot longer to build that capacity and have more folks with more expertise.”

Milicevic warns against brands handing someone who lacks the right experience a “big fat title” and a mandate to bring marketing in-house, calling it a “worst-case scenario.” Even so, she said it happens frequently.

“This is the kind of thing that can really kneecap your company for years to come,” she said.

Part of the problem, according to Milicevic, is that marketers are quick to look at technology options first when starting the in-housing process instead of focusing on who they should hire and how they should build out the team.

“What we find is that most people start with technology,” she said. “Really, the starting point should be on the people and process side, and then pick the technology.”

Now that it’s been a few years since the in-housing trend started, Milicevic said that some companies, particularly ones that aren’t digitally native and might be struggling to land on their feet, are starting to reconsider whether they want to outsource programmatic or continue to invest in it internally.

“It’s a natural evolution point where they may be re-evaluating the assumptions that they made four or five years ago, whether they still stand and if that’s something that’s still relevant to them,” she said. “There’s a lot of two steps forward, then three steps back.”

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