How to Set Your Agency Apart with Programmatic Advertising

As an agency, supercharging the results you generate for clients is a top priority. This means keeping up with the latest shifts in technology, as well as what’s occurring in their industry.

So you can’t afford to neglect the booming programmatic display industry. Programmatic ad spend accounted for 85% of the digital display market in the USA in 2019.

Put simply, programmatic display is the automated purchase of publisher ad inventory not available through SEM networks. Ad buying is facilitated by the technology of demand-side platforms (DSPs), ad networks, ad exchanges, trading desks and/or marketing agencies. (Nota bene: Laying out the full complexities of programmatic advertising goes beyond the scope of this article; more to come on this topic in future blog posts!)

Programmatic advertising promises to deliver both a broad and accurate targeting of audiences. This is achieved through the combination of inventory on sites relevant to your business and the integration of third-party data that delivers information about an audience.

In this guide, you’ll learn more about the benefits of programmatic advertising, why you should offer it as a service and how to get the best results for your clients.

Why You Should Add Programmatic as a Capability

When it was first designed, programmatic display was built to do away with the tiresome back and forth between publishers and advertisers in a seemingly endless series of meetings, negotiations, and RFP debates.

Then, with the invention of the Internet, the number of publishers grew to a point that was simply unmanageable for advertisers. Therefore, programmatic display was further developed to essentially prevent publisher inventory from going unsold.

It accomplished this by automatically connecting ad buyers with a panoply of diverse targeting options; enabling them to target their advertisements within the content that their prospects would naturally gravitate towards.

Most importantly, the programmatic display designers were able to help advertisers buy the most relevant ad spaces by categorizing their targeting options via demographics and context rather than simply inventory.

Today, programmatic display is known to combat banner blindness—the act of ignoring banner-like ads—using sophisticated placement algorithms complemented by a touch of human optimization. In essence, it improves upon the irritating and intrusive banner ads experience of the late 90’s and 00’s—replacing them with native, contextual and relevant creative.

But programmatic display is about much more than banners. It includes video formats, native formats, connected TV, digital on-the-go, mobile, social, and more. It’s also equipped with tons of technical targeting capabilities such as geo-fencing, data targeting, keyword targeting, and more.

For search marketers who are confused, think of it as a parallel advertising industry with a broad range of ad targeting abilities unavailable through search and inventory alone. While many of the principles are similar, the operational execution and general terminology differ.

If you’re interested in accurate and relevant targeting options, new inventory, exciting formats and the chance to be part of a high growth advertising sector, then you should consider adding programmatic as a capability.

After all, it is the fastest growing part of digital advertising, and it’s getting smarter every day.

What Kind of Results Can You Get For Clients?

Because of the hyper-targeted nature of programmatic display, clients can see a much greater return on ad spend when they try it out.

They will also see a substantially greater reach than if they were to simply retarget through search engines and social media.

Programmatic display is also uniquely useful for prospecting. Clients can initially target broadly and, from the data collected, build informed ad groups based on the best performing formats and ad inventory types. From there, they can create look-alike audiences to resemble their target group to significantly expand their reach.

Lastly, it allows for a better budget allocation across all channels. As programmatic display grows, it increasingly becomes part of every client’s marketing mix.

Prospecting vs. Branding Campaigns

Take for example this campaign from Amanda Foundation:

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The messaging is simple, but effective. It merely matches the copy with user behaviors and demographics. For example, “I love the great outdoors, just like you” would be served to people who have expressed an interest in adventure or hiking.

As Chris Mead, the copywriter behind the campaign says:

“Our campaign got some good press for being at the forefront of data-driven / programmatic creative, with one article saying ‘it’s easy to see why this campaign is one of the archetypal programmatic case studies.’”

This next example comes from UK-based charity Missing People. Every year, they’re provided with £10 million worth of ad space to campaign for missing children around the UK.

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Prior to using programmatic advertising, they were only able to run a single appeal every week. Once they took a more programmatic approach, they started advertising appeals based on location. These were placed on digital outdoor ads, which can be replaced as soon as a child is found.

Ross Miller, director of fundraising and communication at Missing People, shares how much of an impact this approach made:

“When we first started using [digital out-of-home], 50% of children we appealed for were found alive. When we switched to a more programmatic use of out-of-home our response rate went to 70%. People respond to a message that is relevant to either where they live or a location.”

How to Communicate Benefits to Your Clients

Now you understand the benefits of programmatic advertising, and how it can make your agency operation more efficient while bringing better results for your clients. The question is, how do you help your clients understand the same?

Let’s go through each benefit in more depth to help you and your clients see the bigger picture that programmatic has to offer.

1. Advertise on an Individual Level

Programmatic comes with a whole slew of targeting capabilities that don’t exist with SEM. More than ever you can ensure ad creative is served to the right customer, at the right time, through the right channel.

Just like with SEM, you can start at a customer segment level (based on demographics etc.), digging deeper based on location, device, the content they’ve viewed and even their personal interests.

But with programmatic, you have exciting new possibilities like contextual targeting, which is targeting based on the type of content around an ad space. Geo-fencing is another programmatic favourite which enables you to target GPS at a hyper-granular level.

How does this work? Whenever a user visits a publisher’s website or app, their information is sent to an ad exchange. This includes any demographic information (such as age), where they’re browsing from, the device they’re using, their interests, etc. This information is then used to figure out which brand would want to advertise to them.

This is far more effective than simply serving ads based on a domain level. Targeting becomes a matter of reaching the individual, not placing ads on specific websites.

2. Campaign Across Multiple Devices

People switch back and forth between multiple devices throughout their day. Even within the span of a few hours, people may touch their computer, tablet, smartphone and TV, and may even be on multiple devices at the same time.

This means that advertisers may miss opportunities by targeting a person’s smartphone when they’re actually on their tablet. Programmatic addresses this problem by allowing you to advertise across multiple channels at the same time; vastly increasing the chance of an ad being seen and clicked on.

Once the campaign is live, marketers can then see which devices their audience use most frequently to respond to ads. Armed with this data, they can send even more targeted ads the next time around, increasing their chances of user-action.

As everything in the programmatic world is integrated, data management becomes far easier to handle. Everything is collected within a single ecosystem.

3. It’s Making Strides Towards Ad Transparency

With digital marketing becoming such a scalable and widespread practice, it’s incredibly difficult to ensure your ad clicks aren’t captured by bots. Or worse – that they appear near inappropriate content. Then there are issues with inflated pricing from within the platforms themselves.

Luckily, programmatic lends itself to transparency for both advertisers and consumers alike. For example, ads.txt is a recent solution that only allows authorized media platforms to sell ad inventory.

This level of transparency gives advertisers the power to see where their ads are being placed, and who they are being served to. It gives you visibility on which placements and ad variants are performing best, allowing you to optimize and double-down on your successes.

4. Reach Your Customers Everywhere

As users and consumers bounce from channel to channel, keeping up with them has become harder. This is why an omnichannel approach to marketing has become critical in 2019 and beyond.

Programmatic advertising provides brands and agencies with this extended reach. Advertisers can reach consumers on all devices, as well as the websites, social media platforms and publications they visit.

Couple this with the data we covered above, and you have the ability to identify and focus on the devices and channels that customer segments are most receptive to.

5. More Accurate & Granular Reporting

What’s the use of having all that data if you can’t act on it? In-depth and granular reporting has always been a priority for marketers, and programmatic advertising is no exception.

The best programmatic platforms provide reporting and dashboard features out of the box. You can track critical performance metrics, such as CTR, conversion rates etc. and cross-reference these across each channel.

These insights provide marketers with everything they need to make strategic decisions. This gives agencies the ability to report on the results they’re bringing for their clients accurately, using executive summaries to outline critical metrics.

How to Implement a Programmatic Display Strategy

Programmatic advertising is dynamic in nature. Therefore, while having a strategy is key, you should be prepared to change course as you collect performance data. In other words, you must stay flexible and agile in order to adapt to evolving technology.

With this mindset, you’ll be able to create a plan that remains ahead of the curve. Let’s look at the steps to creating a programmatic strategy that helps you do just that.

Step 1: Set Goals with Your Clients

Like all advertising strategies, programmatic must begin with your goals. Goal-setting not only defines the purpose of your strategy, but also how you’ll measure results.

By selecting the right KPIs from the outset, you’ll be able to measure your programmatic efforts more accurately as you roll out client campaigns. These goals can include:

  • Increasing conversions, leads or sales every month by X%
  • Increasing CLTV
  • Increasing number of clicks
  • Decreasing overall CPC
  • Boosting brand awareness through display advertising

Once your goals are set, you’ll need to agree upon which KPIs you’ll use to measure them. Use attribution that makes sense for your goals. For example, if you’re looking to increase sales for a client, you can measure social media engagement, impressions, etc. as indicators that lead to your goal.

Step 2: Start With Your Audience

With your goals defined, it’s time to move on to the source: your customers. Start by asking yourself: which customer segments are your clients looking to attract?

To answer these questions, look at the owned data your clients already have access to. How much does it cost to acquire them? Which segments are most likely to convert?

The answers to these questions will show you how much you should spend to attract them, along with the channels that you’ll find them on. It will also help you figure out how to use your programmatic platform of choice to get the best results.

Programmatic works best when you learn upon each interaction. So, start with your owned data to give you a headstart, and use programmatic technology to collect and act upon further learnings.

Step 3: Set a Flexible Budget

It’s wise to set a budget when executing a programmatic campaign from scratch. However, as machine learning and AI does its thing, it will provide you with new ways of reaching your perfect customers, faster.

Therefore, avoid being rigid with your budget. Allow for a more flexible approach in order to capitalize on new opportunities as they arise.

A good rule of thumb is to start with a CPA you and your clients are comfortable with. Of course, this will depend on your goals – for example, if you’re after cold, hard sales, you can justify a higher CPA based on the CLTV of your chosen segments.

As an agency, it’s up to you to advise on what this should be. Start with your client’s owned data, segment them by customer personas and make recommendations on what they should be investing in each click and conversion.

Step 4: Choose Your Channels

At this stage, you’ve pretty much put in all the groundwork. This is a great time to decide on which programmatic platform to invest in.

When going through the vendor selection process, look for the features that will help you reach the goals you’ve defined for your clients. It’s also wise to evaluate whether or not they can scale as you do, while providing robust reporting features (and even the ability to white label those reports.)

If you’re going for an omnichannel approach, look for vendors who integrate with other suppliers and channels. Otherwise, you may quickly end up outgrowing a platform, having to start the process all over again.

Step 5: Use The Right Ad Creative

From video and dynamic display to HTML5, there are several formats you can use to deliver your client’s marketing message to their customer segments.

When choosing which formats to pursue, consider the following:

  • Limitations: The great thing about ad tech is how it can scale your creative using a limited array of assets. Focus on creating high-quality copy and assets, and allow machine learning to find the highest-performing combinations
  • Sizes: Speaking of assets – the more assets you have, the larger the inventory that can be distributed to publishers. Creating assets in an array of dimensions allows you to work with a broader range of publishers, thus extending your reach even further
  • Budget: Ad creative should be kept fresh. But how often you update assets will depend on your client’s budget. Aim to create new assets every two to four weeks (12 maximum)


If you’re looking to get better results from your client’s ad spend, then programmatic is well worth investigating. Not only will it bring them better results from what they’re already spending, but it will also make you and your agency look like absolute superstars.

A pilot project is a great place to start. Identify two or three of your best clients to onboard and test on a small scale. Give them a discounted rate, communicating the benefits and results that it can bring.

You may also choose to work with an independent trading desk in order to receive some guidance and assistance without scaling up your staff immediately.

Then, with the results you generate from these pilot projects, roll out your services to new and existing clients. Use case studies to capture their attention, dazzle and create new revenue streams for your agency.


Featured image: via Unsplash / You X Ventures

Image 1: Econsultancy

Image 2: Missing People

Tom Whatley

Tom Whatley

Tom Whatley is the founder of Grizzle, a content marketing agency that helps B2B, SaaS and tech companies generate more traffic and leads through high-value content and distribution.

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