Learnings from a programmatic DOOH veteran, Charles Parry-Okeden, CEO at ECN

Samantha Brault | March 11, 2020

“Veteran” might seem like an interesting word for a concept as new as programmatic DOOH, but ECN was an early adopter. They quickly became a key publisher in some of Europe’s most programmatically advanced European markets, like the Netherlands. Of course, they encountered a few struggles along the way,  and have been honing and perfecting their programmatic skills ever since.

Ben Allman, our ANZ sales director, sat down with Charles Parry-Okeden, CEO at ECN, to chat about how these learnings can be used to help build programmatic in markets that are just getting started.

Many may not be aware that Executive Channel Network (ECN) still holds a strong and growing presence within Europe. Tell us a bit about your network over there.

Yes, we’re very busy expanding our workplace media (ECN) offering across Europe. In fact, we recently installed our 500th building location and now have sites across the UK, France, Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands. On average we are installing one to two new locations every week across the UK and Europe with no plans to slow down.

On top of this we have also recently launched Mediai France and now have a growing network of screens across most of the media agencies in Paris.

In Australia, programmatic DOOH is taking its first steps. You’ve witnessed the growth of programmatic DOOH in Europe first hand. How do you foresee it playing out over here?

We must remember it’s not a race, and while some new market entrants (tech) are attempting to win market share by pushing the agenda at lightning speed, we must ensure we’re not just cannibalizing our existing market with this agenda.

Ideally, programmatic in the short term will open up DOOH inventory to client digital budgets. Much of our programmatic revenue across Europe has been incremental, as more digital agencies and direct clients shift a percentage of budget away from online and mobile and add DOOH to serve as part of an omnichannel approach to planning and buying.

Overtime, I expect this planning approach will gain more traction, resulting in an increasing proportion of DOOH inventory being utilised for this strategy.

ECN sells inventory & audiences programmatically via Broadsign’s supply-side platform (SSP), Broadsign Reach. Was it a big transition introducing programmatic selling to the business?

We started the programmatic side of things reasonably early in Europe, which involved several tweaks to our network to ensure that everything was programmatic ready. Uniquely, ECN is 100% digital, with uniform specifications across our entire European network, so comparatively speaking our transition was relatively straight forward.

From a sales perspective, we’ve established a stand-alone programmatic department that has been handling all the DSP integrations and client interest from the outset. We’ve been conscious of not distracting our sales team from their primary role, which is to service our core clients across our agencies and specialist partners in each local market. Having the departments separate, although effectively collaborating where required, has meant minimal disruption and has allowed both teams to remain 100% focused on the task at hand.

What value does programmatic bring to the ECN business?

The most exciting thing for ECN has been the growing interest from clients all over the globe that we had previously never tapped into – primarily from the US and Canadian markets. In the EU, our programmatic revenue, as mentioned, has been mostly incremental to date. It’s enabled greater access to clients and budgets that would otherwise have passed us by and has given us the opportunity to build a growing global network of partners to drive new revenue across the European market.

Data is at the heart of programmatic. How have you been able to use data to better quantify and understand your audiences?

One of our strengths at ECN is the granular level to which we are able to drill into our audience data, given that we are specialized in workplace-based media. We have access to both tenant data as well as footfall measurement through technologies such as Linkett, which not only gives us an accurate representation of the available impressions, but also of the flow of traffic throughout the day. That means we’re able to offer audience data by the hour and has served to align our network with the kind of data, measurement and buying procedures that have existed in the online world for many years – offering traders a familiar platform from which to include DOOH into their campaigns.

It’s bringing with it an exciting shift towards more long-term, always-on branding campaigns as well as the more conventional short-term bookings, which when combined with the extensive creative, targeting and trigger capabilities that programmatic has to offer, work to fully utilize the DOOH medium as a key touchpoint throughout the consumer’s daily journey.

What advice would you give to Australian OOH media owners who may be beginning their own programmatic journey?

The key for us when we started programmatic was to get the foundations right from the outset, as there’s still a lot of education that needs to take place in the market before providers, DSPs, planners and buyers can truly realise programmatic’s potential.

We’ve worked to build relationships within this new ecosystem as the interest and monetization of programmatic gains traction, which aligns with the subtle shifts that are happening in the market towards the integration of programmatic into DOOH planning at scale.

Buying DOOH is not a ‘one size fits all’ game, and we’ve been very deliberate in positioning ourselves to be able to offer whatever clients need to bring success to their campaigns, programmatically or otherwise.

With any new technology comes challenges. What sort of challenges have you had to navigate in the programmatic space and how did you overcome them?

It’s definitely exciting for us to be amongst the first movers in the European market for programmatic, given we had the right network and capability to be at the forefront of this emerging innovation. However, there was still work to be done behind the scenes to ensure that our network, structure and teams were all in place to run programmatic campaigns across all our markets seamlessly, and without impacting our core business.

Additionally, the programmatic space is still a relatively new one for the DOOH market, so there was a steep learning curve both internally and in educating others about how we, as an industry, should move forward with it. But with momentum and interest gaining across the European markets, it’s certainly a fascinating space to be a part of as it finds its place within the DOOH ecosystem.

Does the OMA (Outdoor Media Association of Australia) have plans to accommodate any changes that come with the introduction of programmatic to DOOH? If so, what type of support would you be looking to provide for media owners transacting programmatically? Is there a timeline that you are working towards?

The OMA/MOVE focus remains on working with our partners to establish further industry standardisation, as well as, developing a more sophisticated industry measurement to encompass DOOH across all OOH environments.

These two things are at the core of what’s ultimately required to confidently scale the programmatic opportunity across the industry. There is a lot of work being undertaken as we speak in respect to these key activities and I expect we will make strong headway over the coming 12 to 24 months.

What changes/transformation do you foresee programmatic bringing to the Australian DOOH market in 2020?

I foresee an increasing number of advertisers utilising the unique flexibility that programmatic DOOH provides to further evolve their digital omni-channel strategies. Adding additional touchpoints (DOOH) to intersect their customers’ journey at the right place and at the right time will no doubt drive a stronger ROI.