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From Cannes First-Timer to Cannes Believer

June 27, 2016 — by Joanna O'Connell

I’ve just returned from my first Cannes Lions and I find myself coming home totally inspired.

With attendees ranging from programmatic marketing technology leaders like us to powerhouse agency groups like Omnicom and Dentsu Aegis to the biggest brands in the world including Dell, Estee Lauder, AT&T and more, Cannes was a melting pot of perspectives and ideas.

The week started with a bang in the form of a MediaMath/Neustar co-hosted “marketing leaders” lunch where an intimate group of brands, agencies and technology providers participated in a discussion that I facilitated. I had the privilege of leading a conversation with the Chief Digital Officer of American Apparel, Thoryn Stephens, who took the group through his own professional journey (including building out a proto marketing technology stack for his own small business back in the early 2000s) and laid out his multi-tiered approach toward managing and growing American Apparel’s business. The key, it was clear, is a strong understanding of data—how to gather the right stuff, how to organize it, how to analyze it, how to use it to one’s advantage. A core goal for Thoryn is to move consumers from the world of totally anonymous into the world of the “known,” where they are recognizable, understood and easy to communicate with. Marketing gold. Questions abounded. And that was the best part—all the healthy discussion that was born out of an inspiring conversation. Marketers learning from one another.

I made a point of attending the always popular “agency trading desk” panel hosted by Rubicon Project the following day, where a group of senior executives fielded questions and waxed poetic on the state of the state. More compelling, though, was what followed: a guided discussion between research analyst Brian Wieser and AAAAs president Nancy Hill on the subject of agency/client relationships in the wake of the highly anticipated K2 report’s recent release. Tensions remain high, disagreements are wide-ranging and frustration is being felt on all sides of the debate. What’s clear is that there are some forcing functions, like this report, that are opening to the door to healthy, and clearly necessary, conversation among agencies and marketers. The two need each other—how to work as partners moving in the same mutually agreeable, and beneficial, direction is the critical issue.

I also had the great pleasure of spending some time late in the week with leaders from Merkle, consultancy Unbound, Google, ESPN and CBSi (among others), where I was reminded of the power of unfiltered conversation among data-driven marketing ideologues. I choose that word purposefully because, and I truly believe this, there is some zealotry required to truly change an industry. It takes people willing to push norms and question conventional wisdom to get us there. Being a bit of a programmatic marketing zealot myself, I was among friends! We debated the challenges and opportunities that present themselves when helping our shared clients connect the dots between marketing and advertising technologies, moving to a common foundation of identity and powering marketers’ CRM databases in media environments. We found that we tend to agree more than disagree.

I polled some of my other MediaMath colleagues who attended Cannes to see what inspired them about the event:

Joe Zawadzki, CEO

I was personally part of great sessions with some of our global agency partners at Cannes. The bottom line is that all are transforming themselves from programmatic-as-line-item to a multiplexing of roles, each with clear client value-add and transparency. The way out of opaque “trading ops” as the totality of the trading desk role and into programmatic / data-driven / quantitative marketing is through audience management, supply chain restructuring, systems integration, below-the-line marketing—not just advertising—use cases.  We are ready to support these evolving roles, and I’m excited about the work we can do together.

Dave Reed, Managing Director, EMEA

-Large brands are innovating and bringing digital measurement and planning into their DNA. The move is from 12 months of planning, buying and measuring based on econometric modelling and lagging-indicators, to planning and buying based on short-cycle measures on and offline to better deploy digital marketing in real-time.

-There is some discomfort with the sharp rise in size and number of walled gardens, which is leading marketers, publishers and agencies to develop more open supply, data and measurement ecosystems where they can retain more value on their media investments.

-In Europe, the flight to quality inventory and use of first-party data remains strong, with interest in “zero-remnant” programmatic supply chains that marry premium media opportunities to high-quality audiences.

Elise James-Decruise, VP, New Marketing Institute

Everyone has a story to tell their first time in ad tech very much like their first time at Cannes. Both experiences can be overwhelming if you try to navigate them alone. Being comfortable being uncomfortable is a forcing function to learning and getting the most out of your experience in a place like Cannes or the industry at large. It was amazing to take the time to meet new people in the industry and learn how they navigated it successfully—from new grads, to traders who evolved into more senior roles to the C-suite trying to skill up their teams. In our conversations with brands, agencies and tech partners, a common thread among all of them was the importance education plays—more specifically, the role that language translation, localized content and the ability to adapt content to someone’s learning style in a timely way plays in their ability to absorb and retain information on old and new concepts. Whether you’re a newbie or a C-suite professional, getting the most out of your educational experience is simply showing up, being present and being a curious learner.

The most rewarding part about being at Cannes was elevating the conversation around education in this complex industry as trusted advisers and really talking to people who influence those decisions within various organizations globally. Plus, I got to take selfies with Wyclef and Flo Rida and meet Martha Stewart, who all know the power of story-telling and meeting the audience where they are.

For me, the ultimate opportunity remains: How do we put the pieces together? How do we take powerful data, great technology and smart people and connect the right dots to power fully integrated programmatic marketing, where the marketer realizes business returns and the consumer has a great experience? How do we make it happen in the real world?

I spent nearly a week surrounded by brilliant, energetic, thought-provoking people, and I came home ready to take on the world. Now that I am back at my desk on this Monday post-Cannes, it’s time to make things happen!

Joanna O'Connell

Joanna joins MediaMath from AdExchanger where she was the founding member of the AdExchanger Research practice, developing syndicated primary research in the areas of programmatic advertising and audience targeting, and serving as an expert partner to marketers, agencies, publishers and advertising and marketing technology companies. Prior to AdExchanger, Joanna spent three years at Forrester Research, serving as Principal Analyst. Joanna has more than 15 years of experience in the marketing leadership industry. She started at digital advertising agency Avenue A in New York and was a founding member of Razorfish’s ATOM Systems agency trading desk. More recently, she ran brand relations for the Audience on Demand practice at VivaKi, helping advertising clients target and optimize broad-reaching interactive campaigns. Joanna graduated from Vassar College with a B.A. in psychology. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated with departmental and general honors.