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As digital spend continues to grow and programmatic marketing moves from the exception to the rule, forward-thinking brands will look to build marketing capabilities with the underlying technology. As many as 50 percent will evaluate direct technology relationships in the coming year or are currently working directly with a technology platform to buy media programmatically, according to a recent survey by the CMO Club. Benefits include greater comfort deploying first-party data, better integration with internal systems, and normalized measurement across disparate media and campaign types.

Some in the agency space might find this trend threatening, and apocalyptic headlines about disintermediation abound. However, our experience suggests that these fears are overblown, and that there is a huge — even expanded — role for agencies in this marketing model. Rather than "either-or" scenarios, big brands are able to avail themselves of "yes-and" partnerships. In these types of partnerships, brands are able to leverage their agency partners for trading best practices, cutting-edge tools, pooled media buying, and data co-ops. Programmatic technologies create new roles for proprietary modeling and optimization approaches and data-driven creative services, among others. Indeed, most of our largest direct brand clients have their agencies centrally involved in the planning, execution, measurement, and optimization of their marketing programs. Those that do not — e-commerce brands, for example — did not have media agencies in the first place

While some analysts see this expansion in industry roles as empowering the client to think and act beyond the agency model, we see new opportunities for powerful partnerships between ad tech firms and agencies. It has never been more critical for agencies to advance their value proposition and combine their strategic intelligence and market power with the technology of ad tech firms to benefit the client outcome.

As we enter a new year of challenges and opportunities, let's remember that enabling brands to capitalize on the fast-paced, evolving world of digital marketing is a collaboration of strengths. We can do this collaboratively — and with some love. Three's company, after all.

Michael Lamb is chief commercial officer at MediaMath, the sponsor of this article.