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OPINION - Make programmatic traders redundant
Set them free with automation
I recently wrote an article for Exchangewire on why the programmatic trader role should be made redundant. I haven’t written an article in ages (I’d make a terrible journalist!) but I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of programmatic lately and was inspired to write.
The shape of programmatic teams, across all industry stakeholder groups, should change over time with technological progression. When these stakeholder groups are considering their internal and external requirements, they need to look to the future not just the now. This doesn’t mean to say people will *actually* be made redundant, but the tasks they fulfil, and the skills required need to update.
Article below - hope you enjoy it and as always, feel free to let me know any feedback.
The Programmatic Trader role should be made redundant; time to embrace automation.
My good-friend and ex colleague Ben Downing wrote a seminal and (at-the-time) controversial opinion piece nine years ago on ExchangeWire to retire the planner/buyer role in media agencies. Ben wrote that programmatic would replace a lot of what a planner buyer did at the time – namely a tonne of admin – which is better managed by technologies, but the actual planning part of the role was of increasing value.
Ben was clearly very right in his opinion piece in 2013. In 2022 I’m here to claim that the Programmatic Trader is the modern-day Planner Buyer and that their roles should be redundant, but just how Ben asserted that planning capability was necessary, a trader’s capability is needed more than ever.
‘Do you know any good programmatic traders?’
A question asked many times over recent years – the skillset has been in high demand – why? Well programmatic traders understand the technologies, suppliers, and data which the majority of ad budget is now spent through and owing to this high demand and short supply (because it’s a newish field relative to all other fields), salaries have rocketed.
As someone who used to be a programmatic trader, the role sounds glamorous. Telling your friends you’re a trader is pretty cool. The reality though, even in 2022, is that your time is often spent updating line item pacing, applying something manually in the DSP or fielding an annoying question from a client team member who thinks they know a lot.
What skills are now in demand if not a trader?
10% of a good trader is their ability to setup/adjust line items and field annoying questions (this can typically take 50% of their time). The other 90% is their analytical, technical & commercial ability - looking into data and observing trends that subsequently impact campaign spending. The challenge now is that a human can’t compete, for the most part, in the optimisation field vs the incredible advancements made by machine learning. Machines can compute 100s of variables for patterns 24/7, obviously a human cannot do this.
What tasks does a trader fulfil?
Whenever I read or hear about a company who will use AI to replace human jobs, I roll my eyes. I’m sure many of you do the same – it sounds so fluffy – a narrative being spun out of some venture capital pitch deck.
It’s also, largely, rubbish. Machines will not replace humans, they will serve alongside them – but how exactly? I’ve listed a handful of programmatic trader tasks and split them by human and machine – this is to highlight how the two can work in harmony. Oftentimes the case won’t be binary, but this is for illustrative purposes only.
Human suited tasks
Naming convention creation & tagging
Brand suitability implementation
PMP negotiation & selection
Data partnerships & integrations
Machine suited tasks
Optimisation to campaign metrics
Are humans doomed in digital media?
Absolutely not. I have a lot of friends who work in finance, an industry which is far more advanced in their application of machines yet according to the US bureau of labour statistics the demand for people is increasing and finance will have 8% more roles between 2020 and 2030, as well as those roles demanding higher than ever salaries (above that of inflation). A large part of finance is growing & innovative (think fintech, crypto, digital in general etc.) – before you can use machines to help you, you need to create, explain/educate and sell it in the right way.
As Ben said, a programmatic approach can free you. This time it’s not of planner buyers it’s of programmatic traders – something which advertisers who are considering in-housing or restructuring their agency relationships should especially consider.