Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Programmatic Stars: Matthew McIntyre, VP, Programmatic, Essence

Programmatic Stars celebrates the pioneers, trailblazers and innovators holding the role of Head of Programmatic, one critical to any company today.

Matthew McIntyre is VP, Programmatic EMEA, Essence. He joined Essence in 2016 as Activation Director before becoming head of programmatic in 2018.

 What are the biggest challenges for programmatic and how will we overcome them?

The biggest challenge facing everyone in digital right now has to be the changing nature of digital ‘identity’. 

Not only is the industry still grappling with the requirements GDPR has placed on using personal data but we also have the landscape of digital platforms changing fundamentally with Chrome’s plan to remove 3rd party cookies in 18 months and Apple’s dual-efforts across Safari (ITP) and iOS (IDFA) to limit the access and use of personal data by 3rd parties.

Programmatic has built its value on increasing the addressability of media, empowering Publishers and Advertisers alike to use data in innovative ways to find the right audiences, tailor creative, and reduce wastage of budgets. Everyone working in programmatic should be invested in understanding these changes and challenging their current ways of working.

Looking towards the future, it’s going to be more important than ever to build close relationships and partners with quality publishers and the global platform partners to allow brands and publishers to maximise the value of their 1st party data assets.

Data will still be incredibly important to programmatic targeting, insights and measurement but we will need to learn how to use new kinds of privacy-centric technology and become more comfortable making decisions on cohorts or groups of IDs instead of 1-to-1. There’s still so much that needs to be understood or decided on before any specific solutions can be settled on for the whole industry, so you have to keep exploring.

What is the biggest opportunity for programmatic over the next year?

The biggest opportunity for the industry over the next year is the growth of programmatic adoption across the major TV, OOH and audio suppliers. It’s taken a long time  but we are now actually in a place where more and more media channels are realising the value that programmatic can bring to all sides. There are plenty of opportunities for clients to capitalise on whichever channel works best for them and create some really innovative campaigns.

One watch out is the broader Connected TV space. While it is clearly growing and important for the global programmatic market, for the UK in particular we are still seeing the traditional broadcasters and YouTube controlling the vast majority of the quality ad-supported TV in the market. Brands should remain cautious and ensure they are working with trusted partners when exploring opportunities here.

For our own clients, alongside new channels, there are massive opportunities in using 1st party data sets to develop bespoke audience models and customised algorithms. This can deliver better short & long term results because it allows us to optimise campaigns towards audiences and impressions that can’t normally be tracked in a conversion, but have a much bigger impact on actual business objectives.

What innovation or technology in programmatic are you most excited about currently?

I’m most excited about some of the incredible products we have built at Essence recently that use machine learning to enhance our programmatic targeting and creative. In particular, one challenge we set ourselves was to think about how we could develop more relevant creative experiences in a world where we have access to less personal data for Google, our client. 

The result was Pegasus, which analyzed the content and context of each page on The Guardian’s website and then automatically generated a programmatic creative that was hyper-personalised to that page, creating value for both the publisher and the consumer without ever touching or needing any personal data.

The tech our teams built even allowed us to determine whether a pie recipe was savoury or sweet just through feeding it the images on the page, which is just cool!

Tech like this is so exciting for me because it is a real example of the way forward for programmatic and it increases the value of quality news publishers. Funding quality journalism is incredibly important for the future of the internet and the world.  

How is the role of ‘head of programmatic’ evolving or changing at present?

9 out of 10 display £’s in the UK are now bought using programmatic technology. The head of programmatic role is no longer just about looking after a specialist unit and developing specific audience strategies to fit alongside larger brand campaigns.

As the perception of programmatic catches up with reality, it is evolving to become a more integral & consultative role that works across teams, disciplines and departments, ensuring that all the work we do is making the most of programmatic technology & strategy for our clients. 

The role is becoming more about dealing with the future of technology in general and how we can make sense of it for media buying and our clients. I don’t think it would be too unexpected if the role disappeared in 3 years time from agencies as newer functions such as data strategy mature, the general knowledge of programmatic continues to develop at pace and the distinction between programmatic and non-programmatic buying falls away completely.

What do you love most about your role as Head of Programmatic?

It is beyond a cliche at this point, but it continues to ring true for me. Every day is completely different. You are always being challenged to develop new skills or learn how to apply your experiences to new problems. 

Programmatic can be all media, and at the same time it isn’t actually a media channel at all. This puts programmatic leads everywhere in a great position to have conversations and develop solutions in partnerships with many different teams.

It demands that you have both the analytical skills needed to solve the math problems in media trading and measurement as well as the strategic and consultative skills to develop innovative and successful programs for your clients. With the pace of innovation and changing dynamics of the industry, you are never bored.

At Essence, we have a culture of curiosity and a rich history of technical and analytical skills that still makes it exciting to go to work everyday (even if I am just going upstairs to the spare room right now…). It means there is always someone smarter than me I can find to take new ideas or concepts and help me turn them into real products and solutions for our clients. Who doesn’t want that? 

What is your proudest achievement in programmatic?

My proudest achievements at work all stem from projects that I can’t take sole credit for. I have been fortunate enough to work as part of some amazing teams at Essence, both globally and from London, that are dynamic, dedicated, intelligent and deliver amazing work for our clients.  

Over the past couple of years in particular, we have doubled down on using machine learning tools to develop customised algorithms to optimise towards longer term outcomes for our clients and privacy-centric solutions that personalise creative without using personal data. These efforts were recognised earlier this year when we were awarded ‘best programmatic capabilities by an agency’ by Adexchanger along with several other awards relating to the great products we have developed.

I am also immensely proud to have contributed towards many of the new client pitches at Essence, including as part of the core pitch team for some of our recent big wins such as L’Oreal and Zoopla.