To Agency or Not To Agency

Behavioral targeting networks will directly take marketers’ business. Seems easy enough. They have powerful optimization engines and you can access reports online. So why use an agency? As co-founder of an interactive agency, clearly I’m not objective in this discussion but what I can offer is a perspective born of much experience and observation. Many of our publisher partners and marketers relay the value add of agency experience is, in fact, a value add worthy of the agency fees. Agencies can significantly, positively impact behavioral targeting programs, pushing campaigns towards optimized exposure and revenue potential. Agencies can contribute on many levels, but in particular the initial planning and on-going optimization of programs are best left to objective third parties who can effectively negotiate on your behalf.


Agencies have the tools, knowledge and relationships to negotiate the best plan recommendations. They have a full picture of the available options, as well as applicable strengths and weaknesses. Agencies with any experience may have specific histories with chosen publishers or networks that allow them to avoid any campaign bumps.

Agencies use research tools to better evaluate audience composition and appropriateness for specific campaign purpose and have the experience to level set proposed behavioral pricing models and prices against campaign goals. Sure, a publisher can give you their stats and quote you prices. Collect info from many publishers and you will have a broader picture of available options but it will be from the sell side of the business and you will have to know the right questions to probe further. This is where agencies excel.

Agencies move beyond issues of price to understand how each program may fit (or not) into a campaign. Technology smarts require a constant commitment to keeping up with a highly dynamic industry. Marketers have too much to do to also stay on top of optimization capabilities, pricing models, segmentation options, site lists, opt-out policies, demographic and geographic sorts, frequency capping and day parting policies, as well as staffing, contract and performance notes for each potential publisher partner. Agencies can fill that role, and because of the breadth of experience they bring from across clients and industry connections they can also evaluate reputation, strength of staff, and network.

Agencies can also simplify the complicated. Most established advertising networks offer a combination of behavioral targeting, demographic, contextual and retargeting technology, however they all like to differentiate themselves by naming the capabilities something different. Often, there’s a lot of similarity in the targeting capabilities. Without being engrossed in these types of campaigns on a regular basis, the naming can leave you very confused.

Retargeting naming (examples):

  • – Advertiser Leadback/Audience Leadback
  • Blue Lithium – adpath
  • Burst – EnlightN
  • ValueClick – ReConnect

Agencies familiar with behavioral targeting can easily sift through the information and determine the actual benefits of the targeting technology, as well as how it relates best to their clients’ program. Because agencies constantly keep up with the latest technology options, they build relationships with publishers. This opens channels of communication about these technology options, putting agency clients first in line for the right opportunities.


Without the active optimization and guidance of an agency partner or a committed, in-house resource, you’d let your campaigns run on autopilot. This will likely lead to less than desirable results. Agencies use tools to keep publishers in check with third party data. This is key as campaigns require personal attention and frequent optimizations. Publishers have multiple campaigns occurring at the same time, making it very easy for a campaign to get lost in the shuffle. Agencies will be paying close attention and regularly monitoring impression delivery as well as conversion metrics on better performing placements, creative and landing pages. Things change quickly, so this must be done on a consistent basis. Deep vendor relationships, as well as bench strength in experienced talent, allow agencies to quickly troubleshoot when problems do arise.

The Bigger Picture

Agencies are also tasked with bigger picture thinking. They are, or should be, running or involved in other programs and initiatives which may impact the behavioral program. Behavioral targeting campaigns are only one piece of the overall marketing mix.

And let’s not overlook the fox in the henhouse element. Although reputable media partners focus on client results, objectives are not always well aligned. A media sales rep’s job is to sell you a media program, albeit a fitting program. An agencies job is to help select the right program and make sure it works.

What resource do you want to rely on?

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