Ad Networks

Making the Leap from Agency to Ad Network

Yesterday we spoke to industry veteran Alan Schanzer about the future of ad networks and trading desks. Today we get a more personal view on his transition from founding and growing MEC’s digital practice to becoming the Chief Client Officer for Undertone.

The Makegood: Alan you built a successful digital agency from within a larger media agency. How did you put together the pieces?

AS: I was very fortunate that the leadership at The Media Edge (now MEC) supported my ambition to build a digital media practice from within a traditional media company.  It was still a new concept and we were one of the first. Even more important, great brands trusted my team even though we were admittedly learning on the job and in most cases, the brand was making its first investment in online media. That trust inspired my team. We took risks, we made a lot of mistakes but ultimately, we got it right.

The key for our success at The Digital Edge and ultimately MEC Interaction was primarily the “sub” culture we built which provided the environment we needed to compete with pure play digital shops. We developed culture that drove innovation and although it took time, we proved that we were not “digital light”. We embraced the fact that inside of a very traditional media brand, a new type of highly integrated yet specialized business could thrive and ultimately attract the best talent anywhere.

We listened carefully to client feedback and learned from our losses. When a client told us we did not get the business because our analytics product was less sophisticated than our competition, we set a goal to be the best within 12 months. We identified and hired great analytics talent from inside and outside of WPP and started over. Ultimately we won that account partially based on the quality of the analytics product we had developed.

We identified early trends – such as gaming and social media and incubated specialization and developed early competency in those areas. It was a winning formula for that business and a formula we follow today at Undertone.

The Makegood: What did you learn from your agency experience?

AS: The experience I had at MEC was absolutely terrific. I’m very grateful to many people. I learned that first and foremost, you need to build a winning culture that will inspire people. You need to have balance between core capability and innovation. That combination inspires our clients and prepares us for the future.  But more than anything, you need to surround yourself with the best talent in the business.  Let them shine and grow. You need to use talent acquisition to fill in capability gaps, and bring in new thinking and then you need to sit back and enjoy the ride.

The Makegood: What have you found to be some of the biggest differences on the the sell side of the business now?

AS: In some ways it’s really not that different. Our job is to identify a client’s core business requirements and challenges and then develop strategic and tactical solutions to achieve those goals. The big difference on the sell side is that I have a more focused set of solutions to work with representing what Undertone can deliver as part of an overall media plan.

The exciting part is the number of fantastic brands and media professionals I get to work with every day. As a “recovering agency guy” I need to stay focused on the areas where I can deliver high value and I need to think about how to deliver (sell!) those solutions in a relatively noisy space. The good news is that I have had incredible mentors at Undertone and am learning new skills every day.

The Makegood: Some people complain that agencies are manpower-based and difficult to manage. Would you ever go back to the buy side?

AS: That’s a very good question. I’m very happy with where I am today and love how well Undertone is positioned for the future. Like any good politician, I will never say never.  I’ve focused a lot on organizational development over the past three years and gained a lot of new insight by observing the agency model from the outside in.

I know If I do go back, I would do a lot of things differently. I think there is tremendous opportunity for innovation around the agency business model that can unlock the power of the talent and value of the organization in ways that have still not universally caught on. Someday, perhaps I will be a “recovering sell side guy” and that would be a challenge I would enjoy tackling head on.

The Makegood: Thanks, Alan.

  • Tamara

    What a great interview with Alan! Being part of what he build and now part of a growing boutique agency, I couldn’t agree more with his thoughts on the importance of culture and innovation. Fabulous interview! Thanks for sharing!!!

    • Matt Straz

      Great note, Tam. I think Alan’s greatest legacy will be all the people he brought together. It’s amazing, almost down to a person, how well everyone is doing from those early days.

  • Perianne Grignon

    Really enjoyed reading the interview with Alan – some great insights by a successful leader who has always worked to improve things for all stakeholders in a relationship. I for one would like to see more of Alan’s thoughts on the subject of culture and team building – maybe a series?