Advertising Technology

Facilitate Digital’s Julian Baring on Decreasing the Industry’s Excel Dependency

Julian Baring is the EVP, North America at Facilitate Digital. Julian has extensive experience working in media and advertising, having began his career at Saatchi and Saatchi in the late 1990’s. We recently spoke with Julian about his current role.

The Makegood: Julian, you have significant experience in the media buying and planning industry – having worked on both the agency side as well as the technology and operations side for companies including BBDO, Saatchi and Saatchi and Operative. What attracts you to the space?

JB: My career started in agency land because I love advertising and I am the sort of person who enjoys watching the ads and the psychology behind them, as much as the shows that they support. I was lucky enough to enter the workforce at the same time as the advent of the consumer internet and so I have always been involved in businesses commercializing this new medium, or in the case of Operative and Facilitate Digital, helping businesses that commercialize the internet, become more efficient and effective.

As anyone reading this probably already knows, it’s an exciting time to work in media, marketing and advertising. The wave of innovation and change continues to accelerate, and companies like Facilitate Digital are critical to the future of companies that have had to innovate and adapt to this change.  For Operative that relates to publishers and for Facilitate Digital, the agencies that control the media spend that funds most of these publishers.

The Makegood: Currently, you are the EVP, North America at Facilitate Digital, a company providing software and services to digital media agencies and advertisers. Can you tell us about your role? Where does it begin and end?

JB: Facilitate Digital is an Australian company, headquartered in Sydney, Australia and we build technology for media agencies and advertisers.  I joined Facilitate Digital in 2007 initially in London to help build our UK and European presence. We now have a very strong team in Germany, Scandinavia and the UK servicing a healthy growing footprint across the region.  I moved back to New York, (where incidentally I grew up) in 2009 to help build our US presence and work with our global agency clients, many of whom are headquartered here in New York.

We work with both domestically focused agencies, as well as the global holding companies as some of our solutions are uniquely suited to solving the challenges agencies have when managing the demands of global clients, across an often times fragmented global agency network.

The Makegood: Facilitate Digital products focus on revolutionizing the online advertising value-chain. Can you explain what this means for the industry and how you are working towards this? 

JB: Facilitate Digital offers a differentiated 3rd party ad-serving solution called FFA, and a digital workflow solution called Symphony.

Symphony, our digital workflow solution, is the only solution of its kind with a true global capability that drives significant efficiencies and effectiveness across the entire online advertising value-chain.  We have agency client testimonials that relate a 40% efficiency gain from pre-Symphony work-state to post adoption of the workflow, and will have deployed Symphony in over 25 markets by the end of the year.

One of the issues our industry and agencies in particular, is challenged with is the lack of adequate workflow tools.  Everyone has heard the clichéd stories of armies of Excel wielding buyers, and planners operating in virtual silos, managing highly iterative and dynamic media plans in spreadsheets.  This reality creates a wealth of issues from multiple data entry into finance and media systems, ad-servers, as well as manual management of IO’s, production schedules, trafficking sheets, media plans etc.

Symphony incorporates all the campaign stakeholders (publishers, creative agency and the media agency) into a platform that integrates into legacy systems and automates workflow and documentation.  As a workflow solution, we are able to legislate data flow into said 3rd party systems thus ensuring consistent clean data for reporting and analysis.  Symphony is entirely agnostic, so it integrates into competing ad-servers as well as finance systems to automate transfer into those systems.

Furthermore, because the publishers are integrated into the solution in order to respond to briefs, electronically raise or sign-off IO’s and also ensure the accuracy of creative specifications; Symphony streamlines the whole campaign process for all stakeholders involved in executing a campaign. In addition to integrating the buyers and the sellers, Symphony enables the whole campaign process as a collaboration layer between the various agency disciplines namely buyers, finance, ad-operations and the production team or creative agency.

When we implement Symphony we undertake a detailed change management project to measure and map the agencies’ existing processes which often vary by account, and then measure the efficiency gains that will be realized from deploying the system.  We see these gains across the whole campaign cycle and all agency disciplines.

In my opinion, the greatest shortcoming of Excel’s predominance is that all the granular wealth of buying information contained in managing many iterative cycles of negotiation and investment are currently stored on individual’s desktops, or in the planners’ and buyers’ brains, rather than centrally and in a form where it can be accessed and leveraged by agency practitioners.  Excel is a crutch that our industry has come to rely on in the absence of purpose built tools, but Symphony changes that dependency, and unlocks rich investment and buying history that can be leveraged into the future.  This is particularly valuable as we see channels and buying models continue to fragment audiences and therefore the process of planning and buying

The Makegood: What can agencies and media buyers expect to see coming from Facilitate Digital in the next year?

JB: Fulfilling the promise of a workflow solution naturally requires integration into the various legacy and future systems that agencies use to manage digital, namely ad-servers, finance systems, as well as now more supply side tools and the RTB environment.  When we first conceived of Symphony and brought it to market in Australia in 2006, we recognized the need to develop a system architecture that allowed us to fulfill this promise.  To that end we have integrations with over a dozen different systems, (including competing ad-servers such as DoubleClick, Atlas, Mediamind and others) as well as the dominant finance and media-accounting systems deployed in various parts of the world.

The coming year we will continue to increase the number of integration points with the ad-tech eco-system, as well as further deployments into more global markets.  It will also see us focus on developing tools that bring the power of historical investment data into the planning and buying workflow to enable more fully informed assessment of inventory and audiences, as well as improved price discovery.

The Makegood: Thanks, Julian.