R2, Unplugged

Maybe it was autumn summer lingering on the West side of Manhattan. Or the dim house lights being punctuated by all those virtual Zippo lighters among the crowd at the PubMatic Ad Revenue 2010 Conference. Whatever brought it on, IAB President & CEO Randall Rothenberg -- R2 -- went a little bit rockstar on us.

For background, running the IAB is not the most conducive platform for a provocateur. Too often you have to nuance public policy arguments and massage the outsized egos of your member company CEOs. But at the PubMatic Conference I found myself nodding along in time with R2's wake-up message to the assembled publishers. As a service to our readers, my own spin on the highlights:

We're Still Fighting the Last War: DR Advertising -- which treats consumer engagement as just so much fuel for the conversion bonfire -- dominated our business for its first decade. So -- surprise! -- we're still building to their specs! The IAB/Bain study ("Building Brands Online") contrasts the metrics marketers crave (intent, favorability) with those we routinely provide (clicks, impressions, view-through). R2 says this adds up to agencies and publishers fostering "brand agnosticism;" put another way, if the internet doesn't care all that much about brands, why should they care about the internet?

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We're Misaligned with What Marketers Truly Want from Us: Brands are in a "consumer pursuit crisis" and need help marketing within the customer's digital life. But all of our innovation has been about finding cheaper ways to target and deliver banners. They need anthropology: all we've given them is accounting. We are indeed "awash in low cost inventory" and simply making that inventory cost marginally more or click incrementally higher is not the answer.

There's an Integration and Activation Vacuum: The Bain Study clearly states that the marketer is looking to the publisher for the strategy, ideas, integration and execution that they're not necessarily getting from their agencies. Yet whether it's because we lack the courage, the ideas or the skills, publishers continue to defer to the agency relationship, the very channel which commoditizes our relationships with the consumer.

We're Getting In Too Late with Too Little: R2 called for better trained and equipped sales forces that get in the client's field of vision much earlier in the process. My translation: It's not enough to build a great idea; you've also got to get it in front of the marketer before there's even an RFP in the field. Strategy doesn't travel uphill very well.

As an early board member of the IAB and someone who's contributed to its efforts to build our business over the last 15 years, I loved hearing Randall speak truth to the publishing community. More please!