How to choose a media trading desk

In an earlier post I defined what a media trading desk does (check out that article here). In this post I’d like to provide some guidance on how to choose a trading desk and how to make sure you are making the most of the relationship.

A trading desk is a relatively new layer in the digital advertising ecosystem that’s there to support the media buying process.

A media trading desk helps brands navigate a complicated world and should be there to ensure they make the most out of the opportunities available. They do this by being data centric, platform agnostic, and transparent.

Below I have highlighted some of the key questions you need to ask when you’re considering using a media trading desk.

Data centricity

The  first question you should ask is ‘how data-centric is your trading desk?’

While technology plays an important role, cutting data creatively and then linking it at scale is what determines success.  When you think about this data, from a media trading perspective, you should bear in mind three key considerations.

  1. Accuracy and relevancy. The quality of your data is critical.

Taking Experian as an example, we have data on over 50 million consumers in the UK and over 500 variables at an individual level, on average, covering a consumer’s lifestyle, lifestage, and characteristics.

In order to create accurate campaigns and to ensure the campaigns are relevant to their audience, marketers need to be confident about the accuracy, scale and relevancy of their data.

  1. Linkage. How data is created is important but what’s more important is how it is linked and activated. The digital advertising industry still talks about ‘reach’ as the percentage of the targetable audience that can be reached rather than how many actually will be reached.

For instance, if you link your customer base to cookies you may get a 35% match rate, which sounds all right. But if we take another look and check that the DSP bidder can only win say 20% of the bids it makes, then reach against a known audience is actually more like 7% in any given month.

The question we have to ask ourselves then is whether this is sufficient enough a number to a) justify the cost of linking data and then b) whether that 7% of your customer base you’ve served an ad too will drive the conversions that you need to deliver the incremental return on your ad spend

So, activating data is important but we must be mindful of to whom and how we link – and ensure the trading desk can support linkage across not just cookies but also device IDs, email addresses and other persistent mechanisms and geo-location to give you a range of opportunities to reach the audience.

  1. Executing to prove Incrementality: I hear a lot about Incrementality and how it’s difficult to measure.  If we’re truly data-centric and the data is accurate, relevant and can be linked with certainty we can be confident in our ability to drive incremental sales – by demonstrating that unique segments are in fact responding to the ad both online and offline.

Platform agnostic

The second  question you want to ask is ‘is your trading desk truly platform agnostic?’

Often trading desks only align themselves with a single platform – and that may not be the most suitable platform for your overall marketing goals or campaign objectives. A Trading Desk should be able to offer a bespoke solution based on a variety of factors, including branding and/or direct response, multiple channels, and access to inventory across a number of markets.  A good approach is to ask which platforms are integrated and why one might be better suited to individual campaigns or objectives.  This isn’t about trying to use all the capability all of the time just because you can, but about identifying, for instance, cross-device capability, or using a platform that’s stronger in China or Singapore, or one that has an integration with a particular DMP.

It’s about making sure the desk has the flexibility to tailor an approach to suit your needs.

As an example of the required flexibility – at Experian’s own Trading Desk we licence between 7-10 platforms at any one time and frequently deploy client budget across two or more platforms – focusing on the one that’s best performing

It wouldn’t be practical for a single brand to take out multiple licences with Demand Side Platforms so a trading desk should help perform that function – and along the way filtering out what works well and what does not.


The third key question you must ask is regarding transparency and fees.

We all as marketers want to avoid paying high and non-transparent fees. Fees are of course necessary, they pay for consistent levels of service, cover technology and operational costs, innovation, and give you back time to do the things that are core to your business strategy by essentially outsourcing the task.  However – fees can often mask a lot more than essential expenditure and a fair or competitive level of reward, especially if there’s “double-dipping”.

When you total this all up we find (in our conversations at least) that brands are left with only 45p in the pound to spend on media and data – meaning your budget needs to work much, much, harder.  So – don’t be afraid to ask why and how fees are constructed the way they are.