With the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA’s) adtech transparency study due to be published later this year, we’ve been taking a look at some of the broader issues that are likely to be mentioned in the report and sharing our approaches to tackling them.

In our first article we explored various aspects of media quality and how brands can make sure they’re buying the right inventory. Our second article took a deeper dive into total-path optimization (or TPO), which helps brands understand the value delivered by each element of their adtech ecosystem and ensure they are working with the right partners in the most efficient way.

For the third and final post in the series we’d like to discuss the nuances of various DSP setup approaches, a topic that is coming up more frequently lately and one that we expect to appear in the forthcoming ANA study.

Separate or shared DSP seats?

The setup of DSP seats is a subject that has been raised in the ISBA Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study undertaken in the UK by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

One of the recommendations in the original 2020 report was that “advertisers should insist their agency has a separate seat for each client, and that log level data be readily available. Advertisers could also consider operational changes such as direct contractual relationships with DSPs and strengthening (or developing) direct publisher relationships.” The latest report, published in January 2023, simplifies that statement: “advertisers and agencies should agree on separate DSP seats for each advertiser, to avoid the complexities of isolating data when multiple advertisers are combined within a single seat.

These recommendations are in response to findings that show relevant buy-side data from agencies and DSPs is not always readily available to advertisers and that some advertisers do not have access to the platforms being used on their behalf. As this issue has been raised in both ISBA reports, we feel the upcoming ANA report may well make a similar recommendation.

Advertisers typically have three activation options: Leverage an agency’s general/shared seats, request dedicated agency seats, or take on seat ownership themselves. Data isolation and partitioning is not a problem in any of these scenarios, but each option has pros and cons, which we discuss in detail with our clients to ensure they are leveraging the setup that best fits their objectives.

How to identify the best activation scenario for your brand

The conversation around seat ownership will usually involve two major decisions:

Who should own the seat? The Advertiser or the Agency?

A small percentage of advertisers choose to take on the DSP relationship themselves, granting them ownership of their historical performance data and complete control of the platform. This is particularly useful if a brand wants to implement activation or optimization in-house, or if they want to swap agencies without rebuilding campaigns and algorithmic learnings in a new seat.

Those major benefits come with major drawbacks. Advertisers must negotiate their own rates, which in most cases are much higher than agency rates, and take on all billing and administrative tasks including login curation, seat-level inventory selection, and brand safety management. These tasks often require training, office hours with reps, and lengthy newsletter updates to ensure seat owners are up to date on the latest aspects of their platforms. Most clients will also find that their level of platform service and support, roadmap influence, and makegood negotiation will suffer compared to the “white glove” standards that global agencies are able to maintain. Some DSPs even have strict minimum spend thresholds. Due to these factors, most clients will need to consolidate their buying power into a single platform partner, eliminating the flexibility and agnosticism that an agency can provide.

Bottom line: Only consider seat ownership if you have significant spend levels and internal bandwidth/expertise.

Does the Agency-owned seat need to be “Dedicated” to a single brand/advertiser/client?

Most clients choose to leverage agency-owned DSP seats to take advantage of their agency’s lower platform rates, higher level of service and influence, and administrative expertise. But once that decision is made there may be a need to discuss what type of seat setup your agency is utilizing.

Very few DSPs were built with multi-seat admin functionality in mind, so most agencies still operate out of as few seats as possible to maximize operational efficiency for all parties involved (rolling out beta features, curating logins and inventory sources, etc.). This situation is fine for most brands as their data is safely siloed at the advertiser level within these “general” seats. Reporting and log level data can easily be provided to clients or auditors without the need to grant UI access to a 3rd party (pending any legal terms that may be in place between client & agency). Lastly, as these general seats are usually already established and fine-tuned, a new advertiser can be set up immediately. This makes these seats a good option for new clients with tight launch deadlines.

That said, there are a few reasons why an advertiser would need a dedicated seat. Some want to be hands-on and need deeper access to a platform’s UI than can be safely permissioned in the general seat. This could be to conduct QA, to suggest optimizations, research audiences, upload CRM data, etc. Others are considering eventual in-housing and want to have the option to transfer ownership of the seat in the future, preserving their historical learnings and campaign assets. Keep in mind it may take a few weeks to get a new dedicated seat up & running and any existing campaigns that already live in a general seat will need to be rebuilt from scratch.

Bottom line: All agency seats provide powerful benefits but consider requesting a dedicated seat if your internal marketing team requires direct UI access or if you want to eventually bring the entire seat in-house.

Regardless of the ISBA or ANA recommendations, it is important for brands to understand all the options and ramifications before they decide on the most effective DSP seat setup for their needs. It may also be necessary to revisit the conversation as the needs of the advertiser and platform capabilities evolve over time.

To find out more about the topics we expect to be discussed in the ANA report, and what we are doing to address them, take a look at our first article about ensuring media quality, and our second article about understanding value in the ecosystem through strategies such as total-path optimization (TPO).