We spoke to Irfon Watkins, the CEO of fast growing adtech firm Coull, about his predictions for 2015. Watkins described programmatic advertising as "problematic" last year, and he believes that disruptive publishers, not traditional media brands, will reap its sizable benefits this year.
TechRadar Pro: What are the top three things you learned last year?
Irfon Watkins: Firstly, you must act fast and fire fast. If you've hired wrong, for whatever reason, you need to move quickly to rectify it for the good of the individual, and the culture of the company as a whole.
Secondly, everything is up for grabs. Adtech is an exciting, fast-moving market to be in and still growing rapidly. There is plenty of space for new players to come in and make a success of it if they spot an opportunity – and plenty of access to financial support.
And finally, location doesn't matter. I now know you can build a fast growing, successful business from Bristol or wherever you need to – you don't have to be in Silicon Roundabout or another 'hub'.
TRP: What do you consider to be your biggest challenge for 2015?
IW: The biggest challenge we will have, and arguably the biggest challenge we faced last year as well, is the recruitment of suitable talent. It is a huge stumbling block for emerging companies like Coull. We are now at a stage where we're competing with the UK's top tech companies within a finite pool of talent, and that is naturally having an impact. This isn't helped by the current government's policies on immigration, which are incredibly restrictive.
TRP: Are there any other restraining factors in attracting the right talent?
IW: The types of expertise needed for programmatic advertising are completely different to those of traditional advertising. We're in the market for data scientists and mathematicians rather than copywriters, and there's a huge battle for that type of talent.
But that's only half the story, because you've also got to try and convince people with a degree in maths, for example, that there are real career opportunities for them in advertising. There's also another aspect in that programmatic has risen so rapidly that it's difficult to find people with the ready-made skillsets necessary, and skilling people up takes time.
TRP: What will be the single most important thing to happen in adtech during 2015?
IW: I think 2015 will be characterised by the continual increase in, and shifting of, advertising dollars from more traditional media to online. As part of this, the lines between mobile and desktop will continue to blur and marketers will need to view the mobile web for what it is – just another form of digital.
I think what we really need to see happen this year is more transparency around data. As the industry consolidates, adtech companies will need to be more honest about the inventory ad money is being spent on, and whether it actually delivers value back to advertisers. Those that don't will get found out.
TRP: Do you think this lack of transparency could trigger tighter government regulation?
IW: Absolutely. I don't think the industry is doing a good job of policing the use of data, so I think there's a high possibility of government intervention and regulation within the next year or two as a result. I also strongly suspect Google will adopt a 'no-cookie' policy within the next 18 months, and there will be a lot of pressure on the government to intervene.
TRP: Last year, you said "programmatic can be problematic". Will that still be the case in 2015?
IW: Yes. There is still a lack of understanding around it and I can't see this changing hugely in the next 12 months. Expectations are being set too high and ultimately not being met as a result, which is prohibiting wider take up. Some tech vendors out there are happy with this as they can make a lot of money in the short-term, but they will eventually be found out.