Mark Walker is CEO, Co-Founder, and Chairman at Direct Digital Holdings, a Houston, Texas-based media buying agency that’s been growing rapidly in the past several years and recently went public on the NASDAQ exchange under the ticker symbol DRCT.
In a white paper accessible on the company’s site, he notes that while the economic influence of multicultural groups in the U.S. has long been growing, advertising dollars have not been allocated proportionally. “When I started in the media business back in the late 90s, there was talk about how quickly the U.S. market was diversifying, and that soon the consumer landscape would become more ethnically diverse…Fast forward to 2023, and I’m still hearing the same chatter about birth rates and burgeoning consumer power, yet in many ways the industry has not diversified the spend to match the diversity of the population.”
I wanted to catch up with Mark to learn about how his agency works, and why bridging the gap between ad spending and multicultural buying power is important. Interestingly, Direct Digital Holdings runs both a DSP (Demand Side Platform) and an SSP (Supply Side Platform), which gives it the opportunity to optimize both sides of the media buying/selling process, allowing advertisers and publishers to mutually benefit. “Because we have such a large population of multicultural publishers and have a focus and interest in making sure that we add those audiences to our stack, it attracts those marketing budgets that are geared to those audiences, and with 40 percent of the United States population falling into those buckets or into those segments, more and more brands are trying to reach them in authentic ways, and through authentic publications. And so, for publishers, they’re excited to see us be an extension of their sales arm trying to drive those budgets directly to them. And there’s benefits for the brands because they’re also trying to reach those audiences to grow their actual revenue and grow their ROI. And so it’s a win-win on both sides.”
Mark and I discuss the growing importance of Spanish-speaking audiences and then dig into how his agency goes about advising brands that their creative might need improvement to win in auction-driven media marketplaces. Then we discuss the growing importance of video ads. “Those media types are definitely becoming more and more important in the ecosystem. We still carry a significant amount of display but those three (CTT, OTT, and video) represent roughly about 50 percent, and it does fluctuate from month to month, of our inventory that we actually carry. And what we would also say is that display is equally important. We think of display as really a foundational piece in the media mix, with video being there to deliver by that brand and awareness reach.”
We then discuss how large media buyers must be to avail themselves of PMP (invitation-only) and programmatic guaranteed deals through Digital Direct Holdings. “I would say, five or six figures; we’re happy to work with. We work with budgets of all sizes, but five or six figure budgets, specifically for programmatic guaranteed deals and PMP deals are a step that we are actually willing to negotiate with certain publishers.”
Mark notes that RTB (Real Time Bidding) deals are often a great way for advertisers to wade their way into programmatic. “We tell people ‘keep the filters open.’ You don’t know where a good audience will show up; you don’t know where a good publication might show up, if you will. So keep it open and use RTB to do that, and once we see performance begin to come in from certain publishers, then we can go in and start really looking at doing PMP or programmatic guarantee. But use your RTB as really a discovery tool is how we always think about it, and let that evolve into a good PMP or programmatic guarantee opportunity.”
We wrap the interview with a brief discussion about what Mark’s excited about for 2023. “I think you’re starting to see a lot of market movements, and gyrations, if you will, inside the adtech/martech space. I think that’s bringing a lot of excitement and also a certain level of disruption. You’re seeing that with the walled gardens, people are reassessing budgets; specifically for walled gardens, that’s going to benefit open market CPMs, which is the market we represent, and some of our competitors do. I think you’re going to see more and more dollars moving into this space, to try to get the reach and performance that they’re looking for.”