Medill Knowledge Exchange Event: Programmatic Media

By Rhett Morici


The fact is impressive: Tracking over 1 million online actions per second, Conversant, a Chicago-based digital ad technology firm, builds individual customer profiles across 7,000+ “dimensions.” This includes web browsing, app usage, email activity, ad interaction, cross-screen engagement, life events, hobbies, and so on. These comprehensive profiles provide marketers with the ability to be more consumer-centric with their digital ads. And through programmatic media buying, Conversant handles millions of bid requests and transactions for these targeted digital display ads.


Programmatic media is the use of technology to automate and optimize the digital display ad buying process in real time. And, according to an eMarketer report, it’s the preferred method for selling and buying digital display ads in the U.S., with growth over 25 percent in the past three years. Now, programmatic makes up about 82 percent of the digital display ad buys.


Experts from Conversant participated in a knowledge exchange with Northwestern’s Medill students and faculty. They spoke about the technology, the evaluation of real time bidding, and the industry of programmatic media buying.


Vitamin IMC reached out to students and professors in Medill’s integrated marketing communications (IMC) program who were in attendance. Here are their takeaways and perspectives on the event and programmatic media through the lens of IMC.


Judy Unger Franks (professor of IMC):

We are quickly learning that programmatic isn’t all “science” and that in order for it to work it takes both art and science, which aligns with our IMC teaching philosophy. We are in the very early stages of programmatic and it’s interesting to watch the industry evolve as players come and go. Over time, I expect programmatic to work more like electronic trading in the financial markets. And finally, there’s a difference between the great potential offered by the technology and “what” we’re actually buying and selling in the programmatic marketplaces. A bad digital display ad is still a bad idea even if the technology around targeting and pricing has improved.


Erin Payton (IMC student):

As marketers, it’s always our goal to produce advertising that is welcome and relevant, and it’s apparent that [programmatic] technology is a very important tool in helping us to do just that. The reach and influence of programmatic media is only going to grow as data collection becomes more sophisticated, and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to learn more about it as an IMC student.


Liz Abello (IMC student):

One of the aspects of the IMC program that I value the most is the combination of theoretical knowledge and practical application. This event was a great reminder that it’s not only important to develop a great, consumer-centric campaign—which we learn about in the classroom—but that it’s equally as vital to think through how these [digital] ads are viewed by consumers.


Marty Kohr (Professor of IMC):

At Medill IMC, we’re passionate about digging deeper to understand our audiences and how to connect them effectively and efficiently with our brands and companies. The closer we can get to one-on-one communication, the better. Programmatic media technology and know-how offer new ways to do this in milliseconds. It’s important for our students to understand how connections are made today and strive for even stronger connections tomorrow. Understanding what’s in the programmatic “black box” is critical to our students and what they offer employers.



Rhett Morici is a graduate student at Northwestern University pursuing a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications during the evenings. During the day, he works as a content marketing strategist. LinkedIn

About Vitamin IMC 142 Articles
Vitamin IMC Content Manager

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.