Omnicom media agency PHD has hired Bayer exec Josh Palau for a new role in the U.S.: chief media and activation officer.
Palau, formerly head of media for Bayer North America, was integral to the consumer health and pharmaceutical giant’s in-housing strategy, which kicked off in 2018 to in-source digital and programmatic media planning, buying, execution, strategy and analytics over two years.
At PHD, Palau will focus on how the agency activates media buys across channels to get the best outcome for clients, whether that’s a programmatic buy or a direct deal. It’s part of a new strategy at the agency to separate activation from investment, which covers what the agency buys and how much it costs.
“Everything is digital and there's a lot of ways to activate,” said PHD U.S. CEO Catherine Sullivan. “He thinks about, what’s the most efficient and effective way to use the platform? That's different from the investment role, which is managing the portfolio, supply and demand.”
Separating out investment from activation is increasingly important as more linear media gets automated. For example, buyers can now access not just different inventory types from a network like NBCUniversal, but different ways to buy that inventory that could be more efficient for a client.
“Activation is the way that we're going to purchase,” Sullivan said. “Is it better to do direct, programmatic or a PMP? Those are very different things.”
Palau is Sullivan’s first executive hire since joining PHD as U.S. CEO in September. Under her leadership, the agency is doubling down on thought leadership and reorganizing around three pillars: content, commerce and culture.
PHD has formed eight “communities” around client verticals including auto, retail, CPG and luxury to facilitate thought leadership and best practices across clients. While clients have typically been secretive about their approaches in the past, “a crisis brings everyone together,” Sullivan said.
“We heard from clients, ‘Now that we’ve pulled back, what's the balance between brand and demand? What are the white spaces?’” she added. “So we get together with client leads [in certain categories] and share thinking.”
On the culture front, PHD elevated Mike Roca to managing director of the group’s multicultural practice, which the agency wants to not treat as a siloed discipline, but part of its holistic approach to media buying. That involves layering in multicultural data directly into buying platform Omni.
“It’s a necessity to win as a brand based on what the country is going to look like in the next five years,” Sullivan said.
And with content, PHD is thinking about how brands can show up in unique ways on non-ad supported content as more TV goes the way of subscription. That involves talking to streaming platforms and independent studios about brand integrations and opportunities within shows, as well as owning verticals of content on streaming platforms.
“We've gotten a lot of traction,” Sullivan said. “With the right clients, they are seeing value to their own proposition. It’s a necessity because of the lack of places you'll have premium video with the right amount of [inventory] availability.”
And finally, “everyone needs a commerce practice,” Sullivan said. “Where are you in commerce, and how do we think about it in a connected planning journey?”
As PHD settles into its new positioning, clients are gearing up to spend again after the COVID-19 slump, Sullivan said.
“We're not on our back foot anymore,” she said. “It's all about the great reopening. What is that going to look like and what are the signals?”