Peach at 25: Delving into the Challenges and Evolution of Ad Delivery
LBB speaks to Peach’s leaders about their first 25 years: from radio to linear TV to BVoD to digital and beyond. How the industry has evolved, and building innovative solutions in the ad delivery and workflow space.
01 June 2022
Since the company’s genesis in 1996, Peach has been helping advertisers get their ads to the right place, on time with full traceability through automation.
What did the industry do beforehand? There were tapes - a lot of tapes. Usually delivered by motorbike (or plane), plus letters, faxes and endless phone calls to ensure that everything was heading to the right destination. Not only was this process inefficient and unsustainable, it also didn’t allow a high level of quality assurance, nor did it create a robust enough audit trail. Peach changed all that.
Today, we spoke with Peach’s leaders about their start in advertising and technology, their role at Peach, and the evolution of the company and the industry at large. Shelby Akosa, VP global growth, creative and production, and Ross Priestley, VP global growth, advertisers and brands, have both worked with Peach for 23 years, while Dan Shawcross, VP global growth, broadcaster and publisher spent 15 years working with CARIA and Peach.
In that time, they helped to fundamentally transform the industry, moving it away from physical asset management and non-existent use of tech and into automation, collaboration, and speed. We asked them about their start in the industry, how their roles at Peach changed and the challenges they’re still solving every day.
When did you first join the industry and in what role?
Dan: I first joined the advertising industry in 1996 and started working for Yellow Pages, which was part of BT at the time. The digital era was still very much in its infancy then and I left just as they launched Yell.com. Internally, it was seen as a competitor to Yahoo — Google hadn’t even been invented yet. Imagine that, a world before Google.
Later, I joined a start-up called Optimad, which had the aim of disrupting the advertising ecosystem. Simply speaking, their vision was ‘let’s just put it all online’ - if you can now buy airline tickets online, we can put media online too. Unfortunately, it was about 10 or 15 years too early, the market wasn't ready for it. As a result, the direction of the business had to change. We started building software for the media industry and one of the projects was CARIA, which I've been involved with ever since.
Shelby: I joined the industry and Peach (then called IMD Media) in 1999 and have refused to leave since. I started out as an operations executive which basically meant doing anything and everything. At that time, all communications were either fax or phone; emails weren’t really around properly yet. This meant most communication was very one to one, without any real audit or paper trail. Reporting was manual and conversational, wholly dependent on how good an individual was at recording information.
Ross: Like Shelby, I also joined Peach in 1999. I had previously worked in music and was hired to help deliver radio ads to stations across the UK. When I started, most national radio ads were made in Soho and then had to get to 250 or 300 radio stations around the country; they were again sent on tape, or via a satellite system, which didn’t always work when it rained in Scotland. We developed a way of digitising the audio files and sending them via ISDN — at the time it felt incredibly advanced and futuristic. We had solved a very painful problem.
On top of that, part of my job as the 12th employee, also involved vacuuming the office once a week — new starters don’t seem to have to do that anymore!
After the success of radio, I then helped replicate the service that we launched in radio to the bigger problem of that time: sending adverts to TV stations. Radio was important but TV was the Behemoth. All these beautiful adverts, filmed in expensive locations, were again being transferred on tape and couriered around on motorbike. We wanted to transform the industry from sending physical media to getting ads to broadcasters in an efficient, digital, and environmentally friendly way. I'm glad to say we succeeded.
What were the main challenges that Peach was helping clients with at the time you first joined?
Dan: A few major things were going on, the market was changing and growing rapidly. The number of TV channels was increasing making it too complex for broadcasters to deal with the inflow of ads. Workflows hadn’t evolved alongside the market and instead was still paper based. This needed to change drastically if the market was going to operate in any way efficiently, i.e. without just employing loads of headcount, dealing with paper pushing.
The agency buying market needed to change too. It needed to get away from manual practices: big brands were sending letters by post to book airtime. It was a classic example of a workflow ripe for change and improvement. We bridged that gap by getting both sides to see the benefit of a platform that would sit between them. The media agencies would use it to make their booking and enable them to manage their workflow a lot better than people sending letters or faxes or emails. And the media owners got a platform they could automate everything from.
We just had to convince agencies that we were truly the middlemen, not stooges for the broadcasters, and that everyone would benefit equally from this innovation. Luckily, that was true and they believed us!
Shelby: Over the years we’ve played an increasingly key role in connecting disparate companies and job roles involved in campaign execution. So ultimately, what we've tried to do is ensure that the platform gives the right information for all the collaborators. If you think about the creative agency, they have certain parts of information around the campaign. The media agency, post house, broadcaster — everybody's got different roles and responsibilities, they might all be working to the same end, which is to get this amazing piece of creative on air. But everyone has different challenges along the way.
We've designed our service and our platform to ensure maximum visibility with an audit trail. This is because it's not always about what happens today, it will be what happened three months ago, being able to go back and see what happened at any point is critical.
Ross: The main challenge before Peach were endless tapes. Alternatively, you had to use something called Playout, which was an industry scheduling system with specific time windows for your ad to be sent within. If you missed your slot, you were stuck. As you can imagine it was pretty stressful, it affected agencies’ and advertisers' ability to be reactive to events, plus it was very expensive. We had to persuade broadcasters that we could guarantee them as high quality as they got on these very expensive tapes, and we could guarantee security.
After that, the next challenge was looking beyond the UK and seeing that those inefficient processes were present all over the world. We needed to respond to the growing globalisation and internationalisation of the ad industry. Organisations like Tag and Hogarth were saying, ‘Hey, you don't have to do your production in 100 markets’. But what you did end up with was all of your ads being made in one country, but needing to get to 100 other countries.
When it first started, adaptation agencies were sending tapes by aeroplanes and they were getting stuck in customs. By expanding our digital network and building partner relationships with other suppliers in local markets, we transformed that, helping advertisers to produce globally and then deliver to broadcasters anywhere in the world within a few hours.
Tell us a little bit about your role today and what a typical workday looks like for you.
Dan: CARIA and Peach have been around for a long time. As the market evolves, needs change and I spend a lot of time working with broadcasters on how best we can meet those needs.
Shelby: I was promoted to a global role in the pandemic, there was no jumping on planes, instead I took my meetings from my spare room, which was a lot less glamorous. We’ve introduced a lot of new products, services, and initiatives recently so I ensure our sales teams have the training and sales collateral that they need, how best to communicate our solutions, or how best to solve new problems without existing solutions. That can start with a 7am call with Sydney or an 8am call with Tokyo, then working around the world. Which is great, but it's all from the same place — I can't wait to physically go and visit people again.
What I've always loved about working at Peach is working with the clients. No two clients work in the same way, so it definitely keeps me on my toes!
We're working more with creative agencies to unravel the mess that is digital content. The proliferation of digital campaigns and technology means that we can create so much more content, yet the digital processes are still almost the same as tv processes were in 1999, which is crazy. Media agencies don't know where the content is coming from, they know it’s booked, but that’s it. There needs to be more visibility and less screaming into the abyss.
Ross: I feel fortunate that I don’t have a typical workday. Generally, my day involves speaking to advertisers, whether that's enterprise brands, like the biggest CPG brands, local market retailers or new tech brands and understanding where they're going to make sure that our product can evolve in the right way.
I also talk with agencies, who are our partners in helping brands solve the challenges that they face, and seeing how we can help them. If I'm not talking to clients and partners, you can usually then find me retrieving data from our systems to showcase the useful insight to advertisers or emboldening local sales and account management teams with knowledge on what's important to advertisers now and how to engage with them successfully.
What challenges are you dealing with today? Are any of them truly new?
Dan: Mostly, they’re problems we’ve seen in the past presented in different ways. The world has changed and technology's enabled so much. 25 years ago, there was basically no technology. Today, we have loads but we can’t be led by it (despite how hard Instagram’s algorithm tries). It has to perform useful functions in the ecosystem for the right people at the right time.
Part of the way we see Peach is as a flexible platform. We want to offer the different players in the ecosystem, such as agencies, brands, and media owners, a common platform and offer them the functionality that they need to integrate us into their own ecosystems. Luckily, there is so much more focus on how technology can work together than there used to be, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
Shelby: We’ve solved challenges from a linear and BVOD perspective, but we see that people in different departments within agencies and production companies may not know the workflows of their linear counterparts.
We sometimes see people making the mistakes we solved a long time ago. Like huge volumes of content being emailed or WeTransfer-ed around, meaning there’s no QC, no audit trail, and people are just working through their email.
Everybody is emailing to cover themselves, create an audit trail, but it's actually not solving the problem well. It's just creating more confusion.
Ross: I spent the last 10 years travelling around the world and setting up offices in different regions. Fundamentally, the problem we’re solving is pretty much the same in every market but with local characteristics. Creatives want to make great content, working for as long as needed to get it right. Then the media owners want to activate that content in the simplest way. Then the advertisers want to know what's going on with it.
We’re helping people by automating manual processes, bringing transparency into a previously grey area. In Brazil, you don't have separate creative and media agencies, you still have full service agencies. In Japan, you have very powerful local media agencies. There are differences, but there is still the common fundamental problem.
So what's changed? For the first 10 years we were mainly managing TV advertising. Now we're working with advertising for all screens in multiple formats. The technology is meeting the opportunity to help reach your audience wherever they are on a multiplicity of devices. But to do that, you've got to make lots of different content. The best advertisers want their agencies and teams to utilise the best in class technology to solve all of their problems. They need their ad tech to talk to each other in a seamless way.
I'm very conscious that our work happens at the end, making sure the ad gets where it needs to go and is activated on time. But if it doesn't happen, the millions of pounds you spend on your media and on the production is wasted. Every minute you're late or every platform you're not able to activate on because content isn’t right or it fails quality control, you’re in trouble.
The world is moving very quickly. I think our role is more important now than it's ever been.
Next, we’ll look to the future to find out what it has in store for the industry, how Peach is preparing for what’s to come, and the key things advertisers need to start thinking about today.