AdUnion’s Adam Shalagin discusses developing its attribution platform ahead of the cookieless future

AdUnion - Adam Shalagin

Shalagin also spoke about specialising in streaming and how being part of the IMAA has given them a voice

AdUnion was established in 2016 and has worked with clients on delivering streamed media campaigns to build brands and get results.

The independent agency aims to set new benchmarks and redefine clients’ expectations to create bonds that are honest and based on reciprocated trust.

Adam Shalagin, co-founder and commercial director of AdUnion, spoke to Mediaweek about specialising in the streaming space, the agency’s upcoming new product and how being part of the IMAA has given them a voice in the industry.

Establishing AdUnion

Before starting the agency, Shalagin spent most of his early career client-side in e-commerce for Expedia in the UK. He later transferred to Sydney as head of business development for the travel company. 

After that, he joined eBay Commerce Network as country manager before joining ARN in 2013 as director of digital media. He then moved back to his hometown of Melbourne, and after a short stint at an agency, he opened AdUnion in 2016.

Shalagin shared that after opening the all-digital agency, he quickly learned that their clients also needed other lines and began buying TV, radio, and other various media pieces.

Shalagin said they identified streaming capability and its growth in recent years because of their knowledge of digital and understanding of how above the line was bought.

“As a small team, we had that combination of understanding, which we then applied to the streaming space and is a real focus for us now. Most of the media we’re running in the campaigns are in that space,” he said.

Shalagin noted that the agency was fortunate to have a client in the NBN space quite early on. Together, they have developed a platform for attribution for streaming media in light of the depreciation of cookies.

“That’s been a huge part of our business over the past couple of years; we’ve seen significant growth. We’re lucky enough to be on the eighth AFR Fast 100 (2021) and the Smart 50 Fast Group (in 2021) as well,” he added.

Leading AdUnion

Shalagin, who leads a team of 10, oversees the commercial side of the business – including client, account management and new business.

“One of our core priorities – repeated often – is if the client wins, we win. That’s the reality. We have that mantra that if we focus on the client’s success, that will also flow through to the business’s success.

Shalagin also noted that he looks after agency partners. He said: “That’s an important part of our business that’s growing in that we have a specialism in streaming.”

Specialising in streaming

AdUnion has been ahead of the pack by specialising in streaming with the rise of catch-up TV and BVOD.

Shalagin said: “The streaming space is one of the areas with the highest growth at the moment. We look at it from a media perspective, services like Netflix, Disney+, Binge, Paramount’s Pluto – all those streaming services are now moving to provide an ad-supported tier.”

Shalagin noted that access to that audience, which was previously unavailable, will now be available but will take time. He added that though it is an exciting time for that data to be available, a tighter economic period is ahead.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how budgets are, if they shrink, where that money moves, how big the portion that moves across to streaming services with ad-supported tiers.”

Shalagin continued: “For us, we’re uniquely positioned given that we can quantify the performance of those new services.

“As an advertiser, you’re reaching an audience, but what you can’t easily measure right is the exact match ROI or ROAS on that new activity, particularly if you’re bringing it in as a piece of the media mix. Whereas we can break down performance by channel and by network,” he added.


Foundation clients and recent clients wins

Since its foundation, AdUnion has continued work with clients such as Peninsula Health, part of the Victorian government health service, Wild Secrets, BaptCare, RedZed and Aussie Broadband.

Shalagin explained: “The focus for our business and what we do is allowing e-commerce businesses and challenger brands to go into the TV environment.

“The highest engagement environment is in your lounge room at home, and being able to build the brand but also get a readout on direct response performance at the same time, that’s a key thing for us.”

The agency’s recent client wins include Education Horizons and Genius Childcare, in addition to several media agencies in Sydney and Melbourne that choose AdUnion for their streaming media campaigns.

AdUnion’s attribution platform offering

Looking ahead, Shalagin noted that AdUnion is set to launch its attribution platform as a standalone product in 2023 in light of the eventual end of cookies.

Shalagin explained: “In a cookieless environment, you can’t measure performance. Performance relies on cookies to provide transactions that are made on a laptop or through a mobile device. But with CTV, you don’t have any cookies, and there are no clicks.”

“We developed a platform to measure an ad served to a TV in a streaming environment and a sale made in that same household. It’s a fundamental change in being able to get a readout on the performance of what effectively is a TV campaign in a lounge room,” he added.

Shalagin noted that working on the platform and with clients in the e-commerce space through the pandemic period kept the agency buoyant.

“I have a lot of gratitude for that and for being able to do well through that pandemic because not everyone did. We’ve also developed that platform through that period, so we could spend the time building up that technical capability.”

Shalagin said the product would be available to small and large agencies when they launch it into the market in the new year.

Shalagin also forecasted a very buoyant next 12 months for the agency, with significant growth expected. He said: “We haven’t adjusted that based on the recession removed, and the reason we haven’t is because of the growth in streaming and the fact that measure ROI with our platform.”

“CMOs will be particularly focused on getting a clear return from the channels they invest in, you know, over the next 12 to 18 months, and our platform will provide that.”

The benefits of being part of the IMAA

On being part of the IMAA, Shalagin said that being part of a collective that represents the industry as a benefit.

“As a group of independent agencies, we have a much clearer and louder voice to publishers, lawmakers, and large advertisers. The IMAA has provided that for us and visibility in a number of areas.”

“What I also love about the IMAA is it’s a great bunch of people. We know that we don’t want to be independent and separate when we can be independent and work together.”

Shalagin went on to say that the industry body has been important in starting conversations and helping trading relationships with other members on sharing and collaborating on projects.

The IMAA’s training opportunities have also been another benefit for AdUnion, according to Shalagin. “Focusing on development, growth, experience, and staff training is super important for us. That’s a core piece that the IMAA provides a pathway through regular insight sessions,” he added.

Shalagin called the industry body’s networking events another benefit, highlighting the Digital Deep Dive event at the Sydney Sea Life Aquarium in October.

“I travelled from Melbourne with one of our team members for that. That was a great opportunity to talk to many vendors face to face, in one environment,” he added.

Top image: Adam Shalagin


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