Interview with Mark Cullinane, SVP And GM Digital, Publishers Clearing House

Mark Cullinane
Mark Cullinane

“Brands who build this direct consumer relationship have an incredible opportunity to personalize virtually every aspect of their consumer offering.”

Tell us about your role at Publishers Clearing House (PCH), and how you got here. 

As Senior Vice President/GM of Digital, I work with our teams to develop and take to market our unique chance-to-win entertainment offerings. Our collective goal is to grow PCH’s interactive media business. I was attracted to PCH by the supremely talented team, the differentiated business model, and the opportunity to expand the digital offerings to our extremely engaged audience. Prior to PCH, I was an executive at the Game Show Network where I helped build out their successful digital games business.

What excited you to be part of the digital advertising/ programmatic community, and how was this a transition from what people might think they know of PCH?

I’ve had the opportunity to be part of the evolution of the digital advertising community over the course of my career as far back as the early days of the internet (to really date myself, during my business school internship I played a small role in helping take a little company called Netscape public). I’ve always been energized by the pace of change and innovation that occurs in digital advertising. Of particular interest here at PCH is our ability to leverage a massive amount of data to enhance the value of our media through targeting, segmentation, and personalization.

How do you use consumer data to make strategic decisions about PCH’s ad products and overall strategy?

Virtually 100% of our online engagement comes from a user who has registered and is logged in. This creates an incredibly rich and accurate first-party database.

Some of our customers participate exclusively in our commerce model, which offers a curated lineup of products for purchase via our proprietary instant credit model. Some customers participate in our traditional advertising model, engaging with our digital entertainment properties. Many, if not most, participate in both. We leverage data from both to curate every aspect of the individual customer journey, the marketing messages, the content, and of course, the advertising. Applying our proprietary data to personalize the customer experience is an approach infused throughout our organization and has been at the core of Publishers Clearing House since its inception.

What are the tools and trends that are shaping the programmatic landscape and how do they intersect with PCH?

A major trend in programmatic is toward authentic and addressable audiences that engage with marketing messages as part of a clear and fair value exchange. PCH’s unique free-to-play, chance-to-win entertainment is a great example of that. Our interactive experiences offer clear value to the consumer, along with a concrete incentive to provide accurate information that can be used to personalize offers and messages. In this respect, the core advertising products sold by our PCH/Media team are well-aligned to the evolving priorities of the demand side.

How do you see PCH Data being leveraged in programmatic buying? 

PCH data is one of the largest and cleanest data sets in the market. With demographic data that beats Nielsen Benchmarks by more than 30% on average, PCH data is leveraged to create and target a wide variety of user segments for activation both on and off PCH properties. Our data doesn’t stop at demographics alone. PCH has over 500 segments ranging from basic demographics to highly selective behavioral actions such as purchase intent. Brands leverage these in customizable segments, specific to each advertiser, to drive superior return on their ad spend.

How does PCH as a publisher leverage programmatic? 

Programmatic is a core platform for how we monetize our data. Open market auctions, PMPs, and curated placements are all components of how we maximize inbound demand on our properties. As a premium publisher, we are constantly adapting to the programmatic future with a keen focus on how to drive performance for our advertisers.

What inspired you to launch PCH Media as the digital ad arm of PCH?

A little over six years ago we acquired a company called Liquid Wireless. That acquisition became the catalyst for us to invest in controlling our own advertising destiny, instead of depending on third parties to maximize our advertising revenue. Our ongoing investment in this area and the expansion of our advertising strategy has lead us to consolidate all advertising monetization with this team, what is today the PCH Media team.

Our investment in our digital advertising capabilities is really about us as a publisher wanting to deliver compelling and personalized advertising experiences for our audience.

What are the major opportunities and challenges for CMOs to meet the changing definitions of personalization and customer experience?

Speaking in terms of publishers and consumer brands, I would say a major challenge most CMOs face is a lack of a deep and meaningful relationship with their end customer. Many of these companies struggle to find a way to balance the value equation with their audience, and by this I mean, offering something of compelling value to the end user. This could be gated access to content or a free product sample. In our case, we offer an exclusive chance-to-win opportunity in exchange for the consumer providing accurate registration data and a willingness to consistently log in to engage with PCH.

The next order of this challenge is the need to create a unified view of each unique customer. Regardless of what type of device a consumer accesses your content from, brands need to tie all of their data back to one unique individual…not an IP address, a cookie, a device or a home–a real person. Even better, brands who have the ability to enrich this data with things like surveys and insights on consumer behavior are well-positioned to build a deep relationship with that consumer.

Brands who are successful at building this direct consumer relationship have an incredible opportunity to personalize virtually every aspect of their consumer offering. At PCH, we believe strongly in curating the customer journey, and our vision is to personalize every one of our offerings to a segment of one. Speaking in terms that are relevant to the individual helps drives enhanced conversion and engagement. Keeping content and promotions fresh and rewarding while tailoring the offerings to an individual’s unique affinities yields superior retention.  Likewise building the richest possible data set on an individual enables maximum monetization.

What start-ups are you watching or keen on right now?

We tend to keep a keen eye on a number of sectors including mobile gaming and interactive entertainment from a B2C perspective and adtech and martech on the B2B side of things. To name just a few, it’s hard not to be impressed with the innovation that HQ has brought to the online, multiplayer trivia category and from a B2B standpoint, we love how Evergage has evolved its personalized messaging platform and seen strong benefits with advanced optimization via our partner Adomik.

What tools does your own marketing stack consist of in 2018?

We use both in-house systems as well as third-party providers to ensure our marketing stack yields unparalleled results. We are fortunate to have a talented core technology team that partners well across the organization to keep all these systems humming along. We are also fortunate to have established relationships with industry-leading partners to complement our in-house team and systems. These include universal registration, segmentation creation, recommendation algorithms, sweepstakes engine and content management.

We use third parties for email deployment, real-time content optimization, tag management, fraud protection and third-party certifications. All of these systems are integrated with our big data solutions where our team is constantly creating and updating models and algorithms for targeting and segmentation. As a result, we are able to execute and maintain marketing campaigns that exceed industry benchmarks in almost every metric. For example, email engagement is approximately 400% above typical email marketers (with inbox rates maintained at 98%). We far exceed the benchmarks required to maintain our TAG certification for Inventory Quality, Malware, and Fraud. We are consistently able to exceed the expectations of advertisers and our customers.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a marketing leader?

At PCH, we have been proactively investing in our data infrastructure over the last few years. We have built our systems to keep our data in a secure, stable, scalable and extensible platform. This seems like table stakes for marketers who want to keep pace with the innovation occurring in the marketplace and the increasing challenges of acquiring and retaining customers in this world of media fragmentation. Our view on AI is that it is still very early but we certainly see how AI will offer opportunities for greater efficiency and throughput in areas that today are based on manual or formula based processes.

One word that best describes how you work.

Collaborative.

What apps, software tools can’t you live without? 

BlueJeans, Dashlane, Dropbox, Evernote, Skype, Trello, Wunderlist, Slack, Apptopia…there are many.

What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?

Communicate in person more, with email less.

What are you currently reading? When you read what do you read, and how do you consume information?

“Make Your Bed” by Admiral William McRaven. This is a quick read that I just picked up. It is a compilation of ten leadership vignettes that transcend age, industry, and function. The stories are meant to show how certain principles can help anyone make the world a better place. It’s a book I could just as easily recommend to colleagues at work as I could to my children. The life lessons the stories offer are powerful.

How do you consume information?

As efficiently as possible. Top-down and looking for the answer is an approach I learned in my early consulting days. A colleague here at PCH, Ash Dhupar (Chief Analytics Officer), has an approach I also like, encouraging teams to communicate in terms “what?”, “so what?” and “now what?”.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Build great teams of talented, motivated and collaborative players.

Tag one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.

Peter Blacklow, Managing Director, General Partner at Boston Seed Capital

Thank you Mark! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Proven Executive with leadership experience in multiple industries including Ad Tech, Consumer Internet, Gaming, Technology Services, and Software. Undergraduate Valedictorian, MBA and decorated ex-Military Officer.

Publishers Clearing House

Publishers Clearing House (PCH), based in Long Island, NY with offices in NYC, Boston, MA, Portland, ME and San Francisco, CA, is a leading interactive media company offering a broad range of products, digital entertainment and services to consumers and advertisers. Our success is built on PCH’s unique, free-to-play games and sweepstakes, value-packed offers and the excitement of the PCH brand. The company nationally known for surprising winners with oversized checks has awarded over $258 Million in prizes and has evolved to greatly expand its offerings to include many ways to win online and through social media and mobile access. The PCH digital game network (http://games.pch.com/) has more than 12 million unique monthly visitors across platforms and someone wins a prize about every 10 minutes. Sources of revenue for the company are online and mobile advertising and the sale of merchandise and magazines offered on free credit with 100% satisfaction guaranteed. With over 500 full-time employees, over 40% of PCH’s profits go to trusts for the benefit of charities that support the arts, human rights, the environment, medical research and services and other worthy causes.

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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