Interview with Michael Zacharski, CEO, EMX Digital

Michael Zacharski, CEO at EMX Digital

“Despite the Automation and Machine Learning we have deployed, we believe it takes the human touch to make it all work and drive innovation forward.”

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Tell us about your role and journey into technology. What made you join EMX Digital?

There are two parts to my role. First, and where I spend the majority of my focus, is leading the EMX Digital business. EMX is a programmatic marketplace that services media agencies, publishers, and DSPs. EMX is part of Engine, a data-driven marketing solutions company with expertise in four primary practice areas: Content, Insights, Distribution and Technology. In the second part of my role, I lead the Engine Technology practice, which leverages forward-thinking engineering, data collection and Artificial Intelligence to drive new product innovation across Engine” I joined Engine about two years ago as part of the acquisition of the bRealTime business and have been in programmatic for nearly 12 years; starting on the business development front, then driving product, and in the last few years also encompassing technology and development teams.

How is EMX different from others in the digital advertising marketplace?

The short answer is access, technology, and of course, our people. We have been working with direct publishers for over 10 years and have weathered market consolidation as well as shifts in technologies used to access publisher inventory. Adapting to change has made us better and more efficient as an organization. Our tech’s ability to predict which inventory will perform for our clients has been a real differentiator for us and we continue to win by delivering and guaranteeing client ROI metrics for our direct clients and agency partners.

As a philosophy, we operate a fair and open marketplace, allowing buyers and sellers to interact and transact with as much information as possible without interference. We have a deep understanding of how inventory is traded across the entire ad tech ecosystem and have been able to leverage those learnings and inefficiencies to successfully integrate our partners.

At the end of the day, it’s our people that make all the difference. We hire for culture and values. We look for people that are adept at problem-solving and understand how to communicate effectively. It’s our people that build our tech and support our customers day in and day out. Despite the Automation and Machine Learning, we have deployed, we believe it takes the human touch to make it all work and drive innovation forward.

What are the core tenets of your business development model? How does EMX Digital add value to digital transformation journeys for businesses?

We focus on the democratization of tech with a goal of providing more transparency and control to our customers. We see value in both enhancing current solutions for existing customers, while integrating new products that relate to our foundation. We listen to what is occurring in the market and we listen to our customers through our various product councils, surveys, and the feedback from our account teams on the ground. Ultimately, we place bets on where we think we will see growth and openings that allow us to test new opportunities quickly. We either fail fast, or we invest decisively when we see the opportunity to succeed.

We have a lot in common with our customers who are dealing with many of the same challenges we have faced. We see the value-add for customers coming from the notion that we are like them, in that we are operating a complex business and continually looking for efficiencies, technology to automate work streams, and the need to integrate increasingly vast amounts of data. We have been innovating our solutions and our tech successfully for many years. We bring that experience to the work we do, both internally to improve our business, and externally through the products designed to improve our clients’ businesses.

How different is the Programmatic Advertising ecosystem in the US today than when you first started here?

Change has been a key theme. The AdTech ecosystem has changed a lot in the past years. It used to be rather simple with buyers and sellers connecting directly with a tag and IO. Now, with the advent of header bidding, publisher inventory is available out on the open market for buyers to bid on. This allows for market competition even with the traditionally sacred direct sold channels. The number of available impressions, targetable devices, and ways to purchase inventory are countless. Tech stacks have been strained and businesses have consolidated as the programmatic market continues to grow. Despite all that change, relationships still matter and will continue to matter in the days ahead.

How does it compare against the digital advertising marketplaces in Europe and APAC?

EU and APAC have their own unique challenges. Both regions are increasingly managing through evolving regulation standards. GDPR is top of mind in the EU right now and country-specific rules are in play across APAC. Infrastructure is also different in these markets, which, in turn, provides for unique challenges, especially in high population markets that are now quickly coming online. The marketplace is otherwise increasingly global and connected. We are increasingly seeing markets globally dealing with similar problems as they “catch up” to what is occurring in mature markets, which ultimately drives its own acceleration and innovation tracks.

Do you see GDPR impacting your business operations?

Absolutely. We have had to do a lot of work in preparation, for example ensuring that we have the appropriate documentation of our processes and systems that touch data, and adjusting our agreements with clients and vendors. We actually took the added step of taking certain products offline to ensure our compliance. At this point we are mostly back online and we are processing and controlling our way up and down the supply chain. But certainly, data providers and DMPs specifically are among our partners that have been affected. Our approach, as always, is one of finding the opportunity that comes from any evolution or change.

Where do you see Programmatic Advertising industry further evolving in 2020?

The consolidation of digital and TV seems to be the next frontier. I think the view of the household as the sum of its parts and devices is a solve that many companies are after as we head to 2020. The notion of true universal frequency management is still not fully here, and companies are still working through how to onboard their data in a meaningful way that can inform media strategy in a timely way. I see the next phase of evolution in programmatic pushing all of these concepts forward.

How do you think new technologies such as Customer Intelligence, Audience Data and AI impact the ecosystem?

I think these are among the most important developments for the ecosystem. These tools allow for feedback from customer experiences to tie into company communications, promotions, offerings, and segmentation strategies in a way that’s increasingly faster and more personalized. As a society, we are looking for a deeper connection with the brands we choose to spend our money or time with. Properly deployed, these tools can provide immediate activations through programmatic marketing channels while providing consideration based on what is occurring in the real-world environments around us.

What startups in the advertising technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

Companies that are able to truly graph users meaningfully while going beyond the standard cookie, and those that are working to unpackage the notion of attention as it relates to advertising, content, and ad effectiveness. You can’t leave out companies that are doing work on the application of blockchain-style solutions for programmatic either as the industry continues to move towards more transparency and accountability. So, no particular companies, but those are opportunities to pay attention to.

What Marketing and Sales automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

We do a lot with CRM and ensuring we are asking our customers questions about our products and services while maintaining a complete view of what they are trying to achieve. The majority of our business is still won and managed in the traditional way, requiring sales support and the human touch. We have invested a lot into automation across the business so we can track client performance on a daily, and even hourly, basis. Concurrently, our systems bring attention to any anomalies that we should be addressing with clients or looking into further.

Could you tell us about an outstanding digital campaign?

Clients who benefit the most from us utilize EMX, while leveraging another practice group within Engine. This permits us to share data and provide learnings in a way that would not typically occur. We recently completed a proposal with a company from the transportation space that included activating media for prospecting as well as working with the Engine Insights team on an “always on” segmentation strategy. As new data from campaigns came in, it would then be applied to the segmentation model and married with real-world data from CRM to continuously fine tune and refine the acquisition model. What is exciting is being able to close the loop by re-focusing both targeting and messaging for the client based on near real-time, real-world signals.

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

I think the best preparation is an open mind — you need to be ready to learn as much as possible. That being said, you need to know when to get help and find the experts when it’s required.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

We push our teams to participate and be empowered in the solution process. We set a high standard and always look for more than one path to the answer. We also try to operate as a flat organization as much as possible. We create an environment for teams to feel comfortable and supported as they share learnings and successes (as well as non-successes) across the group.

One word that best describes how you work.


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

Excel and Google Developer Tools.

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

List making and writing things down in a notebook are invaluable free tools. They keep me on track and keep me less distracted by technology.

What are you currently reading?

I read a lot on my phone, catching up on current events and ad tech news on a daily basis. I do subscribe to a few business periodicals and I like reading the physical copies especially when traveling. I try to read 1-2 books a quarter as well, usually about psychology, business, or strategy.

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

To do what I love because time is increasingly shorter, and money cannot buy happiness.

Something you do better than others — the secret of your success?

I don’t believe that it’s about doing something better than others. It’s about the effort you put in and the consistency you have to push along day in and day out, on good days and bad days. It always comes down to your hard work and perseverance. At the end of the day, this is all you really have control over.

Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Jeff Green, CEO of The Trade Desk.

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

As the CEO of EMX, Michael Zacharski leads the overall vision, strategy, culture, and development of the company. With his leadership, EMX solves complex challenges and drives measurable business results for agencies, advertisers and publishers by providing solutions across full service and programmatic practice areas. EMX Digital is a part of the Engine Group.

As a strategic executive, his focus is on driving bottom line results through growth acceleration and innovation. His experience includes business operations, technology development, product and solution go-to-market strategy, as well as mergers, acquisitions and restructuring across global businesses of varying sizes and stages.

Most recently, Michael held the role of CEO of bRealTime, where he led the development of the company’s automated global exchange for both demand and supply side partners. Previously, Michael served as COO of Digital Remedy (formerly CPXi), a global digital media company.

Prior he founded and operated multiple start up businesses across the entertainment and music industry achieving two successful exits. He received his BA from New York University.

EMX Digital logo
EMX is a digital solutions provider that connects publishers, advertisers and agencies with consumer data, proprietary tools and innovative technology through EMX’s programmatic media marketplace. Formed from the union of bRealTime and Clearstream, EMX provides increased scale, transparency and data access, allowing both advertisers and publishers to better optimize their outputs, thus optimizing ROI for all.

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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.