Tell us about your role and how you got here. What inspired you to be part of a digital adtech company?
I was weaned on marketing as a child by my father who was a marketing manager and was given my first computer in 1981 for Christmas, which my mother tells me was the first toy I ever had that I didn’t take apart. Having worked my way through B2B & consumer publishing and agency media planning, buying and account management, I started my first business Net Communities in 1999, a technology publisher and the UK’s first vertical ad-network. I ran Net Communities for 15 years before selling it to Future Publishing in 2015.
Adtech is a natural place for me, as it fuses together my passion for media, digital and technology, so I feel tremendously lucky to work in an industry that I find exceptionally exciting. In 2011, I decided that viewability was a serious issue before the word had even been coined, so in 2013, I co-founded OnScroll, which uniquely and pro-actively solves viewability issues for many of the best-known publishers in the UK. I sold OnScroll to Sovrn in April 2016 and that’s how I arrived in an adtech company.
How does SOVRN power video transactions in a traditional native ad marketplace?
Sovrn pulled out of the video market in the middle of 2015. We believe there is a significant imbalance in the market. Demand for click to play preroll far exceeds quality supply currently available in the market. Sadly, this healthy demand has created a surplus of low-quality video inventory, that is almost exclusively In-Banner Video (IBV). The flood of low-quality supply has made it difficult for buyers to target quality video in the open market, meaning that quality inventory is hard to distinguish, which is ultimately driving down CPMs. Therefore, we decided to withdraw from video advertising until we feel confident that we have the ability to deliver a win-win offering for buyer and seller.
What are the disruptive forces in the contemporary adtech stack?
Consolidation and transparency are going to help the market evolve quickly in 2018. The buy-side is rightfully expecting more transparency and better access to publishers. Anyone who offers solutions that take another slice of the revenue chain, but without adding true value is likely to find themselves excluded from the ecosystem or may end up being consolidated with other large players to sustain their offering under a different business model.
Do you see the present narrative of programmatic video monetization platforms maturing to create fresh revenue streams for publishers?
Many of the publishers I speak to in the market are leaning heavily into video content production in 2018, so I hope that this new influx of content will help to provide more high-quality inventory for the buyer. This is a smart move if you can produce good quality video content at a price that makes economic sense. Video offers great promise in 2018.
How should RTB platforms ensure that the customers have transparency regarding Brand Safety, ad fraud and viewability?
As the co-inventor of Sovrn’s OnScroll proactive viewability solution, this is an exceptionally important subject for me and everyone in the Sovrn team. For every site we take into our portfolio, 99 don’t make it in, we have two people hand review each website by following a 25+ step process to ensure that we deliver brand safety, avoid ad fraud and deliver high viewability to our buyers. Both auditors compare their notes and check that they concur before we approve.
For content creators, proactive viewability tools like OnScroll are the right way forward, publishers should ideally only load ads when they know they are in-view. There are a plethora of tools that we can all use to detect ad fraud and brand safety, and plenty of ways to prove your worth through the likes of the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), JICWEBS and other associations, so there really is no excuse for getting this wrong. The UK IAB recently announced a new initiative, which combines a series of requirements to deliver a “Gold Standard” certification, which is a really strong move forward. I’d like to see a much cleaner industry in 2018.
What startups are you watching/keen on right now?
I’m a big fan of suggestv.io – James, the CEO, is a very smart guy and has a great product which could help to stimulate the video market, especially after his recent round of funding from Mark Pearson’s Fuel Ventures.
On a personal level, I’m really interested in everything VR and AR because I sincerely believe that in 5 years we’ll be starting to phase out the use of mobile phones in exchange for some kind of AR solution. For now, I’ll just keep learning with my Oculus Rift.
What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2017?
We spend a lot of time engineering 1:1 marketing strategies using tools like HubSpot, mapped into Salesforce to measure ROI. Content Marketing is important to us as we believe we have an important responsibility in the market to help educate mid-tail publishers on how to optimize their sites for quality inventory and revenue, helping them do more of what they love, while Sovrn does the heavy lifting.
Would you tell us about your standout digital campaign?
Sovrn is exclusively programmatic, so we don’t really sell “campaigns” in the traditional sense, although that is starting to change with the evolution of Programmatic Guarantees.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a marketing leader?
As my Twitter handle @digitalandy suggests, I’m a bit fan of technology as long as it delivers a useful and reliable solution. Clearly, AI is becoming more and more important, however, it should always be overlooked by a human. We need to avoid falling into filter bubbles, where data is herded into closed bubbles or where data is making incorrect assumptions. A lack of serendipity will create a lack of opportunity, let’s avoid that!
One word that best describes how you work.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
SaneBox helps me keep my inbox under control, FullContact helps me keep my contacts up to date and organised, Audible helps me keep learning on the move and my new iPhone X is simply the best phone I’ve ever owned by a mile!
What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
Enable the Speak function on your iPhone, under General>>Accessibility>>Speech>>Speech Selection, this enables you to highlight the content of web pages, emails etc, and have them read back to you, so you can keep working while on the go. I like to walk everywhere, so this is perfect for me!
What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)
I normally listen to audiobooks as I’m generally on the go or travelling, so it helps me make good use of my time. Right now, I’m reading Happy by Derren Brown – I’m fascinated by what makes people happy. Life is short and I’m keen to live life to the full and savour every moment where possible. I also just finished Endurance the story of Ernest Shackleton and his botched attempt to cross, which I highly recommend to everyone – not only is it a gripping story of his fateful journey across Antarctica, but also an exceptional example of how strong the human spirit is under duress – a great lesson to all of us…and really well read on Audible.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I listen to everyone all the time, you can learn something new every day if you pay attention. For those that know me, they’ll remember my mantra – “Everyday is a school day”.
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Thank you Andy! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
A longtime digital entrepreneur, starting his first business at the age of 15. Andy founded international digital advertising sales company Net Communities Limited, in 1999, which he sold to Future plc. in July 2015. Going on to co-found award-winning viewability technology provider OnScroll in 2013, which he sold to Sovrn Holdings, Inc. in April 2016.
A technology and gadget enthusiast at heart, his first computer was a Sinclair ZX-81 in 1981.
He’s worked on all sides of the media industry from print and digital publishing, in an ad agency and most recently, ad tech. He’s worked with many of the world’s leading global brands and has been in digital media since 1997. Since the acquisition of OnScroll, he joined the executive team of Sovrn to integrate and run its European operations with Sovrn and has more recently taken on the role of Chief Marketing Officer for the brand globally. Andy is also an industry panellist and speaker on all things digital advertising, with key expertise in Viewability.
Sovrn believes content creators and publishers are the soul of the Internet. Their content is what makes the Internet great. That’s why we give content creators tools to make money, access to distribution and scale to grow their audience, and a massive data commons for extraordinary insights. At Sovrn we don’t just plug into the online advertising ecosystem. We own & operate a proprietary ad technology stack with direct connections to every major buyer in the world. Sovrn is headquartered in Boulder, Colo. with offices in Denver, New York and London.
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.