MarTech Interview with Paul Dolan, CEO, Varick

Paul Dolan, CEO, Varick

“One thing that has remained consistent in AdTech is the need for experts, whether in-house, at an agency or at a service provider, marketers need expertise in math, statistics, analytics, research, and creativity.”

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Tell us about your role and journey into AdTech.

I am the CEO of Varick—we are the platform media experts. We help agencies and brands grow their businesses through digital advertising platforms such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Our clients tap into a team of experts and our Alveo tech platform to maximize their ROI through paid advertising, data dashboards, and analytics.

I’ve been working in AdTech since 1999. My degree is in mathematical science with a concentration in computer science, with a minor in journalism, which is why I’ve always been fascinated by how data and technology come together to tell a story. In 2007, Ari Bluman and I launched B3, 24/7 Real Media’s ad network optimization platform. In 2011, I led the Xaxis launch in the US for Brian Lesser and rolled out programmatic buying capabilities to GroupM across the Americas.

It’s clear to me that advertisers and agencies will continue to utilize ad technology, opt-in data sets, artificial intelligence and premium media environments to foster relationships with people.  I expect Varick to be a leader in helping agencies and clients thrive in a platform-driven advertising world.

How is AdTech different from what it was a few years ago?

AdTech has come a long way in a short period of time. We’ve seen a great amount of consolidation in technology platforms. Years ago, you would have a DSP for desktop display, a different DSP for mobile display and a third DSP for video. And then you’d have search and social managed separately.

Now, there are only a handful of technology platforms that matter to the majority of marketers, and we can name them easily: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Adobe, Oracle, AT&T. Privacy, notice, and choice are the defaults, rather than collecting every bit of data about a user.

The long-tail of content is no longer relevant. Concerns for brand safety and content adjacency have shifted the focus back to premium environments. Creative and media are coming closer together, especially because the big media platforms have proprietary creative formats. One thing that has remained consistent is the need for experts whether in-house, at an agency or at a service provider, marketers need expertise in math, statistics, analytics, research, and creativity.

What is the current state of Programmatic Advertising? How does Varick deliver on its ROI promises?

Today, platform media (programmatic, social, search) is a core component of every marketing plan. In fact, entire direct-to-consumer brands have been founded and grown entirely through media platforms such as Instagram, YouTube and Google Search.

Regardless of the campaign-level goal, proving out value for our brands is always the ultimate focus. When we integrate e-commerce, first-party data across devices, we’ve seen a 95% increase in ROI. By focusing on reducing checkout abandonment, we’ve seen a 75% increase in online sales in QSR. With advanced audience segmentation for our finance clients, we see a 25% reduction in acquisition costs. What we do in advertising has to ultimately translate back to the larger business picture for our clients.

How do you choose, promote and sustain your markets for business development?

We are generally focused on industry challengers on both the brand and the agency side. Our geo focus spans North America, and across this region, there are a ton of brands and agencies that are competing with large, incumbent entities. We believe that we can help their competitive edge, through tech innovation, speed, and flexibility. We are also proud sponsors and promoters of regional marketing associations. From a corporate level, we have pretty sophisticated nurture campaigns that we use Alveo and our B2B platforms for reminding us that there are powerful tools that can help us.

How much have the Marketing and Advertising Operations changed since the arrival of Automation and BI/Analytics tools? How do you leverage these tools at Varick?

The new tools we have, allow us to give our clients and prospects choice on how we engage with them — having cross-channel communications allows us to communicate through email, webinars, in-person events, etc., however, our prospects want to engage with us. Before, you couldn’t work on their terms — what their preferences were. Today, we can customize at scale, which would not be possible without automation.

Which Marketing and Sales Automation tools and technologies does Varick use at the moment?

We are power users of Salesforce and Marketo to cultivate leads. We also depend on Google Analytics, WordPress, TypeForm and our own Alveo platform to provide a unified, cohesive experience for our clients – the agencies and brands we work with.  It’s important to us that our clients see how we use marketing and sales automation tools to increase sales — the same way we encourage our clients to use media platforms to drive their businesses forward!

Considering the recent consumer sentiment about Social Media Advertisement, do you think programmatic will be the future of digital advertising?

We believe all media will be digital, all digital media will become addressable, and all addressable msedia will have significant levels of automation. This is platform media at its core. Look at the examples: Instagram is still on the rise, Reddit just launched their new platform — when we look at Pinterest, Snap, Google Search, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon Search, YouTube, etc. — almost 100% bought on platforms.

Recent consumer sentiment does not seem to be slowing down the growth and usage of these platforms. We see our role as helping the platforms support the good actors and eliminate the bad actors from their systems. We help our clients navigate and manage these platforms to connect with their audiences who are active there in large numbers.

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

This starts with staffing. We focus on people who have a quant background, people who can provide high-value services (e.g., consulting analytics) and people who can explain and talk to clients with a strong customer service focus. We need to be able to explain things clearly, on the client’s terms. We’re lucky, at Varick, to have this. The majority of our team come from Math and Science backgrounds. Over the last year, we’ve rolled out our higher-level services because we know that a lot of automation will continue to occur. So, we need people who are comfortable in math and sciences, will understand what’s happening, and be able to explain that to our clients.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

Well, “We Geek Out” is one of our core pillars — so it’s kind of a pre-requisite here. But really, it’s about how we inspire our clients to embrace technology and use it to grow their business. That’s what’s important to us and what we spend more time thinking about.

One word that best describes how you work?


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

Every day, I start with the Alveo dashboard, which shows me how each of our clients is performing and trending against their KPIs all in one summary screen.  I’m constantly in Slack (communication), Box (collaboration), Salesforce (contacts), LinkedIn, Twitter and Feedly (news aggregation). These apps and software tools allow me to connect with my colleagues and customers in real-time, and I couldn’t imagine going back to a world without them.

What are you currently reading?

I just re-read “The First 90 Days” and “Blue Ocean Strategy” to kick off my time at Varick with the fundamentals of getting to know my colleagues and establishing a strategic vision.  Both books I highly recommend. I’m also reading a number of parenting books as my wife is expecting our first child this month.

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

The best business advice I’ve ever received came from the observation of several leaders and mentors: Treat everyone with respect. Colleagues, customers, prospects, competitors. Everyone is worthy of your respect and honesty. When you approach every interaction respectfully and honestly, you can achieve more than you ever expected.

If not into advertising, what would have been your alternate career choice?

I suspect I would have been a math teacher — I love helping people understand numbers, what they mean and how to put them to work.

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

Michael Bassik, CEO, Yes and Company

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

Paul Dolan is an industry veteran with over twenty years’ experience in building and leading technology-enabled, data-driven media businesses.

In the last ten years, Paul has launched and led three innovative media businesses that brought better targeting, more insights and increased ROI to clients. Most recently, Paul launched Light Reaction, WPP’s outcome-based programmatic media platform, and served as its global General Manager across 25 countries. Prior to Light Reaction, Paul was a key member of the founding team at GroupM’s Xaxis, the industry’s largest agency trading desk.

As Managing Director of North America, he led all sales, marketing, client services and operations. He opened Xaxis offices in New York, Toronto and Miami, before launching Xaxis Latin America with offices in Mexico City, Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires and Bogota. In 2008, he developed B3, the first data-driven media trading platform for 24/7 Real Media and WPP’s Media Innovation Group.

Paul has advised companies in AI, mobile analytics, digital out-of-home, rich media and education content. He is now the Chief Executive Officer at Varick, the original programmatic media company. Varick will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and he is looking forward to leading this innovative company into its next 10 years.

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Varick is the only company to combine 10 years of programmatic activation experience with strategic consulting services in media planning, advanced analytics, creative integration and programmatic technology in-housing. They put the power of platform media in your hands.

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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.

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