We are one of Maine's Best Places to Work!

We are one of Maine's Best Places to Work!

We are proud to announce PCH/Media was voted one of the Best Places to Work in Maine this year, making this three years in a row! 

For the last 10 years, The Society for Human Resource Management’s Maine State Council has recognized Maine’s top employers with the Best Places to Work in Maine initiative. Dedicated to highlighting companies that have established and consistently provided outstanding workplace environments, the Best Places to Work in Maine program addresses all of the hard work employees put in to get their company to where it is today. We are truly honored to make this list - it's a tremendous accomplishment! 

PCH/Media was ranked #12 best medium sized business to work for in Maine.

How does a company make the list? Employee satisfaction is the answer in a nutshell. Real and honest feedback is taken from actual employees, and the winners are chosen by the council, based in large part on those responses. The assessment process also evaluated each company’s employee policies and procedures.

Competition is fierce: out of all of the companies that apply, only about half end up getting ranked. Categorized based on number of employees, businesses are awarded within their size category to ensure a level playing field. With 41 other companies in the medium sized category, it's that much more of a triumph to make the top 12! 

Real Feedback

Below are just a few of the comments from our employees' surveys:

  • "Great environment to learn and to share knowledge. Full of go getters"
  • "PCH/Media creates an environment that feels like a fun startup with the financial backing of a Fortune 500"
  • "PCH/Media has a great work life balance. They understand the need to spend time with family. They let us work from home if we have a sick child, etc. Benefits package is fantastic and they provide paid holidays, holidays of choice, sick days, and vacation days. Everyone here is happy and you can tell they love their work by their positive and energetic attitudes!" 
  • "Dynamic, fast-paced projects that are both team and individual based. There's a constant level of support and help is always given to those who ask for it"
  • "PCH/Media is an organization that cares about their employees. I regularly feel that my voice is heard and people hold me accountable because they have shared confidence in my ability to deliver"

We love where we work. Would you like it, too?

We're hiring! PCH/Media is always on the lookout for smart, motivated, and fun people to join our team. Check out our current openings here.

TAG, you’re it: Are you doing your part in the fight against fraud?

TAG, you’re it: Are you doing your part in the fight against fraud?

As the world of ad fraud gets increasingly complex, brands are finally taking a stand.

Major spenders, like Procter & Gamble, have said they will no longer work with digital media partners that aren’t taking adequate steps against fraud. While this may seem bold, especially with thousands of digital partners on the market, it’s a smart and necessary step for an industry that’s lost billions of dollars to fraudulent practices.

One of the key players in this fight is the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) -  a cross industry accountability program aiming to create transparency in the digital ad industry. From fighting fraudulent traffic and combatting malware to fighting internet piracy and promoting transparency, TAG works to create a better digital supply chain.

Earlier this year, P&G’s chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard, took a stand and said that they only wanted to work with TAG certified publishers, sharing, “We will work with and buy media only from the entities that comply. That’s because we don’t want to waste time and money on a crappy media supply chain.”

Why are brands finally starting to take a stand? There’s been a lot of controversy this year in the digital advertising world. From Facebook misreporting clicks, to YouTube’s brand safety mishap, major brands are under immense pressure from management and shareholders to ensure their brand is protected and their ad dollars are invested effectively.

P&G isn’t the only one taking notice. Earlier this year, The Interactive Advertising Bureau announced that all its members were to take steps to get TAG certified, including major brands like Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg’s, Unilever, American Express, The Walt Disney Company and more.

These brands have agreed to start requiring the publishers they advertise with to attain TAG’s certification seals against fraud, all to ensure brand safety, transparency into performance metrics, accurate targeting and overall efficient ad spending. With so much at stake, brand’s want to work with publishers who will ensure their ads have the best placements and that they are actually reaching the right users, and not bots.

The fight against fraud can’t be won alone. Brands need to take a firm stance against working with publisher’s who aren’t prioritizing an anti-fraud strategy. Further, publishers need to do their due diligence in offering brands the best ad solutions out there, whether that be placements or targeting, and ensure each of their partner’s ad dollars are being spent how they should be, reaching human shoppers.

If brands and publishers unite in the fight against fraud, they can increase transparency, performance and overall quality across the digital ad supply chain, ensuring both parties get the most bang for their marketing buck. To that end, PCH is thrilled to be a TAG certified partner, dedicated to the fight against ad fraud. We want to deliver the best ads to our brand partners and ensure they are reaching their target audiences, but we can’t do it alone. Brands need to question publishers (and the agencies recommending them) that aren’t taking strides against fraud. Together, we can stop fraud in its tracks and create a better digital ad supply chain for everyone.

Want to learn about how PCH/Media can help you reach your target audience at scale? Contact us today.

PCH Earns TAG’s Industry-Wide Certified Against Fraud Seal

PCH Earns TAG’s Industry-Wide Certified Against Fraud Seal

Leading Media Company Joins 22 Others in Achieving TAG’s Rigorous Anti-Fraud Standards

Publishers Clearing House (PCH), a leading direct marketing media company, announced today that the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), an industry initiative to fight criminal activity in the digital advertising supply chain, has awarded PCH its Certified Against Fraud Seal. The Seal recognizes companies that have completed the review process and are in compliance with TAG’s rigorous anti-fraud standards.

In addition, TAG announced earlier today that more than 200 companies in the digital advertising industry from more than 20 countries have now applied for TAG Registration, a prerequisite for participation in TAG certification seal programs.

Publishers Clearing House joins a total of 23 companies that have received the TAG Certified Against Fraud Seal to date, alongside the first group of companies named in December 2016. TAG was created by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) to address systemic issues in digital advertising like fraud, piracy, malware, and lack of transparency. TAG launched the Certified Against Fraud Program in May of 2016.

“Publishers Clearing House is extremely proud to be one of the first publishers to have received the TAG Certified Against Fraud Seal,” said Sal Tripi, AVP, Digital Operations and Compliance at Publishers Clearing House. “Maintaining transparency and trust with our customers and business partners is a longstanding core value of PCH.  We believe it is critical that our business partners and advertisers know that they are working with a company that stands for security, integrity, and the best business practices in the industry. The TAG certification is a win for PCH, our advertisers, and our consumers, and we will continue to work hard to uphold the strict standards that such certification represents.”

TAG Registered companies have been verified as legitimate participants in the digital advertising industry through a proprietary background check and review process powered by Dun & Bradstreet and subsequent approval by TAG. Following their approval, companies can be searched by name – or by their unique, persistent TAG-IDs – through the TAG Registry.
 

About the Trustworthy Accountability Group:
The Trustworthy Accountability Group was created to foster transformational improvement at scale across the digital advertising ecosystem, focusing on four core areas: eliminating fraudulent traffic, combating malware, fighting ad-supported Internet piracy to promote brand integrity, and promoting brand safety through greater transparency. For more information on TAG, please visit tagtoday.net.

Cultivating Data Scientists

Cultivating Data Scientists

This article first appeared in DZone, written by Robert Swerdlow, Engineering Manager. 

Data science is now table stakes. Five years ago, it was identified as the sexiest job of the twenty-first century. Now, nearly all competitive companies are committed to data science

As an example, my company, PCH/Media, has access to an enormous amount of data. Our parent company, Publishers Clearing House, does over $1 billion in e-commerce each year, has relationships with about 75% of U.S. households, and maintains over 100 million user profiles. We have people working hard to making this data actionable, and my unit is charged with proving the business value of new ideas, by collecting or analyzing data.

Yet, "value" is subjective. It is slippery. Different points of view color the worth of the data, even within an organization. Some workers, like your web team, collect data as a byproduct of their work. Others, like your business analysts, crunch data and send out reports. Other teams are tasked with increasing performance, reducing costs, or optimizing the user experience. How can you leverage all their expertise and best tap the value of your data and use it to make money?

By cultivating data scientists!

That is not to say you don't already have good, reliable people dissecting your data every day. The challenge is how to help them. How do you to measure, discuss, and grow analytic capabilities and data scientists?

With a data science yardstick.

A Rubric for Data Analysts and Data Scientists

Here's my cut at it: the Data Analysts and Data Scientists Rubric.  

This document was inspired by our Software Engineers Rubric, developed by my colleague Josh Begleiter. You will see plenty of overlap between the two. Hopefully, you will find these documents useful for planning, hiring, and developing your employees, too.

The Data Analysts and Data Scientists Rubric is intended to answer questions like:

  • What’s the difference between junior data analysts, data analysts, and data scientists?
  • What are data analysts and data scientists supposed to know?
  • Where does my knowledge place me?

Of course, there is a lot of room for debate here: adapt the rubric to fit your needs. In fact, please let me know how you improve the rubric — I may decide to adopt some of your changes.

Data Scientists Do Not Have to Be Programmers

One decision may surprise some readers: data analysts and data scientists need not be programmers. Of course, they write queries and Excel formulas and may need to write scripts to manipulate data. However, software development work, even if just for internal tools, should be the responsibility of people who have the training and the mindset to write and maintain production code. Most data teams are big enough now to let people focus on what they are good at, with data scientists and software engineers collaborating.

That said, data analysts and data scientists should focus on extracting value from data.

It's All About That Data

The Data Analyst/Data Scientist Rubric describes employees' relationship to data. In brief:

  • Junior data analysts manipulate and report on existing data.
    • They answer: "What does the data say?"
    • They use tools like database systems (SQL), Excel, and statistics to do their work.
  • Data analysts add experience and industry specific knowledge.
    • They answer: "What does the data mean?" and "What should we do about it?"
    • They usually have Big Data experience, the ability to assess confidence, and the depth of knowledge to know how the organization should react
  • Data scientists add vision and insight to go beyond the actual data.
    • They answer: "What will the data look like in the future?" and "How does the data help us position our offerings for success?"
    • They have lots of data experience, the ability to infer conclusions from the data, and the ability to assess risks and rewards

The last category could have been called "Senior Data Analysts", but the industry has adopted "Data Scientist" instead. This is fine, since it implies the ability to envision and test new theories about data.

The Rubric Will Need to Change with the Times

Of course, new technologies for Big Data, machine intelligence, and extracting data value are being invented every day. These changes will affect what a data analyst or data scientist is called on to do. For now, though, the rubric is a starting point: a place to look for important techniques, models, approaches, and mindsets. Use it as an employer or employee, analyst, or scientist to think about cultivating data science skills.

Investment in human resources around data is one bet sure to pay off.

Using Data to Create Seamless Customer Experiences

Using Data to Create Seamless Customer Experiences

A version of this article first appeared as an excerpt in an ebook called The Retail Imperative, from DM News.

DM News_Steve Bagdasarian.png

The activation of brands in retail environments is being forced to be more direct to consumers. In such a competitive market, bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds might be equated to survival.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you execute:

Lead with your CRM data

Despite that the amount of data produced daily is literally quintillions of bytes, nothing will ever be better than your own data—as long as you have a CRM data strategy. The accessibility and depth of this data is the cornerstone to bridging the gap between physical and digital locations. A strong foundation in CRM materializes the reality that you know how to connect to your consumers better than anyone.

The difference in targeting via precision vs. accuracy

Accuracy is important, but don’t negate the role, and importance of, precision—the exactness in targeting. The root of the problem in creating seamless customer experiences lies in the fact that most targeting models are built on top of modeled, third-party data. While “scalable,” this type of data is generally imprecise.

A consistent plan for data governance

Not having a strong data governance policy—quality controls around your data practice—is inexcusable for any retailer looking to connect the digital and physical worlds for consumers. How long to hold it, methods to gather it, and partners with whom to share it will all be questions you face. Thus, ensure that resources are allocated appropriately and executive oversight is consistent.

Challenge vendor transparency

As marketers, we know we can’t go this path alone. Whether it’s pipes to connect the two worlds or strategies to achieve your KPIs, you need to seek out great technology partnerships. Nevertheless, as the market consolidates, bad actors will rise. Marketers need to strive to do a better job in vetting these relationships—otherwise, lots of promises can be left unfulfilled or, even worse, they could put you or your customers’ information at risk.

There has probably never been a more promising time for marketers to strategize and execute across two “worlds.” However, we are still in the early stages, so set expectations accordingly and strive to lead the market versus letting the market lead you.

PCH/Media Ranks Top 20 in AppsFlyer Performance Index

PCH/Media Ranks Top 20 in AppsFlyer Performance Index

With a focus on driving quality installs and engagement at scale, PCH/Media is proud to announce that we have once again earned top spots in AppsFlyer's latest Performance Index.

Using app installs and retention to evaluate over 1,000 media sources, the AppsFlyer report has become the industry standard for mobile app marketers looking to get the best return on their ad spend. The latest index sources numbers from H2 (July - December) 2016, breaking down top performers by region, category, and platform.

Here's how PCH/Media stacked up this time around for Gaming in North America:

  • Android: #18
  • iOS: #19

See the full report here.

Want to learn how to access PCH/Media's premium audience of loyal and engaged users? Get in touch!

Case Study: MilkPEP

Case Study: MilkPEP

The Challenge

PCH/Media was charged with helping FCB/RED and their client MilkPEP – the national milk marketing organization responsible for campaigns like Got Milk? and Milk Moustache – to increase traffic, registrations, and engagement for a promotion they were running as part of a larger Team USA Olympics Sponsorship.

Brought on board eight weeks into the 11-week campaign, PCH/Media had just three weeks to create a plan, turn around a proposal, and generate results.

The Strategy

PCH/Media used our first-party, premium audience data to create personalized, one-to-one mobile and desktop ad experiences.

The Tactics

Taking what we already knew about FCB/RED’s target, PCH/Media used our first-party demo, behavioral, and purchase insights to accurately identify and build two core audiences of PCH customers who would be most likely to engage with the MilkPEP campaign: Moms and Coupon-Takers.

Within four days of our first meeting with FCB/RED, PCH/Media was running hyper-targeted, personalized ads to these audiences across Publishers Clearing House properties on desktop and mobile. The campaign was live for 11 days.

The Results

Engagement

In just 11 days, PCH/Media delivered nearly the same number of registrations that previous marketing tactics had delivered in the first 48 days.

  • 197% increase in average traffic per day
  • 310% increase in average registrations per day
  • Exceeded registration goal by over 30%

In-Store Sales

During the promotion, the white milk category saw:

  • 2% relative sales lift at grocery
  • 1.3% relative sales lift at Walmart

In a time of category declines, this increase was like moving mountains for the category and the milk brands.

Insights and Leads

Along with the registration results, PCH/Media provided personalized shopper audience insights for the category and added thousands of new leads to the MilkPEP email database. These insights and leads will continue to add value to future MilkPEP promotions and offers.

Age & Gender Targeting Are Broken

Age & Gender Targeting Are Broken

A version of this article first appeared in Adweek.

Over the last few months, several reports have described major inaccuracies in age and gender targeting. Pinsight Media reported that 60% of age data on mobile exchanges is not only inaccurate—it’s also off by an average of 10 years.

This is a big problem—a massive problem, in fact. According to Videology, 41% of digital video campaigns in the U.S. now request ratings verification such as Nielsen DAR or ComScore vCE. This number is up 115% from 19% of campaigns requesting such verification just three years ago. More campaigns are relying on age and gender targeting, yet accuracy, according to Nielsen, has not improved at all since 2014.

The Root of the Problem

Things get even worse when you overlap age with gender. For instance, Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings show that campaigns (across desktop and mobile) reaching females age 25-54 are just 40% precise!

Imagine that—in a time when you can supposedly target a mother of three kids who owns a Keurig in Denver, why is it so hard to just reach a female within a 30-year age range?

The answer, or the root of the problem, lies in the data from which most ad targeting models are derived. Modeled, third-party data is typically used because it is scalable, easy to activate, and has almost infinite types of segments available. Problem is, it's also generally inaccurate.

Why does this matter? The challenge with data-driven ad targeting is similar to the metaphor in building a house. There are various materials and layers to the process. Each has a place in the end product, but what you put at the center, or the foundation, is most important. It’s not wrong to use third-party data, and it does have a place, but it should not be the main mix in your concrete foundation when building your house.

How to Fix It

2017 is the year for marketers to move beyond third-party, modeled data and move toward licensing first-party data from other companies.

As you navigate through the first-party data world, pay attention to how the data is being sourced, as this will have the biggest impact on quality and accuracy. Companies with registration or single-sign-on processes will generally have much higher match rates across devices, which will in turn deliver better scale.

Also, be sure to think about the value exchange between the publisher and its end user. If the user has something to gain by signing up with accurate information, you can be sure that the quality of the data will be much higher. Publishers that also have high engagement rates can then tie a user’s behavior and profile information together, just as Facebook does. 

These types of first-party data owners can partner with Krux, LiveRamp, or similar businesses to make their data easily accessible to marketers. Data owners are given the controls to determine who can and cannot use their data, and marketers are able to identify the partners that meet their objectives. Platforms like Krux and LiveRamp can also combine similar data sets in order to build more scalable segments.

First-party data is far more accurate than third-party data, but we do need more participants in these marketplaces to improve the accessibility and availability of segments. As publisher participation rates and the matching of buyers and sellers continue to improve, these data exchanges will take off.  

What’s Next

The promise of this strategy is that marketers can use first-party data from other companies to chip away at the wasted impressions they are serving to the wrong audiences. The odds that a 25-year-old is in the market for a baby stroller are considerably lower than those for a 35-year-old. Marketers are pouring hefty resources into defining their target audiences, and their campaigns should deliver ads to those segments they’ve picked.

To begin to close this accuracy gap, I propose nailing down the basics this year with something as simple as improving age and gender targeting. Publishers, marketers, and platforms will need to work closely together to make this happen. Next, with a solid foundation of accurate data, we can focus on harder problems like packaging up insights to help target the people marketers need to reach.

Want to learn more about PCH/Media's approach to accurate audience targeting? Get in touch here!

Understanding the Evolution of KPIs

Understanding the Evolution of KPIs

A version of this article first appeared in Target Marketing.

When I sat down to write about the evolution of key ad metrics, I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how the definitions of words change over time. It dawned on me that, while oftentimes the definitions don’t necessarily change, they do take on new meaning. Think about words like “sick,” “nice,” “sweet,” and “nasty”—their meanings have changed because people started using them in new ways.

Digital media is not immune to this phenomenon. We live in a world where KPIs change and meanings of those KPIs change depending on who you ask.

Two examples of KPIs facing evolving meanings are viewabilty and video completion rate.

Viewability

When the idea of viewability was introduced about three years ago, it was thought of as a metric—some would even call it a vanity metric. It was seen as something you measured alongside impressions and clicks. The first legitimate definition of viewability came from the IAB in 2014, which stated that “a display ad is viewable if 50% or more of its pixels appear on-screen for at least one second.”

Fast-forward to now. While the IAB’s definition of viewability hasn’t changed, what viewability means to the industry has. 

Last year, when GroupM announced that it would have a strict viewability standard of 100%, they immediately changed how anyone working with the world’s largest media investment group thinks about viewability. The same thing has happened industry-wide: viewability is no longer just a metric but rather a standard—it's a primary campaign KPI and, in some places, a currency. GroupM was like the Vine video using the term “on fleek,” and the rest of us are the industry professionals left trying to figure out how to properly work this phrase into conversation. (For the record, I’m a millennial and I still don’t know.)

Viewability is complex because it proves that while we may not all be speaking the same language, we are essentially saying the same thing: advertisers should only have to pay for ads that are actually viewed by humans.

In some ways, the meaning of viewability is a matter of linguistics and philosophy, and it’s a question of how closely we should link the two disciplines. To be successful agency partners, we must understand that GroupM’s standard is not the same as Cadreon’s which is not the same as Accuen’s. Some campaigns look for 100% viewability, some look for 50%, some for two seconds, and some for one second—but while the meaning may differ, the basic philosophy behind the purpose of viewability remains the same.

Video Completion Rate

Video completion rate might seem to be a more straightforward KPI, but it’s actually another example of a shifting metric that is more complex than originally thought.

Video completion rate is no longer just the ratio of completed views to video views. It has evolved. Some agencies still calculate it based on the full length of the video, some consider three seconds in to be a full video view, and some look at the percent viewed by non-human traffic versus human traffic.

If a publisher boasts that they have “high completion rates,” they must understand that this is no longer a linear metric. How will you stack up when your client is only willing to pay you on a cost-per-completed-view basis? 

Planning for the KPIs of Tomorrow

Today, some campaigns measure “non-human traffic,” but tomorrow could they decide that they’re only willing to pay vendors on this metric? If a campaign measures how “on-target” your demographic targeting truly is, how could this evolve into something bigger? 

To speak the same language, we must listen, think, and only then build. Listen to third-party measurement companies and agency clients. Think about how we, as partners, stack up against varied meanings of the same KPI. And build products and content that support these multiple meanings—which will, in turn, help us better prepare for the KPIs of tomorrow.

Get in touch to learn how PCH/Media can help you hit your KPIs and crush your goals.

 

Debunking the Myths of Programmatic Delivery

Debunking the Myths of Programmatic Delivery

A version of this article first appeared in Ad Age.

Programmatic. Automation. Private Marketplaces. Guaranteed Deals.

These are the buzz words that made us all think that everything was simple, required few resources, and would make us not only a ton of money but—more importantly—more margin. We thought we could pull in stronger yield with leaner teams and less overhead. We were wrong, and we've learned a lot through the process. 

Let’s talk through some of the assumptions that carried us into the growth of programmatic deal channels in 2015 and early 2016—and why they turned out to be not as true as we thought they were. 

Programmatic deals don’t require the same sales cycle as managed service. 

Many thought that as the market moved to programmatic, we’d see sales teams as lean as they’d ever been and margins would skyrocket with the decreased overhead. The reality is, while the means of execution have changed, we’re still talking to the same marketers who want transparency and understanding of the content and the sellers they are working with.

Convincing a retail giant to spend tens of thousands of ad dollars with you through programmatic is no different than asking for an IO of the same amount. The real difference comes into play with the delivery and controls that the marketer can keep in-house—the power to change those budgets at any time.  

Set it and forget it—right? 

Wrong. With viewability and performance metrics as the driving force behind keeping a budget live, there really is no “set it and forget it” when it comes to selling media. We need placement and targeting optimizations in order to continue to exceed client benchmarks, and those happen with tools for reporting, helpful automation from systems, and thoughtful human optimization and planning.

Do we need the same resources on call for a private marketplace campaign as a managed service campaign with the same budget? No—but we do still need significant resources to be able to be successful in this field. 

Viewability is one-size-fits-all.

Measuring for viewability—or any of the vanity metrics we all track—is completely dependent on the measurement company used and the guidelines set by the advertiser. Everyone has their own definition of what is acceptable, and both buyers and sellers need to get on the same page with what that is. Who is going to be the measuring partner? What are factors that determine a successful measurement? These are the questions you need to ask before you end up with the “my-reports-don’t-match-yours” headache.

Programmatic deals are going to scale fast and stay strong.

While this one is certainly possible, you have to understand the vulnerability of this business line. Just because a client says they want to run on your inventory and give you a price, target budget, and deal ID, it doesn’t mean that’s money in the bank.  

One of the biggest benefits to buyers here is the level of control that they keep—which means that they can turn off or decrease spend at any time. The risk is worth the reward, but don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.

The client said yes. Let’s get it live right now!

There’s a lot of troubleshooting that happens to turn on a deal: do both parties have the right connections in place, are your targeted segments passing in the right bid requests, are they applying targeting on their side that is messing up the bid rate? I’m sure this is one that will taper off with time as tech and buyers get more savvy, but it’s not usually a five-minute turnaround to see the revenue flowing in. Don’t forget to thank your ad ops and solutions engineering teams for their help here!

The moral? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

But that doesn’t mean programmatic isn’t a channel to invest heavily in. It’s where we should all be in order to live in an advertising world with transparency, control, and fair value pricing—but it takes work to make it successful.

Regarding the Methbot Report

Regarding the Methbot Report

Publishers Clearing House is aware that our domains, along with thousands of other premium domains, have been included on the list of publishers impersonated by the Russian botnet Methbot (read the full White Ops report here).

We want you to know that we take fraud very seriously and have anti-fraud partnerships in place to protect our clients in situations like this. Throughout the time that Methbot was running, we were actively monitoring malvertising across our sites via MediaTrust, RiskIQ, and GeoEdge. We also have NHT monitoring in place across all video supply via ComScore and MOAT.

It appears that the impact to PCH traffic has been nonexistent and inventory quality remains stable. We will continue to monitor the situation and will keep you posted here on our blog as we learn more.

As always, please feel free to reach out to your PCH rep if you have any questions or concerns. If you’d like to read more about the Methbot operation, check out these articles on CNBC and AdExchanger.

Will the Real Premium Publishers Please Stand Up?

Will the Real Premium Publishers Please Stand Up?

If you have ever asked for an advertising budget from a digital media planner, you’ve most likely been told, “We only work with premium publishers.”

Working for an ad network early on, I remember carefully choosing publishers for media campaigns that would satisfy a brand’s appetite for premium. These publishers were the usual suspects: the big sports names, the ones with the well-known and well-loved acronyms. No games, no social networks—nothing my mother wouldn’t be familiar with. Premium simply meant that the brand would be proud to have their name next to the logo. 

What Does Premium Really Mean?

One of the definitions of the word “premium” is “of exceptional quality or greater value than others of its kind; superior.” The advertising community determines the superiority of one publisher over another and thus gives the “premium” publisher the ability to charge more.

But what does a premium publisher look like today?

Programmatic facilitated a new premium. And the most obvious first signs of this transformation arrived with the growth of mobile advertising.  

Publishers who celebrated their superiority in the desktop world were unpleasantly surprised when they offered their mobile inventory to advertisers in a programmatic environment. Low CPMs and fill rates were met with much head scratching as publishers struggled to understand why their premium stamps of approval were not translating from desktop into mobile.

Many heated conversations transpired between the powerful premium publishers of desktop and their SSPs. Why were the mobile CPMs not complementary to desktop? Why weren’t top advertisers interested in bidding on their inventory? Mobile must not be that important. How dare these DSPs not see the value?

What these publishers failed to understand was that their name alone would no longer demand a plethora of bidding at a high CPM.

So, which mobile publishers were generating the high CPMs?

Mobile app publishers passing device IDs and actual latitude/longitude data became the new “premium.” DSPs and advertisers were willing to pay more—a lot more—for these publishers. As the traditional premium publishers refused to invest in the most sought-after platform (app) and were unwilling to pass the proper data, they were bypassed in superiority by mobile publishers that were—gasp—gaming publishers, utility publishers, publishers with names that were neither well-recognized nor well-loved. They were names I would never have dared to put on a traditional media plan, yet they were now commanding respect and loftier prices in the open exchange.

Programmatic and the Evolution of Premium

EMarketer recently reported that, in 2016, US programmatic digital display ad spending will reach $22.10 billion, an increase of 39.7% over last year, which represents 67.0% of total digital display ad spending in the US. As more and more managed service budgets pour into programmatic, the list of premium publishers continues to evolve. Agencies have become smarter about how they buy digital media. Advertisers are now investing dollars with publishers that previously would not have been allowed in their reception lobby, let alone on a media plan.

Generally speaking, advertisers today are increasingly less concerned about a publisher’s name (within reason) and more concerned about the following: Was my ad viewable? Did the user watch my entire video? Can the publisher provide me with unique first-party data to target against at scale that I can’t get elsewhere? Is this data very accurate? Does the publisher require their users to log in across multiple screens to access content? Did my inventory perform?

If the answer to all of the above is “YES,” you may be on the road to earning yourself a premium title.  

A well-known publisher may always be welcome on a traditional media plan and within the lobby of a major agency. However, the workflow of an insertion order and its transactional output will eventually succumb to automation. Rich first-party data will only increase in significance. The traditional “premium” publishers have a lot of work to do to defend their title.

As the digital media world shifts to a more intelligent and automated way of buying, and “viewability,” “data,” and “completion rates” become the new sexy, get ready to welcome some new names onto the premium playing field.

And be prepared to show them some respect. 

Let’s Be Honest: A Call to Put KPIs into Perspective

Let’s Be Honest: A Call to Put KPIs into Perspective

We’ve all been guilty of overusing industry speak—of succumbing to the digital advertising jargon or strategies that everyone is talking about at the moment. But the truth is, when we speak only in terms of things like scalability, relevancy, viewability, and CPI, we lose sight of what we’re actually trying to achieve… and what these metrics really mean.

Understanding the implications of measuring by a single metric

All too often, RFPs come our way that say something along the lines of, “Show us how you can get us 80% viewability on $50,000 on mobile and reach an eCPI below $5.” There are a lot of metrics crammed in there, but no indication of what the client is really looking for as the end goal.

Does the client realize that a CPI goal indicates that we’re guaranteeing an install that can only occur after a download, which happens after a click, which means that an impression was seen? At that point, guaranteeing viewability is superfluous, but it’s put on the plan for the sake of comfort.

As Tommy Boy said, “Here's the way I see it, Ted. Guy puts a fancy guarantee on a box 'cause he wants you to feel all warm and toasty inside.” And that’s exactly it. We’ve lost sight of the purpose of a KPI, a key performance indicator

What do you really want?

The problem with looking at any metric in isolation is that you begin to deprioritize your ultimate objective. Marketers need to define their end goal and work with media providers to determine the best stepping stones to get there. But this whole process needs to start with open communication.

Asking for and paying for viewability without identifying the final goal as being a $50 purchase puts both teams in a bind—buyers can’t optimize toward what works and planners don’t get what they’re ultimately looking for.

Sure, impressions are the top of the funnel, and increasing the number of people that see your ad will boost the chances that the next step in the path to purchase will be realized, but simply asking for a metric doesn’t get anyone where they want to be.

Metrics have a purpose, and a key performance indicator should be just that—an indicator that another action should follow. Understanding the path to purchase for every advertiser—and the logic behind that path—is vital to success on both ends. 

Breaking it down

There are so many areas of our lives where we use KPIs to help us understand progress against an ultimate goal. Think about why this article is even relevant to you and how you got where you are right now… it probably started with wanting a job. You worked on your resume and you were super proud that you sent it out to 20 companies – someone has to bite, right?

Well – think of those 20 resume submissions as impressions. You hope all 20 people read your resume, but the only way to know for sure is some sort of validation: an email or call that it was received. You’re realistic though and you understand it would be unlikely to get 20 responses, so you set a goal for yourself – you really want 3 of those 20 to get back you. You found it: your first KPI. In reaching this moment, you haven’t met your goal, but you know you’re that much closer to getting there.

Now for the big moments… call backs, interviews, coffee dates. Each item feels like a win in the moment, but the reality is that they are all subsequent stepping stones to getting you to that paycheck. You wouldn’t submit your resume to 20 companies in hopes of 3 responses without ultimately wanting a job, so why ask for 70% viewability without explaining that you’re really hoping for a 3% conversion rate on your loyalty program sign-up?

The bottom line

Mini goals are important, they break down large tasks into bite-sized chunks that feel achievable, and therefore are achievable. But metrics are only valuable if you take them at face value and understand how they contribute to your ultimate goal. You know what you’re working toward—whether it’s gaining an email sign-up, an Instagram follower who sees your posts daily, a one-time customer who makes a $20 purchase, or a loyal customer who spends $3 every couple of days at the same coffee joint. Whatever the target objective may be, the most important thing is to make sure that it is universally understood.

It’s time to be open and transparent with your agencies, tech providers, and media companies.

Explain your end goal and the path to purchase your users take. Recognize the value in each individual KPI and listen to feedback from your partnerships if they think you’re looking at the wrong KPI – you hired them for their expertise, after all. There isn’t “one metric to rule them all.” Many things contribute to success, but marketers and media teams need to be aligned on where we’re going in order to achieve it.

LIQUID IS NOW PCH/MEDIA!

LIQUID IS NOW PCH/MEDIA!

 

Publishers Clearing House has long been known as a platform offering a chance to win, but over the last few years it has also gained recognition as a key player in the digital advertising space under the name “Liquid.” Now, in an effort to more closely align PCH’s B2B offering with the rest of the company, we are excited to announce that the Liquid arm of the business is rebranding to PCH/Media.

At a time when advertising technology is becoming increasingly complex and confusing, our goal is to make our B2B brand story and products as simple and straightforward as possible. Our story starts with our audience data, and it’s undeniable that that data comes from PCH’s customer registrations, engagement, and purchase activity. Changing our name to PCH/Media communicates upfront—clearly and simply—who we are and what we do: 

We are from PCH. We offer media solutions.

Finally, you’ll notice that the style and imagery of our new brand looks quite a bit different from before. We are moving away from stock photography and instead relying on photos of diverse groups of people who represent the real experiences of life in America and with our brand. Our data comes from real Americans consumers—PCH members—and our goal is to portray the tangible, human element of this data in contrast with the anonymous, cookie-based data that is so prevalent in market today.  

We are from PCH. We offer media solutions. And our data comes from real, American people.

So what does this mean for you? A cleaner, simpler experience—with the same innovative products, reliable data, and consultative service you’ve come to expect.

Contact us to learn how PCH/Media can help you run more effective campaigns.

DATA WILDCATTING

DATA WILDCATTING

A version of this article also appeared in AdExchanger.

“Smuggle $100 million dollars across borders? A list of email addresses and a thumb drive is the easiest way…” 

The self-made entrepreneur leaned back in his chair with a smile as he said these words to me back in 2012. They were part of an early conversation during my study of the emerging trends of trading first-party data.

The market for customer data is particularly deep and growing, and it has remained my focus over the last several years — first as CEO of CommandIQ, a data platform helping large B2C companies, and now as part of Publishers Clearing House, America’s oldest and most successful direct marketing brand.

A “wildcatter” is oil-slang for someone who drills speculative oil wells, often drilled in areas not known to be oil fields. This term also applies particularly well to the current data world, where publishers have the unprecedented chance to go off the beaten path by discovering new ways to unlock tremendous value from their unexplored data. These trailblazing companies and publishers stand to rise above those who stick to the basics —i.e. the well-established (and significantly more competitive and commoditized) data markets.

Wondering where you can drill to strike it big with your data?  Here’s an overview of the top wildcatting activity happening today.

The Data Landscape

Before considering what assets you have sitting latent in your own databases and records, let’s quickly take a look at how data is being turned into value now, in 2016:

1) Mapping

If two parties collect information—say, information about their customers—there’s a simple, very valuable thing they need to be able to transact: the mapping between their users. If they can provide a link between Company A’s User 123 and Company B’s XYZ, that opens up a whole slew of new insights about that customer on both sides of the equation.

Mapping between email addresses and cookies or mobile advertising identifiers is an early sign of success in this area.

2) Ad Targeting

This one is pretty straightforward. If you know something about User 123, chances are someone else may like to know it, too. Ad targeting capabilities can range from the simple to the complex:

  • [Easy] Male? Let’s not target with a Tampax ad, shall we?
  • [Classic] Customer’s location showed them visiting a car dealer? May be in the market for a new car.
  • [Advanced] Customer has both the Netflix and Hulu apps installed. Cell carrier may want to offer him a better-priced data plan!

3) Panel Data

A complete view of a small group, or panel, of users can help show a larger trend for an overall demographic audience.

There are many different implications here: for example, Facebook acquired a VPN firm that had complete access to 5 million users’ complete mobile phone usage behavior patterns. This acquisition opened up a world of possibilities for Facebook—they can now identify and track quickly growing apps, keep an eye on Snapchat’s penetration, and possibly even verify user engagement as part of the WhatsApp acquisition diligence.

Start Drilling

To get started with your wildcatting efforts, I recommend first assessing the value of your data assets in three simple steps:

  1. Compile a list of what you can (responsibly) collect from your user base.
  2. Determine what is already being collected and is easy to access.
  3. Figure out what you can calculate—what data do you already have saved that could lead to new conclusions?

Now what?

There are a number of marketplace offerings that already aggregate and list first-party data—primarily from the data management platforms (DMPs) led by Krux, Lotame, and Oracle’s BlueKai. These all tend to focus explicitly on ad targeting as a method of value creation. Using these platforms, it’s a relatively straightforward process to publish your own first-party segments for sale in the wider marketplace (e.g. a “Video Lovers” segment made up of those who installed Netflix and Hulu apps from the example above).

Unlike oil, however, data has a unique challenge: its marginal cost to sell is zero.  So if you and I provide the same data—we can each undercharge the other to gain market share, until there’s no profit left at all.  At brief moments in history, oil had a similar dynamic—too much supply,  and too few barrels and pipelines to move it all—leaving surplus oil to go to waste, released at the well.

As more data hits the markets, the cheapest data will win—unless your data is particularly unique. Data’s hyperinflation is still new, and its effects have yet to play out in the market.

So, data wildcatters: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Find what is novel, compelling, and rare about your data—and find the precise set of buyers for whom your data can unlock a unique edge. Or, if you have the appetite—and aren’t looking for more than purely incremental revenue—add your data to the evolving commodity markets and see what happens.

Buckle up: it’s still the Wild West of drilling for data. But it won’t always be.

Learn how to make the most out of your data—or how to use ours to boost your digital advertising returns. Contact us.

5 THINGS YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT DATA—BUT YOU SHOULD

5 THINGS YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT DATA—BUT YOU SHOULD

A version of this article first appeared on CMO.com.

As data and targeting have continued to steamroll their way to the top of every marketer’s priority list over the past year, there is more scrutiny than ever around the information being bought, sold, and targeted against.

This is a good sign for improving data quality in the long term, but marketers still need to err on the side of caution when buying and using data—especially if it is not their own. It is important to know the red flags to look out for so you can identify them when they inevitably appear.

With that in mind, here are five things you probably don’t know about data—but you really should:

1. The value of third-party data you’re buying is likely out of whack.

I remember testing a sample of gender data from a leading DMP to find out that it was only 33% accurate when targeting either male or female. With stories like this becoming the rule rather than the exception, marketers are getting increasingly disenfranchised by the third-party data marketplaces that have reigned supreme for so long.

Questionable collection and ownership, inaccurate information, and lack of performance once a data set is targeted have spurred the movement to walled garden environments like Facebook and Google, but something else is happening too: Publishers are offering up their own valuable CRM data as an alternative to the subpar segments available in market—not to mention the additional revenue it puts in their pockets.

Expect this trend to continue in 2016 as more pubs take control and more marketers look elsewhere for data sets.

2. The cross-device data you target against is directionally correct.

The proliferation of smartphones and cross-device interest has finally reached a tipping point. Probabilistic matching across devices is in every ad technology toolbox and, in some cases, can provide great value.

At the same time, advertisers are entrusting millions of dollars to companies that claim to know users based on information that is directionally correct. Companies that are transparent will ultimately prevail— but only if CMOs stay informed about how data sets are collected and modeled in order to make big assumptions in the most accurate manner.

3. Email is more valuable than mobile IDs or cookies.

The right email address can transform the accuracy and impact of targeting in immensely valuable ways. Environments like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and LiveIntent all target based on email and have garnered significant praise from advertisers due to the quality of their performance.

Also consider that, as the marketplace shifts more toward mobile, the consistency of email provides a baseline for marketers to build upon. For instance, in the past nine years, I’ve had at least five new devices, each with a new device ID, but I’ve carried one, maybe two, email addresses during that time. Device turnover, especially in the US, is not slowing.

Expect the increased use of email-based advertiser CRM data to separate high-value market opportunities dramatically in the next twelve months.

4. More targeting is not always better targeting.

I recently had a client inquire about targeting against females who were ages 35-54, had made a purchase on an iOS device in the past 30 days, identified as mothers, and lived in three separate zip codes.

Remember, just because one-to-one marketing is starting to be possible, it does not mean that is where we should always hang our hat. Look-a-like models, cohort testing, and channel experience can provide marketers with more reach and is an alternative means to finding new converters rather than going really granular on a perceived behavior or demographic set. The most important thing a marketer can do is test, test, and test some more.

5. First-party data is king… but you can’t win the battle with that alone.

In a 2015 study conducted by Winterberry Group in conjunction with the IAB, 41.7% of marketers cited that more first-party data would significantly advance efforts to achieve competitive advantage through the use of data to support media. While that seems obvious, it also clearly denotes that marketers don’t feel they have enough first-party data, even if it is showing success in their current endeavors. Select third-party data providers and recent first-party data co-ops have a real place in this market to ensure the success of advertising performance.

There will never be “enough” data, so advertisers must look to model via external partners or internal investments in talent and tools to increase the scale of their valuable information living in-house.

From AOL’s investment in Taboola and Time’s acquisition of Viant to Media Math’s spinout of Helix and Kochava’s Collective—expect more advertiser and publisher first-party data initiatives, investments, and talent acquisitions to be a key theme as everyone looks to navigate a very rapidly and continuously changing digital advertising ecosystem.

Want to learn how to get the most out of data in your digital advertising efforts? Get in touch!

2016: THE YEAR OF TALENT?

2016: THE YEAR OF TALENT?

In an industry like advertising—specifically advertising technology—where the only constant is change, it’s incredibly difficult to find talent with actual experience. Even if you’ve been in digital marketing for years, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you know the ins and outs of the tech and execution strategies that are hot this quarter, or even month. One of the core challenges currently facing any company in this space is the constant struggle to find, train, and keep real talent. This phenomenon begs the question: is this The Year of Talent?

In the current climate of hyper-changing workplaces and potentially under-qualified candidates, we’re all competing for the same pool. What’s the best strategy to hiring and retaining a team in an ever-evolving, overly competitive, and fragmented market?

Here are some of the most successful recruiting tactics that have worked for me, time and again:

1. Divide your recruiting plan into two parts: seasoned experts and personality rock stars.

  • Seasoned experts: Look for someone with 3+ years in the industry, who understands the concepts and inner workings of combining tech and creative advertising. Three years might not seem like much—but it’s enough in this space to differentiate for this type of role. Don’t anticipate these candidates coming on board with 100% one-to-one knowledge of your business, but do expect them to get up to speed quickly and become leaders within your group as they help to develop new ideas and concepts off of their baseline knowledge.
  • Personality rock stars: Look for go-getters. These are people with personalities that are passionate, interested, curious, organized, excitable, and personable. They will come on board totally green to our industry lingo and concepts, but they’ll work their tails off to learn quickly and bring outside perspective to your team. They’re also typically competitive and are going to give 200% until they feel like they are on a knowledge par with your seasoned experts—and then they’ll keep giving 200% until they get your job.

2. Invest in training.

For this, I don’t mean a four-week classroom program with a test at the end. You need to have a multifaceted approach that teaches hard and soft skills.

  • Assign a buddy. Have new hires shadow another team member on and off during their first few weeks on the job, listening on calls and in meetings. The only way to really learn in this space is to listen and experience.
  • Let them own something right off the bat. They will likely mess up in some way, but they will learn much more quickly than if you hand hold them for too long.
  • Give them training materials for hard skills. Teach them how to calculate impressions off of CPM and revenue—without an internet-sourced impression calculator. If they’re one of your “personality rockstars,” have them do a Google certification or something similar, even if it isn’t exactly what they’ll be doing day-to-day—the baseline knowledge and concepts will be invaluable as they get up to speed.
  • Get them in-market. Talking to other industry folks is the fastest way to have them hit that “aha!” moment where they actually understand what’s going on around them. Bring them along for a vendor meeting or to a low-cost show where they can start to network, but be prepared to help them out with some contacts and meetings.

3. Recognize their value.

You spent valuable resources looking for these people and training them—you need to respect, develop, and appreciate them to keep them around. This market is fickle and it’s easy to lose all that investment to the guy next door who offers a pay bump and a “Senior” at the beginning of their title.

  • Create a growth path. Take the time to sit down with your team members on at least a quarterly basis to set their long-term goals—and create a plan to help them get there. Because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all package for keeping everyone engaged at work, you need to approach each individual’s growth plan differently, based on their unique goals and motivators.
  • Build a culture of accountability. Make sure that everyone knows what they are on the hook for and hold them accountable for it—they will feel motivated to succeed and rewarded when they nail it.
  • Know the difference between office face time and work. Flexibility in work hours and location is table stakes at this point. You need to be willing to be flexible on in-office hours in order to keep top performers, but this only works if you successfully create a culture of accountability first. Your willingness to be flexible also demonstrates trust—an intangible yet invaluable attribute for any team and organization.

4. Stay relevant.

This market is ever-changing, right? Make sure your strategy keeps up.

  • Build short and long term strategies.We all have to keep the lights on, so it’s important to divide focus between short-term gains that maintain cash flow and long-term strategies that require investment now for large future opportunities. Be clear about who is focusing on each area and how they interrelate. Review these strategies regularly to make sure you’re on the right track.
  • Be transparent with the company on what those strategies are. Having a plan doesn’t help in this case unless everyone knows what your plan is. Make sure you clearly communicate the overarching direction and goals to the entire organization—and keep them updated as those plans change (because they will).

Quality & Scale Earn Us a Top Spot in Appsflyer Index

Quality & Scale Earn Us a Top Spot in Appsflyer Index

AppsFlyer just released its most recent Performance Index, offering insights into the performance of mobile media sources for H1 (January to June) 2016. Ranking over 1,000 sources by region and platform, the Index is a highly regarded resource for data-driven marketers looking for the smartest ways to allocate their ad spend.

With a focus on driving quality installs at scale, Liquid (now PCH/Media) is proud to have earned top spots in AppsFlyer’s gaming and non-gaming Power Rankings for North America.

Using retention and scale to determine its rankings, this edition of the index highlights the industry’s shift from acquisition to engagement—and also explains the significant number of newcomers to the list. As market dynamics change, so does the efficacy of media sources. AppsFlyer’s report points out that marketers need to be ever-vigilant about monitoring performance of existing partners and remain open to testing new ones to ensure the best results.

Here’s a quick look at how Liquid stacks up:

  • Gaming in North America: Android: Top 15 / iOS: Top 25
  • Non-Gaming in North America: Android: Top 15 / iOS: Top 20

See the full report here.

Want to learn how to access Liquid’s exclusive inventory of loyal and engaged users? Get in touch!

The Sales Funnel is Dead

The Sales Funnel is Dead

A version of this article first appeared in Ad Age.

A few weeks ago, I was at work when I remembered that my coffeemaker had been making weird noises and doing a less than stellar job of producing a perfect cup. While I was thinking about it, I took a break from checking email to run a quick search on my laptop for “best coffee makers.” I read a couple reviews and browsed a few models before determining that, really, I needed to see them in person to decide which option was best.

On my commute that evening, I was greeted by an ad showcasing a variety of shiny chrome models similar to the ones I had been browsing earlier. By the time I got home, I had vowed to head to the store that weekend to check out my options in person. Ironically, once there, I spent half the time on my phone comparing prices and searching for coupons. While I stood there in the aisle, I decided to order my coffeemaker from a different (less expensive) store when I got home—from the comfort of my couch, on my laptop.

Almost exactly where I had started this whole process.

What Funnel?

You probably recognize this chain of events. My search for a new coffeemaker brought me from laptop, to phone, to store, to phone, and back to laptop before I finally pushed the “Buy” button.

People say the sales funnel is changing—that, in today’s digital world, the way customers buy is no longer a simple path from awareness to prospect to sale.

That’s just not true. The sales funnel isn’t changing – it’s completely and utterly dead. It’s been brutally turned upside down, inside out, with little left to identify it as the clean, straightforward process it once represented.

Today’s shopper jumps in and out of channels, views alternatives to purchases, and searches for better deals—all at the tap of a screen, the click of a button, and oftentimes while standing right in front of the item she’s trying to buy. She doesn’t predictably slide through the funnel, ushered along by our linear marketing messages. Instead, she more closely resembles a ball in a pinball machine, firing off a bunch of different pegs on the way down, sometimes shooting back up to the top of the ramp before ultimately finding her way to a purchase. She continues to move toward a sale, but it’s hard to predict where the bouncing will take her.

If it was difficult to influence a shopper’s buying decision before, today’s landscape makes it nearly impossible.

Making Sense of the Madness

More options around when, where, and how to buy have not only given consumers incredible control—they have also made competition among retailers increasingly brutal. In order to compete in the fragmented ecosystem, marketers need to understand the modified path to purchase and reframe their strategy to make their dollars work harder and smarter.

The first step is to begin thinking in terms of people, rather than platforms. Marketers need to be ready with a holistic message that can be seen by consumers wherever they are, at any given time, agnostic to the platform or device they’re currently using. Centralized marketing teams need to be able to look at campaigns across all touch points, identifying how each peg in the pinball machine contributed (or not) to the sale at the end.

Sound easier said than done? That’s where data comes in.

How Data Holds it All Together

Data is the master campaign unifier, and it’s the best way to maximize marketing spend in the current funnel-less phenomenon. But you can’t just use any data—it needs to be intent-based, and it needs to be good.

Right now, almost everyone is buying data from the exact same places and using it in very similar ways, resulting in oversaturation of ads for the online consumer, with increasingly disparate results. Most of this data comes from third-party companies who track consumers as cookies across an aggregate of websites. For a number of reasons, this type of third-party data is less reliable and less effective than its counterpart, first-party data.

First-party data, collected by a company directly from its own customers, not only provides more accurate ad targeting—it also offers fresh new insights not available from the overused alternatives on the market. First-party data that also gives marketers inside information into what consumers want—what their intentions are, what their future actions will likely be—is the secret to creating unified campaigns that reach shoppers with the right message, at each and every touch point on their pinball path to purchase.

We may have lost the predictability of the sales funnel, but what we’ve gained is much more valuable—more opportunities to connect with future customers than ever before.

Let’s make the most of them.

Spotlight on: Aaron Olmstead, Head of Engineering

Spotlight on: Aaron Olmstead, Head of Engineering

This article first appeared on CTO Corner, a series of interviews with heads of engineering written by Leo Meira, a software engineer at Jebbit.

Leo spoke with Aaron Olmstead, the head of engineering and product at Liquid (now PCH/Media). They discussed the difference between engineering at a large company and a startup, what makes an ad tech leader, and when to build things in-house versus outsourcing.

How did you get into engineering?

I did a couple programming workshops when I was a kid. Those were pretty neat and I got the bug to want my own computer. I got a Commodore 64 when I was a eight or nine, and when I got to high school I took some computer science courses. Then majored in that in college, and here I am.

In the past eight years, I’ve been in ad tech, mostly at startups. Publishers Clearing House (PCH) is a slightly different situation, where I work for Liquid, which is the digital advertising part of PCH. It’s a great opportunity to have a startup culture within the stability a bigger organization gives you.

I’ve been at a bunch of startups and a few larger companies. It’s been useful to see both sides of that. They have very different ways of operating. It’s good to be able to adapt to that change.

Is being head of engineering more difficult at a startup or at a large company?

After Fiksu, I had my own startup that I tried to get off the ground for a couple years. That was a tremendous learning experience, to get exposed to the other parts of business that you don’t get as a engineer. I learned how to write contracts, what an LLC means in the state of Massachusetts, and how to do sales (though not very well!). That’s something I don’t get as much at a company like PCH, where I work more with my team and HR and develop growth plans. But, it’s not like you’re learning more at one than another; you’re just learning different things.

What are the overall challenges of being a department head at a tech company?

There’s stuff that transcends the size of the company. Once you’re more than three or four people, you see tough things like getting the business side to engage with the technology and getting the business aligned with upfront engineering costs. Unless you’re working for someone straight out of engineering, you run into issues like once a platform is built, they think you’re done. But really, once you build a piece of software, you’re married to it.

Then there’s stuff unique to ad tech in particular. This transcends big companies and small companies. This industry is dominated by Google and Apple and Facebook — any one of them can make a decision that completely changes the competitive landscape overnight. As a CTO, you’re always balancing between building out particular business relationships and the technology stack, versus diversifying, to prepare you for these changes.

What would you say are major changes you made to positively impact Liquid?

I’m cynical and experienced enough that I am less excited about writing code for the sake of just writing code. I try to get us to think more deliberately about things like when is it time to build a solution versus buy it off the shelf. When I came on, we were about to build a giant software stack that did all the same stuff as all the other ad stacks I’ve worked on. So I said, what do we do at PCH that’s unique to us? Is this huge initiative worth it, that’s going to eat up a bunch of resources to not build anything truly unique? Or do we want to build something out based on our unique longstanding data capabilities, granting sweepstakes rewards, and things like that that only PCH can offer? We built services to handle the unique PCH business rules, and integrated those with commodity, ad serving and mediation platforms, which means we built out a lot less software, but it’s far more robust and scalable than what we had before, and has far more unique offerings than things we could have gotten just off the shelf.

Was it hard for your team to make the change of stepping back and realizing things didn’t need to be built in-house?

There was friction, but I think it helps to be able to paint decisions like this in a revenue and cost basis. So, you’re saying, “Here’s what it takes the engineering team to maintain this stack we’ve built, here’s what we’d need to hire to build this other thing, and here’s the opportunity cost of it all.” You go around and gather support one person at a time and try to paint the picture that it’s better for the overall business.

As you build new products and features, how do you get feedback from account management, sales, marketing, and other teams back to the engineering department?

That’s a really good question. It can be hard to get engineers to give a damn about anything that’s not code. One thing you can do is to make sure that engineers actually see the results of the changes that they make. Data about campaign performance, revenue, impression volumes, margins and all that stuff. Engineers tend to like games, so when you give them a tight feedback loop with the visualization of this information, and the changes they make to their systems, and how those impact monetization, it becomes a game. You engage the engineers that way, and they tend to like seeing it and pay attention.

One of the other things, just to be clear, is that I don’t think it’s possible to get all the knowledge from Ad Ops teams, from sales, and from marketing to the engineering team. I think sometimes there can be a chip on the shoulder of engineers, in that they think they can know everything, but there’s so much knowledge in the heads of ad ops people and sales people that you could never fit all that, plus all the systems knowledge they already have, in the engineers’ brains! We should work with ad ops and understand that it’s really hard. We’re setting up an ad ops boot camp for new ad ops hires but also for engineers and product so they can sit in the ad ops chair and learn about how people use the tools that my teams build. It’s easy for us to think that we’re the only ones at the company with hard jobs because we have to get up in the middle of the night to fix servers that are melting down, but getting your hands dirty and operating an ad campaign can help. It shows that different teams are all really smart.

To make that communication happen effectively and reliably, everyone needs to have the respect of their peers. You can’t have engineers saying we’re the smartest people and ad ops saying engineers never build the tools we want — that can spiral. That’s why I make sure our teams are all talking to one another.

What would you say makes an innovative leader in mar tech and ad tech?

What I’ve come to learn over my time doing this is that a lot of this is about, as simple as it sounds, paying attention to the market. It’s about using data that’s relevant to your business, tracking it obsessively, and using those data to adjust what you’re doing. A lot of people come in having an ideological agenda and use that to drive decisions in the face of all the evidence, trying to predict where the market will be in three years. Instead, you need to experiment, iterate, and correct your strategies. You’ve got to figure out not just where the opportunities are, but also: what are the kinds of business problems that automation is really effective at solving? What can we build that makes people able to get their work done faster?

We’re coming out of a long period of ad tech where people assumed that hiring lots of CS PhDs and building out these big machine learning systems was going to be the answer to everyone’s problems. Now we see some of those companies crashing because they invested more in the notion of building really exciting software than in offering a useful service to customers that offers good value. There’s a growing understanding that machine learning on its own is not a panacea, especially in a space that changes as quickly as this one. The kinds of things humans are good at—using intuition, and using knowledge aggregated from a ton of different domains to make quick changes without a lot of data—are complementary to a lot of what software can do, but not necessarily the kinds of skills that AI can come close to replacing.

Do you think the rapid increase of new companies is healthy for the ad tech space?

I think competition is always healthy for the space. One thing we’re seeing in ad tech in particular is that venture money has become more reluctant to invest heavily in ad tech because it’s become overcapitalized. You’re seeing some bigger and more longstanding companies refocus from rapid growth to sustained profitability, and some people from those companies go out and do their own thing. The more competition you see, the more innovation you’re going to see, because there are zillions of different ways to solve the challenges in the space, and everyone comes at it with different backgrounds and skillsets. Someone with a background building DSPs is going to approach a problem very differently than someone with a background in choosing ad networks to integrate, versus someone with a background in running campaigns.

Do you have any advice for founders?

That’s the thing that’s hardest about starting a tech company—you need to very quickly figure out all of those things. You need a crash course in different business models, different kinds of contracts, figuring out how to sell if you haven’t before, how to negotiate, and you have to recognize when you know enough about running ad campaigns and when you don’t, and then you need to find people who complement that. You have to get people with really specific skills.

I highly recommend that anybody interested in the business aspect of whatever tech space they’re in try to start their own company at some point. Mine wasn’t successful, but what I learned was invaluable.

Where do you think tech is heading?

That’s kind of the zillion dollar question, right? One of the things I’ve learned in my career is that no one knows. We’re getting better about figuring out the spaces where automation, crowdsourcing, and AI are good at solving problems.

I would have been flabbergasted if five years ago someone had said, we’re going to see proliferation of self-driving cars on the roads way before AI is good at targeting ads. But that’s where I think we are now. Tech innovation can be very hard to predict.

So you see things like the spread of facial recognition in social media, and the potential for leaking PII in ad targeting and big data systems, where people can end up using those tools and techniques to do things that, depending on your point of view, might not make the world a better place. We as technologists have a ton of responsibilities that we tend to wash our hands of, saying, it’s not my decision, I just make my code and don’t tell people what to do with it. But without us, some of these issues couldn’t happen. I’d like to see us try harder to avoid hubris, to be aware of what people could potentially do with our tools, and to ask questions like “can I build my ad targeting system in a way that it’s just not possible to leak PII?” Rather than assuming that if some bad actor uses our tools to do sketchy stuff it’s not our problem, can we bake things into the tech itself to ensure it can only be used on the up-and-up? (PCH does some of this with our audience systems, by the way, which I’m really proud of.) It may be a stretch to think about Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics in the context of ad targeting, but I think we as engineers can do more than we do, and I’d like to see us, as a profession, think about how our tools might get used a lot more than we do.