Agile advertising and trailblazing in adtech
November 16, 2021 | By: Brendan Flaherty, Writer, Brand Content
Megan Pagliuca, Omnicom Media Group (OMG)’s Chief Activation Officer, has long been a trailblazer in tech. When she was a freshman at the University of San Diego, other students came to her to fix their computers. Her expertise caught the attention of the university’s IT organization, who quickly hired her. Though she was a computer science student then, she’d already begun to find that field “a little lonely.”
“At that time, I was the only woman, and it wasn’t very social—I missed the people,” she says. What was more interesting to her than the technology alone, she realized, was its impact on society, and especially where it intersected with business.
Immediately after college, she went to earn her master’s in e-commerce, and afterward moved to New York City, where she interviewed at a number of martech and adtech companies.
“I didn’t know anyone in this space then, or have a mentor,” she says. “So, I had to find my way by asking a lot of questions and doing my research.” Nearly 40 meetings with different companies led her to a role at Right Media, which was acquired by Yahoo! in 2006. Megan joined the Yahoo! team, and later moved to Merkle, where she was the General Manager Digital Media. She next served as the CEO of OMG’s Accuen, and then Chief Media & Data Officer at Hearts & Science, before starting in her current role.
Though she entered the industry not knowing anyone, she remains close to many of the colleagues she’s worked with since she started. That fact is reflected in the best advice she’s ever been given—build your brain trust.
“Having a strong support system of former bosses, subject matter experts, and people that have helped mentor me over the last 15 or so years has been so important,” she says. “Whatever challenge or crisis I’m going through, I can tap into the collective wisdom of some really smart people. And I think that same advice applies to building great teams.”
How can brands build great teams?
It’s easy to hire someone that you relate to, someone that’s just like you. It’s harder to hire people that are different. I think that is one of the broader challenges that we’re trying to solve as an industry. But it’s so important, because you need that diversity of opinion, and the perspectives of people that are smarter than you are in a range of different areas—in order to get the right output.
Early in my career, I saw leadership that was homogenous. And being a woman, it was harder to be successful in those organizations, especially as you move up the ranks. I do think it’s been improving over time, and we’re making progress. Right now, the team I have is the strongest team I’ve ever had in my career. I owe a lot of credit for that to my manager, who is somebody who thinks really differently, and has fostered a unique and welcoming way of working.
How can brands best work with influencers?
Over the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of influencers and the creator economy. It’s as if a new channel emerged for building brands and driving sales. But how that channel has operated mostly has been that brands would choose an influencer to team up with based on feelings. It wasn’t very data driven. I’m proud of the way we now approach influencer marketing, because we believe our clients should think about it as its own media channel, rather than a disconnected PR initiative.
To make discovery of the right influencer a more data-driven process, that means using first-party insights, and looking horizontally across social to understand which macro- and micro-influencers would be the best fit for a specific campaign objective. In short, we’ve evolved our approach to how brands can work with influencers overall.
At the same time, we’re working with the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) to certify diverse creators, in order to open greater access for them to significant brand dollars. For our clients, this opens a net-new opportunity for diverse investment. Through our Diverse Creators Network, we support funding for certification and offer education and support to get certified. So, we’re excited, because we see it as a win for everyone involved.
How has programmatic advertising evolved?
When I started at Right Media, that was really the launch of the first advertising exchange and also the beginning of real-time bidding (RTB). The language was a little different then, but it was the first demand-side platform (DSP) and supply-side platform (SSP). Then I went to Merkle, which, at that time, was more a database marketing agency, before it turned into a customer relationship management (CRM) agency.
In those places, I developed my skillsets and understanding in programmatic and the use of first-party datasets. I was at the intersection of those key things. Since then, I’ve spent many years working with clients on how to organize and own their first-party assets. I’ve also worked with them on how to use the best approach to media buying, an example being data-driven buying, through DSPs, rather than buying from ad networks, which aren’t as effective at engaging consumers.
It took a lot of learning, but the future is now, and here we are today. The way our agencies buy is programmatic first. And programmatic continues to evolve. A major focus area is, of course, the shift from linear to Connected TV (CTV). It’s exciting to finally be in a place where our planning is CTV first.
How do you think about branding and performance?
I think all branding is performance. They used to say, in the earlier days of programmatic, that third-party insights only work for brand; they don’t work for direct response (DR). My point was always: If we have brands use it, then we should have DR marketers test it first, because then we know it’s going to work. That approach has become more of the standard today.
And what we’re seeing now is that some of the largest companies in the world, who have brand-building legacies, are saying that they’re focused on performance. So, that’s been a shift. To be honest, in some cases, there was a lack of accountability with brand budgets, which just should not be the case.