There’s been a lot of activity of late within the ad tech space, such as Google ad targeting and privacy data changes in addition to inventory changes and how media buyers purchase ads programmatically. With this in mind, we spoke to one of ad tech’s leading experts Rebecca Ackers, head of seller, UK and Nordics at Rubicon Project to discuss the latest opportunities and challenges emerging in the industry. In addition, we also discuss Rubicon Project’s new product tool (Demand Manager) views on programmatic in-housing and Ackers involvement with Bloom UK to help women become more present on the wider industry stage.

First of all, could you tell us a bit about your background in ad tech and current role at Rubicon Project?

Rebecca Ackers: I gained my first experience of programmatic advertising at an independent trading desk, and since then programmatic is all I’ve ever known in my professional career. After this, I moved on to Google, where I was an account manager for Invite Media (later to become DoubleClick Bid Manager), and then took my first bit of agency experience at Neo@Ogilvy. 

There, I helped on-board Neo as one of the first UK beta test partners for Google’s then-new DoubleClick Bid Manager. While rolling out training programmes for Neo’s global team and also Oglivy’s Asian teams, I trained media planners on how to plan direct-to-spend alongside programmatic, as well as DSP set-up, optimisation and reporting. 
Fast forward to now, I am head of seller, UK and Nordics at Rubicon Project. That means it’s my job to grow Rubicon Project’s UK and Nordic seller team, empowering them to be industry experts. Day to day, this translates into a lot more face time at internal and external events, such as industry-wide panels and presentations hosted by Rubicon Project. Other than in the literal sense, I really do feel like the role puts me centre stage of the industry.

There’s been a lot of activity within the ad tech space that’s impacting both advertisers and publishers such as Google’s privacy updates and the constant changes to how programmatic inventory is handled. What sort of opportunities and challenges have you come across at the helm?

RA: The key challenge that we’ve seen as an industry over the last 24 months or so is that of transparency and collaboration. The need for transparency in the programmatic supply chain has come through many forms: DSPs understanding what type of auction they are participating in as the industry has migrated to a first priced world, buyers knowing what fees are being charged throughout the chain, and sellers getting comprehensive performance insights. Both transparency and collaboration are key to the future of a healthy programmatic marketplace and there’s an opportunity here for our community to work more closely together. 

Initiatives such as the Principles for a Better Programmatic Marketplace, signed by six SSPs last year, and the IAB UK Gold Standard are good first steps to organisations collaborating. As we look to solve for complexity in the marketplace, it’s important that we’re focused on open source technology and the tools that can simplify working with this tech.

Speaking of programmatic, the IAB recently found that 86% of brands that buy ads programmatically in Europe are adopting programmatic in-housing. What are your thoughts on this and why is this becoming an industry trend?

RA: Advertisers are looking at in-housing their programmatic activity for a number of reasons, including potential cost savings and getting more transparency into the programmatic supply chain. As I mentioned before, transparency is the key point here. 
To maintain advertisers’ trust and to promote a healthy future, it’s important that our programmatic community collaborates on key initiatives like the IAB UK Gold Standard, open source header bidding solutions and ads.txt/ads.cert. As they start moving more in-house, the result is that brands have a lot more help to call on today – their agencies, consultancies and exchanges like Rubicon Project, which have specific teams that consult with the buy side to educate on key market trends.

This brings us nicely to the next question. Rubicon Project has just launched its Demand Manager, which introduces prebid header bidding solutions as a service for publishers. Will this tool aid in overcoming some of the industry challenges faced by publishers seeking appropriate revenue streams? 

RA: Absolutely – the world of header bidding has so far been a very complex one for publishers. It’s this complexity that we really wanted to help publishers overcome with Demand Manager, which is a suite of programmatic tools built on top of the industry-leading open source header bidding solution, 

Since launching, our current beta clients agree that this prebid-based platform relinquishes dependence on internal and external developers, handing control of programmatic business back to publishers. With this control, faster, better decisions can be made aimed at capturing more revenue. In the same breath, Demand Manager helps publishers save time and money on the technical complexities of deploying, configuring and optimising their header. In other words, by doing the technical heavy lifting, Rubicon Project allows publishers to focus on running their business. 

You’re also part of Bloom UK, a professional network for women in communications. There’s been a lot of discussion around diversity in the industry with businesses helping individuals become more present on the wider stage. As a leading woman in ad tech, do you think we’re making the right steps in supporting a more balanced and thriving sector?

RA: In the past few years I think a lot has changed for the better in the industry. Alongside Bloom UK, there are a growing number of groups and initiatives in support of diversity in ad tech, such as WiQ and the Adtech Inclusion Summit. This shows that perhaps the biggest step towards inclusion that we’ve taken as an industry so far is a cultural one – and I think this is really key. 

For example, at this year’s Ad Week I was lucky enough to attend the Grazia and WACL Culture & Commerce Luncheon, which looked at how work patterns, especially for women, are changing and how our aim is for happiness and personal fulfilment at work. Well, I can’t agree more, and I think the industry should be proud of promoting work values that speak to a much wider, less traditional audience. 

Lastly, with nearly the first half of the year done, what are you most looking forward to in the second half of 2019?

RA: In the next year it will be my job to oversee the rollout of Demand Manager in the UK and Nordics, which I am really excited about. Rubicon Project has already had great feedback on this new suite of tools, and I can’t wait to continue helping publishers take back control of their programmatic business.
On a more personal note, as a new member of Bloom UK, I’m looking forward to connecting further with women in the industry. I feel I have a lot to share in terms of how women can build their strengths and skills, and how the industry as a whole should be driving equal opportunities for women. It’s going to be really exciting to be at the heart of difficult conversations, which the industry needs to address. In fact, I think some of the upcoming events and workshops that Bloom UK are running will be the highlights of my 2019.