All things programmatic, ad tech & digital with Heath Irving, Head of Programmatic and Partnerships, ANZ, Unruly
With strong relationships throughout the industry, Head of Programmatic and Partnerships at Unruly, Heath Irving has built a reputation for his knowledge across the programmatic sphere. Here we talk to him about his journey, how it has developed his knowledge of the industry and the insight he’ll share at the 2020 Summit.
GS: I’m here talking to Heath Irving, head of programmatic with Unruly. Welcome Heath.
HI: Hi there
Q: Heath, from the humble beginnings as an Ad Op executive with Yahoo! right up to your current role as Head of Programmatic with Unruly, your decade-long journey positions you as a leader in the industry. Tell me about your most exciting times over those years and what still excites you about the industry today.
A: It’s funny, because it’s such a small industry to be working in, particularly in programmatic. I think what has really stood out over the years is the relationships you end up building. It’s so great, you know, when you have worked around the traps over the years. It’s funny, people end up popping up when you least expect it, plus you never really know who’s going to be around the next corner. But the most appealing thing about digital media for me and programmatic in general is just the constant rate of change.
I believe if you’re not a big fan of change, then this industry is really not the right fit for you. I look back at the last 10 years, and it sounds like such a long time for me. But every place I look back at that I previously worked is now a completely different business to what it used to be. Some of those businesses have merged and some do different things. So, as the digitisation or automation of our industry has gone forward that pressure to adapt to the changing ecosystem particularly with the rise of the walled gardens, etc, is seeing a lot of consolidation. But, with change comes opportunity, and I’m really excited to see what 2020 and beyond brings not only for Unruly and our clients, but also the industry itself. We’re only a few weeks into the new year, but we’re already seeing some big news coming in, whether it’s Chrome’s recent update or the recent number of mergers and acquisitions in our space as well.
Q: Your work in video advertising with Fairfax Media took place when consumers were still getting used to the rise in digital advertising. Now programmatic video turns up virtually everywhere we look. What advancements do you foresee in the video domain from both a buying and selling perspective?
A: One of the main opportunities for me, particularly in online video, is around Connected TV. I’ve worked agency side with many brands and clients and TV still gets the lion’s share of the marketing budgets. But now we’re seeing more and more of the eyeballs moving away from traditional viewing, so I believe there’s going to be more spend, investment and energy naturally moving into this space. I foresee a lot more of the kind of service from overseas companies, whether it’s in Europe or the US – where it’s specialised and a more mature market to start with – taking a lot more interest in Australia.
Our current ecosystem is still kind of fragmented, so I see things like the introduction of header bidding in Connected TV would open up demand for buyers more holistically. What’s interesting is that you’ve got regulatory intervention on the horizon and there’s a couple of challenges that are still around with targeting, measurement and attribution, I therefore see the opportunity particularly around this space for those who can best provide quality inventory at scale whilst also taking what I just spoke about into account, and importantly, making it available to buyers in their own terms. We do however need to be careful that we don’t just create another bunch of walled gardens around the CTV industry. So it’s an exciting space and I believe this year might be the year of Connected TV. But we’ll have to see how we go!.
Q: In your mind, how are things like connected TV & programmatic audio, such digital radio and podcasting taking over traditional ad networks, and what effect, if any, will they have on the population’s feelings about their expanded loss of quiet time? i.e., Are we having any effect on the population’s privacy or lost thereof?
A: I think it’s a really interesting one. The notion of the digitisation of these traditional channels has forced these businesses to evolve with their audiences and it’s with these technologies where the consumer is moving a little bit quicker than the actual channel itself. Those operating in this space had to be really agile and quick to keep up with where the eyeballs are going. We’re past the notion of audiences moving online and consumers, particularly younger audiences who have only ever known Netflix and Spotify, are not as accepting of understanding the trade-off between how advertising actually pays for the amazing content that they have available to them.
So to ensure the best user experience it comes back to making sure that the ads are in the right place at the right time using the right audience and that should offset any negative sentiment. So it will be interesting to see where we go with those different models. But, that is definitely a consideration with these kinds of emerging channels. Asking the questions – What is the right business model around that? Is it in the subscription model? Is it a freemium model? Is it a mixture of both?
We’re still working out what works best for different consumers. The suggestion of giving consumers a choice as to what they want is probably not a bad idea either.
Q: On the flipside of what’s on the rise, are there any ad tech practices or platforms that you view as dinosaurs destined for extinction?
A: Haha! I think you know with the recent news from Chrome making that decision to ‘sunset’ third-party cookies – that kind of laid down the gauntlet. We’ve got two years before it happens, so obviously any ad tech businesses where their USP revolves around targeting or tracking or attribution around these third-party data sources presents a huge challenge. But I’m a big believer that change presents opportunity and I believe there will be a lot of clients looking for guidance around how best to navigate these complexities. Particularly, look at what’s happening in the EU, UK, and US around privacy and regulation, you know third-party data on tracking becomes less effective. Brands are looking for partners that they can not only leverage their first-party data with, but also scale it out to achieve a more holistic view of their consumers. Despite some of the legal and technical challenges, we’ll see the emergence of new businesses and consent management platforms will emerge with the data management platforms to become more prevalent as marketers look to marry up the two. Managing that kind of consent management platform with the audiences that you have built up – that’s something particularly in Australia, we haven’t had to deal with at the moment. This therefore opens up new opportunities for new businesses to come in and solve different challenges that no one has been able to plan for. So like I said, every challenge or change presents a new opportunity and this is certainly the case here.
That’s the biggest thing about this industry. So much of this is just going with what’s in front of us because there’s been no track record or anything we can look back at and learn from. It’s critical that businesses focus on the opportunities rather than the challenges.
Q: So, Heath, you’ll be at the Sydney Programmatic Summit this year. I understand you’ll be hosting a panel of expert speakers. Can you give us a clue as to what attendees can expect?
A: Yeah for sure. We have a fantastic session lined up. As I mentioned, we’re only a few weeks in and 2020 has already been a big year for ad tech. It’s a very interesting and challenging time. We’ve seen so much change and disruption with the industry further consolidating and the threat of the regulators moving in. So, the theme of the panel is to give the audience a perspective from all sides of the industry on what opportunities are in digital and programmatic as we move into 2020 and beyond. We’ve lined up some awesome talent on our panel. We’ve got marketers from some big brands, a CEO from a global agency trade desk, as well as a general manager from a big global publisher as well. It’s going to be really interesting for the audiences to get a glimpse of what these guys are looking at including the opportunities in programmatic that they’re planning to bring into their businesses as we move into these unchartered waters. Exciting times in 2020!
Q: Absolutely. I guess on that note, there will be so much to learn from this summit for small business owners right up to corporates. If you were to speak with all of your experience to a small to medium enterprise and offer your top three tips to someone who wanted to dip their toe in the programmatic sea, what advice would you give them?
A: Firstly I would recommend being crystal clear around what you were trying to achieve. If you have to strip down programmatic to its simplest form, it’s really about using technology to automate your media buy and make it more efficient. It’s particularly important by doing this exercise that you really get to narrow the focus around what decisions you need to make around things like technology, data, and talent among others. So, first off, having that end goal of what success looks like is key.
The next process for me is to start connecting the pipes. So, after understanding what it is you need to achieve you can start looking at, “Okay what’s the best way to get there?”. This is where things like supply path optimization come in. So understanding what the fees are, what intermediaries are involved, what different data options are open to me, what specialties do different technology partners thrive in and does that complement what I’m trying to achieve.
So, it’s really about having that shining North Star and knowing what your end goal can really help you when you’re starting to connect the pipes. Some partners are better in video, others in native, others in display. Just having that goal in mind will definitely determine what success looks like.
Lastly, it’s about talent – understanding who you need for a job. You might not need a huge team – you may need a smaller, more specialized team or you might want to look at what upskilling internally. And you might want to start looking at what can be outsourced. Ask yourself the question, “Do I really need to hire anyone, or are there other options where that service is provided by an external tech provider and what are the cost comparisons between both?”
Ultimately you need to have that clear vision of where you want to get to and then understanding how all the different parts are connected and then looking at who’s going to drive this and what talent do I need to get where I need to go. Not an easy task but with a clear end goal each of the other steps will more naturally fall into place.
Q: Great advice. You have to know where you’re going in order to get there, don’t you? I’ll wrap it up there. I just wanted to throw it out to you if you wanted to have any closing comments about the Programmatic Summit itself or about programmatic in general or your own progression with your business and your role in the company.
A: Sure. We’re looking forward to the Summit – I think it’s definitely one of the ones that you look out for on the calendar every year. It’s such a good time of year to hold the event as well as everyone is just getting back into it and there’s lots of refreshed energy and focus, so we’re really excited to be involved and planning on bringing great debates and discussions to the audience. I’m particularly excited about what’s in store for Unruly in 2020 and being part of the continued success story in AUNZ. All I can say is watch this space!
Q: Fantastic I’m very confident you’re going to smash it out of the park for us in Sydney! Thanks for the fantastic insight and wishing you and Unruly all the best for 2020 and beyond.
A: Thanks Gav! Looking forward to seeing you and everyone in Sydney in March.
More hot topics in programmatic will be discussed at the Programmatic Summit on Tuesday March 3rd in Melbourne and Thursday March 5th in Sydney.
Check out the agenda here and buy your tickets here.
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