Executive Q&A: How Smart Is Championing a More Open, Independent Web, One Tool at a Time

Pierce Cook-Anderson, Managing Director for Northern Europe at Smart AdServer

A Q&A with Pierce Cook-Anderson, Managing Director for Northern Europe at Smart AdServer

Q: Tell us about your role at Smart?

“Our core aim is to defend an open, independent web, where everyone (demand, supply, and the middlemen) gets their fair share of value. As Managing Director for Northern Europe, my job is to champion that mission and take the lead on promoting Smart’s end-to-end platform and educating the industry on how it provides a potent combination of full transparency and efficiency. The operations side of my role is about ensuring the capabilities we offer for buyers and sellers consistently deliver the control, certainty and flexibility that they need to harness opportunities across the digital media ecosystem, not just within walled garden environments.

Covering multiple markets is an exciting opportunity that is only getting bigger as our client base expands but the Smart team is growing rapidly to cater for varying needs. After launching our UK office in 2019, we expanded into Sweden and the Nordics last year, including the Netherlands.”

Q: What trends are you seeing in the industry right now?

“As ever, there is a mix of new and slow-burning trends. Finding workable ways to adapt to a cookieless world and better manage user consent is an ongoing focus; as is the related rise in publisher adoption of first-party data, with 2022 set to be a year of “test and learn” strategies. Connected TV (CTV) continues to fuel ever greater buzz as inventory addressability improves, along with scope to drive higher ad revenue and reach. But there is one developing shift that should be gaining more attention as a potential game-changer for the ecosystem: the move towards independence.

This is because we’re seeing more media companies choose independent vendors over tech giants, in part due to escalating antitrust operations against GAFA around the globe. In the past year, we’ve seen proposal request numbers from European publishers multiply each month; with implementations ranging from leveraging specific capabilities to major re-configurations. For instance, Régie 366 and Le Monde have selected Smart to help tackle the monetisation of non-consented traffic, something that walled gardens do not support. Meanwhile, major media group Vocento, has built its advertising operations firmly around our independent tech, leaving its former tech partner to integrate Smart’s ad server and SSP.

At the same time, buyers and sellers are seeking to regain control in the increasingly complex advertising landscape through market rationalisation. There is a much stronger reemphasis on choosing partners for the clarity and freedom they bring, in addition to removing opaque, low-value links from the chain via different forms of value path optimisation (VPO).” 

Q: What is driving this growing interest in tech migration?

“The desire for independence stems from several factors that have reached a critical tipping point. Firstly, industry players — particularly publishers — are feeling disillusioned with walled gardens amid persistent scandals. Recently, we have seen significant concern in the wake of revelations about “Project Bernanke”, especially  the alleged use of inside intelligence from publishers’ ad servers to bolster Google’s bids. Following actions against Google by various competition watchdogs, it’s easy to see why media owners have started questioning their dependence.

Secondly, all of this has amplified frustrations already fuelling the VPO movement. Publishers looking to minimise digital advertising complications by switching to private marketplaces (PMPs) or direct trading have long felt hampered by walled garden drawbacks — specifically handing over valuable data and only receiving limited, anonymised insight. Paired with a growing awareness of independent technologies and their ability to deal direct, without losing control of their data and the recent spate of negative stories has pushed many publishers to pursue independent alternatives.

Finally, there is the way independent platforms put power back in the hands of publishers. On the data front, media companies can keep hold of all monetisation levers, as well as their first-party data. Unlike Google, platforms also allow publishers to monetise traffic when consent isn’t given by using privacy-friendly mechanisms, such as contextual targeting. Moreover, total visibility across partners, transactions, terms, and fees means they can do so with complete assurance of security, compliance, and no self-preferencing tactics. At Smart, we believe the needs of publishers and advertisers should drive developments in adtech, not the other way around.”

Q: How else can publishers take back control and realise the value in their audience?

“Independent adtech isn’t just enabling the streamlined management of advertising revenue and setups, it’s helping publishers realise maximum value from their assets. At a time when most media companies are striving to cement their elevated position in the supply chain by making the most of owned insight, the ability to use privacy-first mechanisms for effectively wielding first-party data are crucial and that is exactly what independent curation tools present.

The role of these technologies is to work as a “self-service” solution for organising and activating consented audience data, rather than bloating overloaded stacks. Smart’s own Curation platform allows publishers to vastly extend their revenue opportunities and buyer appeal by plugging data into our system and SSP. Once they have onboarded diverse insights including pre-bid performance KPIs, audience, and brand safety data — media players can use the SSP to target broader inventory supply s and up-scale their audience reach, as well as apply curation features to build enticing auction packages. This might involve segmenting audiences in line with location, device use or domains  and adding specific performance KPIs for buyers.

Because media companies retain a tight grip on data and the capacity to set refined business rules, they can once again be confident of minimal risk. Opting for the curation routes opens up the potential to tap any demand-side platform (DSP) they choose with auction packages containing cross-publisher IDs that layer value on top of their highly prized data.”

Q: How does Smart support publishers in navigating these trends?

“Each of Smart’s solutions is designed to make the transition away from restrictive walled gardens easier. Our platform is holistic, covering all the elements that publishers require to achieve better monetisation and take back control. The curation platform comes as part of an ongoing commitment to keep growing that toolkit and provide different ways for all members of the digital landscape to optimise value. We work tirelessly to constantly innovate and support publishers so that they can benefit from the many advantages of the open web.”