MediaMath co-founder and new global chief revenue officer Erich Wasserman shares the ad-tech firm’s history and its ambition to streamline marketers’ workflow.
By Emily Tan, Campaign Asia
Erich Wasserman has helmed MediaMath’s Asia-Pacific and EMEA operations for the past three years and the regions now account for 40 per cent of MediaMath’s estimated US$300 million in revenue last year, despite the nascent programmatic buying market in Asia. Perhaps this success has something to do with Wasserman’s recent promotion to the global role of chief revenue officer.
The ad-tech firm only entered Asia via Australia about two years ago. Since then it has expanded into Japan, launched an office in Singapore and established a strategic relationship with Cheil Worldwide in Korea.
“There’s still a great deal of growth to do around the world and certainly in the newer markets,” says Wasserman in an interview prior to his promotion. “I don’t think we’re late to the business, as we’ve been building up the regional business for a while now, first out of the UK, then out of Australia,” he says, adding that Singapore was a business hotspot for MediaMath prior to its office launch.
Like most tech pioneers, the firm faces more than just the problem of explaining its product and value; it also has to cope with rapid evolution in its sector. When MediaMath first launched in 2007, it more or less defined itself as a demand-side platform (DSP), a category the company also claims to have invented.
“Of course, we didn’t know that’s what we were doing at the time. That summer, Yahoo had just bought Right Media and was the largest and first display media exchange going at the time. The other thing that happened was Google bought DoubleClick, an early ad exchange and Microsoft bought AdECN, which no longer exists. So what we had were three highly liquid environments with lots of media to transact. So we built a set of tools, a pixel server and a very ugly internal tool to manage this environment,” recalls Wasserman.
At the time, no brands were accessing the inventory, but the team at MediaMath had the idea of valuing audiences and providing a degree of transparency for clients. “We took these concepts to IPG Mediabrand’s Initiative and they were our first buyer.”
Lately, MediaMath has evolved, moving beyond its definition as a DSP towards more of an enterprise service provider framework, focusing on automating the media buy- ing process and not confining itself to the ‘demand-side’. “We’re changing our business model to one that creates client-facing tools.”
Definitions pose a big problem for Wasserman. “What constitutes a DSP has really been stretched to the point where I think the term will become somewhat meaningless very soon. With such vast differences in the hundreds of companies that market themselves as DSPs, meanings get lost,” he says somewhat ruefully.
The differentiator MediaMath holds on to, he adds, is transparency. “Our core philosophy is that DSPs represent the buyer’s answer to the opacity of the supply side of our business, it must be transparent. In our case, we made a decision many years ago to show our clients our algorithm and how it works.”
Currently, the firm’s revenue stream stems principally from the volume of impressions and data running through its TerminalOne Marketing Operating System, from which MediaMath takes a percentage. Its other major revenue sources are its clients that license access to its system. MediaMath claims its client list includes 55 per cent of the Fortune 500, including American Express, General Mills and Prudential.
“AmEx is in fact one of our largest clients. One of the things we do for them involves presenting a site visitor with a card they are likely to be qualified for. What card is right for which user is worth millions to them,” says Wasserman.
Arguably, programmatic buying is an industry in its infancy, and MediaMath views education as its chief challenge — particularly in Asia.
Some misconceptions that frustrate Wasserman include the lumping of real-time bidding (RTB) and programmatic buying into a single concept. “RTB describes the ways you can buy on a real-time basis, programmatic is more interesting — it’s the concept that what can be automated will be or should be and the focus now is to make digital a great deal more efficient.”
In response, the firm launched a corrective programme for programmatic buying called the New Marketing Institute. “We feel we have an obligation to invite the digital ecosystem to learn,” says Wasserman.
Agencies have been adopting technologies like those from MediaMath in various ways, but Wasserman observes a rapid shift towards a programmatic approach, not just in media buying, but throughout the organisation.
Already, media agencies like PHD, Mediacom and Mediabrands have launched or are working on automated workflow processes. The future, as MediaMath sees it, is to be an operating system that addresses inefficiencies. “An OS that becomes the way in which buyers and analysts access media in the same way stock traders access the stock market today on Bloomberg Terminals,” he says.
Erich Wasserman – CV
2014 Global CRO, MediaMath
2013 GM, MediaMath EMEA & Asia-Pacific
2007 Co-founder, MediaMath
2005 Director, advertiser solutions, [x+1]
2000 Executive director, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education