This is the latest installment in “PII,” a series featuring the talent that makes the wheels turn in our data-driven advertising world. Read previous interviews with talent from Mindshare, Mediavest | Spark, Razorfish, Essence, INNOCEAN and Clear Channel Outdoor.
Former Brightroll and Amazon exec Craig Whitmer recently joined location data company Placed as VP of programmatic.
Placed “measures what people do in the physical world and ties that back to digital, OOH and TV,” Whitmer tells AdExchanger. “We don’t make money on media. We’re 100% focused on data and analytics.”
So what’s a location tracking company doing with a VP of programmatic?
“I’m taking the Placed data set and making it more actionable by plugging it into platforms and DSPs,” he said.
He spoke with AdExchanger.
AdExchanger: You’ve been agency and publisher side. How did you end up in ad tech?
CRAIG WHITMER: I’ve always been in some way, shape or form in ad tech. My first job was at DigitasLBi, building websites and media plans for General Motors’ Pontiac and GMC, circa 1997. I had to learn to the technology. For me, it’s always been an interest in new technology and the digital world.
What do you like about working for a startup?
I like wearing a lot of different hats and changing those hats every day. What really gets me going is forging new ground. On the agency side, you evaluate new technology and there’s a lot of satisfaction in that. But I like actually building those solutions and being an operator.
Did you always want to work in digital advertising?
I had a goal to be at a big ecommerce or media company. I helped start the ad business at Amazon. I focused on commerce and advertising and how those work together. Putting an ad for a product that Amazon didn’t sell that linked off of Amazon’s site was not the most popular thing internally 10 years ago.
When Amazon was building sales teams, there was leftover supply, so I got in the world of remnant. I took a role to resell remaining inventory through ad networks and exchanges. Working on the precursor of the Amazon ad platform led me to Brightroll, which got me into the exchange business and digital video.
What’s your day-to-day like at Placed?
A large chunk of my day is outreach to partners, reconnecting with all of my DSP friends and having conversations about what we’re bringing to market. I’m on the road all the time, so I spend time catching up for a trip or planning for the next trip.
I’m just wrapping up month three, so I’m still studying. I know programmatic very well, but I’m not quite a location and attribution expert.
How do you use data in your daily life?
I have a minor commute, but I want to time it correctly. I find myself every morning thinking, what time did I leave? If I miss this light, how long will I have to wait? How long will it take me to get to my desk?
I have two dogs at home and I have this monitoring system to see if they’re moving. One is old, and I want to make sure he’s not sleeping all day. I know I need to drag him on a longer walk when I get home if he’s been sleeping all day. These are things you couldn’t do 10 years ago.
What’s your favorite part about data-driven advertising?
I’ll take a negative approach first. It’s still not very good. I can’t tell you how many times I just bought a product and I keep getting retargeted. The positive is, there’s a lot of opportunity to make it better. We’re a lot better than we were 10 years ago, but we have a long way to go and that’s exciting.
What can ad tech, location and mobile companies do better?
Ask the right questions about how data is gathered, verified and vetted. There are a lot of players in ad tech and they often say they can do the same thing. It’s difficult for an advertiser or agency to understand what’s truth and what’s marketing collateral. It’s digging deep into methodology and challenging their partners to prove it.
There are people that want to challenge our methodology. We say, “Download our app, give us your email address, give us a week and we’ll spit back all of the data we can measure.” If you’re confident in your data and tech, prove that as part of the sales process.
Do you ever find location tracking creepy? What are your concerns about privacy?
I do for methodologies that don’t ask permission or make it clear to users that data is being [collected]. That’s one of the reason I joined Placed. Consumers opt in, they know what they’re doing and they’re getting some value exchange. I find it creepier when I don’t know how my data is being used. I may have clicked some long-form document at some point, but it wasn’t clear.
What advice would you give someone looking for a career in this space?
One individual I hired several years ago came out of hospital construction. He had zero experience in digital media but he was a smart guy and very eager to learn. He’s done well in a very short time in digital media. This stuff changes so quickly. What I know today isn’t so important six months from now. It’s more about how I can learn new stuff. Almost as important is to unlearn old things that no longer matter.
I also look for transferrable skills. You see folks from finance and banking in ad tech now because it’s so data-driven. You need folks who understand really complicated math and analysis and can work with big data sets. Advertising becomes the application of that skill set.