The Boomerang Kids: Why Ad Tech Talent Is Going Back To Media Sales

Media-Ad-Tech-BackAd tech has long poached talent from agencies and publishers. But those with publishing backgrounds have been returning to the media world recently.

Media companies are seeing an uptick in resumes from people with ad tech backgrounds. Plus, as companies have created programmatic roles, they’ve staffed them with people who have experience in the ad tech world.

Consider that CBS Interactive, Condé Nast, the Financial Times, Hearst, The New York Times and Meredith and Viacom all have programmatic leads who logged time in ad tech. Most were hired in the past year, and most of those in the past few months.

The talent flow back into publishing signals a power shift, as ad tech startups flounder and many traditional publishers are reinventing themselves.

A few years ago, “my constant issue was we are about to hire someone we think is great, and they take a job at an ad tech startup, like a DSP or SSP, instead,” said Jeremy Hlavacek, VP of global automated monetization at The Weather Co.

“Now, we’re seeing people from ad tech startups applying to be sales directors or sales VPs, where the traditional profile is that you’ve been a media seller for 10-plus years at a large publisher or broadcast company,” Hlavacek said.

Chip Schenck, VP of programmatic sales at Meredith, confirmed he’s seeing an increase in resumes from ad tech – not just from SSPs, but from ad networks and DSPs too. “Consolidation in ad tech is flooding the street with tech-savvy, platform-knowledgeable people.”

Movement between ad tech and media isn’t new. Schenck divides the movement into three waves. In the first wave, five to seven years ago, people left media for tech – including Schenck. A few years ago, when Schenck joined Meredith, people moved in both directions. Now, many in tech are charting a return to media.

Market forces are one reason. Last year, the ad tech community was rocked by layoffs – Turn, Rocket Fuel, Centro and PubMatic all downsized.

For instance, Evan Adlman, after spending four years at PubMatic, now heads up programmatic at Condé Nast.

Julie Clark started out at Scripps Interactive but spent the past eight years in ad tech – including a stint at Rocket Fuel. She is now VP of programmatic at Hearst, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the publishing world had changed in her absence.

Hearst Core Audience feels like “a startup within a large company,” Clark said. “From the CMS to programmatic to data solutions, it was advanced beyond what I anticipated.” The market had caught up in other ways, too. Programmatic is no longer ghettoized as a place for remnant inventory.

“I saw the market shifting a little bit toward getting into the original promise of programmatic,” Clark said, “where premium prices would be spent for the right inventory. Being able to blend technology and content was incredibly attractive to me.”

Macro and micro forces conspired to bring Elli Papadaki away from the Financial Times and then back to it. She was named global head of programmatic sales in January.

When she left the FT to be an agency sales director at Celtra in 2014, “it had been a fairly turbulent year and the business was restructuring,” Papadaki said.

She returned a little under two years later, and now leads conversations with FT’s brand clients about programmatic. Those conversations have been enriched from spending time seeing the market from another perspective.

The FT liked that “I had a more objective view of the opportunity and more technical understanding,” Papadaki said. “I could see how other publishers were building a narrative around data and creativity.”

Publishers have a reputation of being less technologically sophisticated than agencies or vendors.

But that’s clearly changing as ad tech-trained talent joins publishers who either already have a mandate to meet new technological challenges or have been tapped to kick-start a publisher’s activities in the programmatic and data spaces.

More circulation could lead to more balance in the industry.

“What made ad tech so successful was taking the best and brightest from both sides, the buy and sell side, to fill that middle piece,” said Erik Requidan, VP of sales and programmatic strategy at Intermarkets. “Starting a pitch with ‘I know your pain, I’m from a publisher/agency’ is a great hook.”

The same now applies to publishers working with tech companies on programmatic relationships, Requidan said.

“Publishers now recognize they need to bring leaders on board to facilitate the tech relationships in the middle.”


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  1. Unfortunate for the major publishers, this is a short trend. The bureaucratic culture of conglomerate media companies is no match for A level talent, and we’ve already seen ad tech’s brightest have relatively short stints (<1 year) in these types of roles. The transition more common is ad tech into mar tech.

  2. John Farrelly

    This isn’t reality. First, Meredith, Conde, NYT, Hearst may have old money but they are not leading the market in any way. They are following the programmatic trend. Media sales is shrinking rapidly. These people may jump from an SSP/DSP to a programmatic role at one of these pubs, but overall the number of salespeople selling media is rapidly dropping.
    The robots are taking over. There is a huge exodus of media sales people to software and martech. Programmatic is taking hold.