State Of AudienceScience: CEO Pullen On Target Market And Future Plans

State of AudienceScienceJeff Pullen is CEO of AudienceScience, an online ad technology platform company. The company has been relatively quiet in the past year as the company has transitioned from the stewardship of former CEO Jeff Hirsch to the current CEO Jeff Pullen. And today, the company announced the hiring of former MediaMath Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) Mike Peralta to become AudienceScience’s new President. Read the release.

As part of AdExchanger’s “State of” series, we spoke to Pullen last week about the state of AudienceScience and industry trends.

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AdExchanger: In terms of AudienceScience’s target market today, what is more important – the direct marketer or agency business? And then, how do you manage the relationship with the agency when you’re going direct to the marketer?

That’s certainly a real issue in some cases, but at the end of the day, whether it’s an agency or a technology company, we’re both in it to bring value to the advertiser, and make the advertiser more effective. We work cooperatively with the agencies. Sometimes, it’s more challenging than others, but in the long run, we feel very strongly that we can coexist with agencies. They have their own particular value proposition and relationship with the brand advertisers, and we think we bring a lot of value as well.

Depending on the nature of the advertiser, and what their objectives are, and how they want to approach the market, that dictates the relationship with the agency itself. We definitely work with agencies, and are happy to work with them if that is what the advertiser wants.

Does AudienceScience still maintain a publisher ad network, and if so why is that important?

Yes, we still have a publisher network. Our publisher network is not what I would call in a sell-side platform (SSP) format. We don’t have a technology platform that is built around optimization and yield management capabilities, that some of your traditional SSPs have, but the ad network itself allows us to execute campaigns on behalf of advertisers or agencies. It’s critical to our learning of how the market works, and how the bidding effectiveness is, and the value propositions. It’s a core component.

The original concept of our own ad network or our own publisher relationships was that we had a lot of large publishers who were using our technology for their own account, paying us directly for the utilization of our technology.

But there are a whole lot of other publishers, smaller publishers, who maybe weren’t in a position to pay us directly for our technology, but were more than happy to participate in the audience‑targeting world. We still do that. It’s not the biggest part of our business, but it still exists.

Since former CEO Jeff Hirsch left about a year ago, it seems the company has kept a much lower profile – until perhaps now. Why so quiet in the past nine months or a year? Can we expect to hear more from AudienceScience going forward?

Let me first just give you a frame of reference. Jeff and I are the best of friends. We both live here in Santa Barbara, and we’ve known each other for a long, long time, but we’re very different people. Jeff is, at his core, a marketing and sales‑oriented guy, so his business philosophy was very much out there in the market, very visible in trade shows and from a marketing standpoint, very proactive about telling our story.

I’m an accountant by training and I got into the digital marketing space in 1998, or thereabouts. I’m much more of an operations and business strategy‑focused guy, and call me “conservative,” but I believe very strongly in “Speak when you’ve got something really good to say.”

For the last nine months we’ve been working really hard at taking a good, introspective look at our business, and how we can be successful, and sorting through some of those opportunities and discarding things that we think aren’t quite strategic for us. And focusing on the things that are.

From a positioning standpoint, we definitely will become more visible going forward. Now that [new President Mike Peralta] is onboard, Mike is very much in the sales and marketing mode.  We’ve accomplished much of what I think we need to accomplish in terms of refocusing our business for superior execution, and now we’re going to get out there in the market, and continue to be successful.

We are certainly visible to our clients. We are out there selling and working with clients, but I’m not as focused, in my own strategy, of being “visible internally” to the rest of the industry. That’s not my focus. I’d rather be in front of the clients than in front of the rest of the industry.

There’s probably, certainly, a balance there, and Mike will help us find that balance.

How do you distill AudienceScience’s positioning today?

AudienceScience is a digital marketing technology company. Our primary product is the AudienceScience gateway, which has capabilities that work throughout the digital marketing value chain. We work with advertisers, agencies, other technology companies, data companies, and publishers, to make the value chain more efficient and more effective. Real‑time vision, data management, premium and end‑to‑end buying are all capabilities.

Do you consider it a “marketing stack” solution, if you will?

Absolutely. I think that that’s a simple word for it. But, “The Stack” means different things to different people, because there certainly are capabilities that others might tout as being more relevant to their component of the stack. As I’ve mentioned, if you’re an SSP, yield optimization for publishers is a big component they tout. That’s not something that we have today, not something that we’re focused on, but that’s another part of the stack. Our story is about the comprehensive technology, not the word “stack,” specifically.

In terms of inventory that you’re buying across for your clients, is it primarily display today? Could you talk a little bit about how you see the company buying across channel or, in the future, across channel?

It is primarily display today and we have been a display‑focused company for some time. We’re getting to the stage where expanding beyond display into mobile or maybe video or other potential inventory opportunities is definitely within the strategy longer term. It’s not something that we spend a lot of time on today, though. We still think there’s plenty of work to do in the display area. But as mobile and display come together, there’s definitely an opportunity to take advantage of that convergence.

How about video advertising?

I’m not sure that we would develop proprietary technology in the video space. We do work with some partners to deliver video components to campaigns today, but it remains to be seen whether or not we believe longer term, that we need to own something specific in the video space.

Certainly M&A down the road is an opportunity. We’ve made some acquisitions in the past which have brought us technology that we feel very good about. I do believe that there will be consolidation in this space. You’re already seeing it, and you’ll see more of it. I believe that you’ll see some private‑to‑private consolidation.

Do you see an IPO in the future?

Yes, I do. I don’t see it tomorrow, but I definitely think that AudienceScience is a company that has those characteristics. I’ve been in public companies, and we have an opportunity. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think anyone has declared victory. Certainly there are companies that are starting to test the IPO waters and there will be more.

I really see an IPO as a financing event. It’s a situation where you decide that, as a company, you can make effective use of more capital and maybe your investors would like some liquidity and all of that is part of the thinking.

At the end of the day, it’s about having the resources.

In terms of acquisition, what might be interesting to AudienceScience?

There are lots of situations where a combination of companies could make for a much more effective execution, a much more profitable operation, much less duplication of effort, much more extensive reach of client relationships, geographic relationships, or as you mentioned, other capabilities that maybe aren’t core.

Those situations are out there.

You’ve had executive experience across a number of technology companies. What would you say has surprised you about your AudienceScience experience?

As you mentioned, I’ve been in a number of different companies. I consider one of my core competencies is the ability to sort through complex challenges and identify critical success factors, identify strategic opportunities, put the right people in the right places to be successful and then helping them execute. I wouldn’t call it a surprise necessarily, because I definitely came into AudienceScience with this in mind, but I’m still absolutely convinced that AudienceScience is a company that has a tremendous amount of opportunity.

The core technology, the core relationships that the company has built over time, the comprehensiveness of the way we think about adding value with our clients, is fundamentally a powerful asset for the company, and the opportunity to bring that together in a much more focused and strategic way and execute more effectively is what we’re doing.

I feel really good about the company. It has not realized its potential…

Can you share some milestones that you’d like the company to achieve in the next 12 to 18 months? – and that might also include head count?

To us, milestones are client acquisition and growth and strong strategic relationships up and down the value chain. From a head count perspective, we have about 230 or so people today. By the end of the year, we’ll probably be in the 260, maybe 270 range, depending on the pace of hiring. As you know, the industry is very competitive and it’s challenging to find good people that you want to add.

We’ve grown significantly, particularly on the technology side, over the past few months, and we’re continuing to look for strong people for sales, product and technology, and that will fuel our continued growth.

From a technology perspective, certainly, we have internal milestones in terms of features and capabilities in bringing the platform together more efficiently. Nothing unique to that. Any good technology company has a strong roadmap that has some key project they’re working on.

By John Ebbert

Follow AudienceScience (@audiencescience) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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