Welcome to TripleLift’s Publisher Spotlight Series! Every month, we’ll share an interview with one of our premium publishers that highlights unique stories and uncovers valuable insights. In our first series post, we’re speaking with Amanda Dean, Head of Programmatic Partnerships and Strategies for IBM Watson Advertising. Read on to learn about how Amanda and IBM are dealing with Covid-19 and how Watson is doing its part to help!
Thanks for joining us Amanda! First, we’d love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself – your role and what you like to do for fun?
I have been at IBM Watson Advertising since April of 2016. I lead our major demand partnerships with SSPs, providers like TripleLift, re-marketers, and programmatic tech platforms. I work with Product and Compliance to ensure we are providing a premium user experience and new ad formats all while striving to monetize our inventory in a privacy safe manner.
I bought my first house last Summer and am learning to garden. I am hoping I have inherited my mom’s green thumb. So far so good! I love the outdoors and travel! Spending time at the beach on Fire Island, hiking, skiing, and scuba diving are all things I love to get out and do. For relaxation, I love to watch stand up comedians, anything HGTV, and read trashy romance novels. It’s great escapism – especially these days on lock down.
We’re sure that like everyone else, you had no idea this pandemic was coming. What was the moment when you realized that this was a big deal? Did you encounter any specific, significant work-related issues that you had to overcome when the pandemic started?
I was on vacation in Mexico and they started to issue State Department warnings on the Hotel TVs. That’s when I knew this was very, very serious. We flew home March 20th and spent the next 3 months in quarantine.
Luckily, we didn’t encounter many work issues. Our main challenge was to ensure our team was safe and healthy and stayed that way. We started working from home and have been sailing fairly smoothly since. We are being more flexible on work hours and when someone’s kid or pet shows up on a call- it’s embraced and enjoyed instead of seen as a hindrance. I’ve particularly enjoyed seeing my colleagues’ home life and have some major home office envy.
Once you knew that Covid-19 would impact your business, what steps did you take to ensure that IBM Watson Advertising stayed successful?
I am so proud of the steps IBM took. The Product team pulled together a knowledge hub of all things Covid. Using AI and the Watson Ads platform, we were able to produce a section on the sites and apps that provide local infection rates and trends in real time for every county in the US. The Watson ad provided crucial information on the pandemic, guides on sanitizing, staying safe and even offering ideas of things to do. We have been staying in touch with our clients to ensure we share the info we are producing.
I felt it was important to take care of our staff and ensure they were doing ok through all this – we became more flexible, checked in regularly and began reinforcing the importance of self-care. We also reached out to partners to make sure they knew we were here for them, provided any optimization opportunities and any forecast data we could, given it was Spring storm season.
We went back to basics. We are constantly optimizing our mix of units, floors, and partners to ensure we provide a strong demand mix and quality ad experiences for our readers. When demand took a major hit in mid-March, we took a look at our ad footprint and reduced our capacity so we didn’t flood the market. We leaned in with partners to gauge where demand was still strong (like Video) and worked to provide them a path to that inventory. Having strong, mutually beneficial partnerships is key. Regular calls and updates with partners help ensure we can weather the economic storm together by capitalizing on opportunities.
How are you keeping your team engaged and do you have any tips for other leaders like you?
We are hosting video happy hours where we do more than just talk business. Recently, we asked the team to share a few photos of a trip they took and talk about what they learned or enjoyed. It was so fun to see all the places folks have been. You get to really know your team by sharing these kinds of personal experiences. Having that personal connection is key in times like these. It has been a great team building exercise.
Clear deadlines and expectations of what needs to be done are important. Using Tools like Slack and text messages make it easy to facilitate individual check-ins and ensure everyone is doing ok, adjusting, and able to accomplish what they need. As I mentioned before, we are being flexible with work hours and encouraging colleagues to take time off to decompress. My best piece of advice is to be supportive of the employee’s whole life. Offer flexibility, support, understanding, and empathy.
What consumer trends are you seeing on your site that have surprised you over the last few months? What industry shifts did you anticipate and which did you find surprising?
Everyone loves the Sinkhole videos!! There’s not been one major trend that’s really surprised us. We were incredibly happy to see demand returning as early as it did in June as areas started reopening in certain parts of the country.
We all expected the downturn in demand as businesses closed. For me the surprising part has been the number of companies that are surviving and innovating through all this. We’ve all heard that the Lumascape companies would merge and purge. We’ve seen some companies go, but I’m encouraged by those that are evolving and staying relevant. With challenges come opportunities. I’m excited to see what opportunities emerge in our industry for marketers and publishers as we move forward.
And finally, it’s 11pm and Netflix is shaming you with their “are you still watching?” popup. What show have you been binging?
I tend to binge watch shows like Below Deck or Say Yes to the Dress as my guilty pleasures! I also love nature documentaries: BBC Nature, Nova, Nat Geo, and Animal Planet have heavy rotation in my channel selections. I’m a big Nature nerd!
**For more information about TripleLift, our publishers, or how to be featured in a publisher spotlight, please contact us here.