Ashley Wheeler of Rubicon Project on How Human Insights Can Differentiate Programmatic

By Rubicon Project InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: Ashley Wheeler of Rubicon Project on How Human Insights Can Differentiate Programmatic

Let's face it.  Even if you're knee deep in the world of programmatic advertising, the exponential rate of change in ad tech can confuse the lay-marketer, and even the most advanced practitioner.  From the outside, programmatic may seem the definition of an automated process. The truth is there are many parties hungry for insights, best practices, and innovation that go far beyond the nuts and bolts of the technology.

In the latest MediaVillage Ad Tech Marketplace Assessment report (Q4 2018), Rubicon Project rated in the top 5 for meeting the specific needs of their clients. We wanted to dive a bit deeper to see how Rubicon Project was achieving this success and reached out to their very dedicated Vice President, Seller Accounts, Ashley Wheeler, for how they keep the customer satisfied.

Wheeler, who leads the team that is in constant contact with their over 250 publishers, began her career working at pioneer tech news site CNET, where she learned about the challenges that sales teams and publishers face daily with clients. It was during that time that the programmatic seed was planted, when a colleague mentioned the concept of Real Time Bidding (RTB). From there, she embraced a client service role at a start-up, appreciating how "you became an extension of the client team," she explains.  "You really felt a part of it. You formed trust with the client, and they knew they could rely on you. I loved that."

As she began to recognize the growth of the programmatic industry, Wheeler reached out to a former colleague who had gone to Rubicon Project, educating herself and even submitting a "six-page paper with footnotes" to pitch herself. Now Wheeler's clients are publishers, so their needs differ dramatically from the buy-side; but that trademark appreciation for growth and education is key to excellent client service. For publishers, yield optimization and making sure that their inventory is properly represented is critical. Equally so, ensuring that operations around the bid pipes, targeting pipes, and ad delivery pipes are properly working requires a constant communication flow.

Rubicon Project believes that simplifying a complicated process is table stakes. "Always-on service and consultation make up our foundation, but partners now need tools that help them manage an ad stack.  Think about managing a wrapper [a piece of code in the header of the publisher's web page that sets rules for the programmatic auction]. Having to go to a Developer Team every time you need to make a change can get crazy. So many different partners, UI, and data are involved in the process, and not all of that is aggregated. Our business is helping publishers with optimization and yield. You need tools that aggregate this, and insights," says Wheeler.  

Wheeler also credits a great deal of her team's success to the open communication that they have with Rubicon Project's engineers and developers. "Product and service can't be separated. We're lucky our product team is very receptive to feedback. The insights we get from our clients directly influences our product development."

Much of the time spent with clients involves helping them navigate tech complexities. For example, Wheeler says clients frequently want to understand how they can make sure header bidding pipes are as clear as possible, or how to update wrappers.  "Publishers leverage proprietary wrappers because they just don't have the internal resources to manage something open source," she adds. "We decided early on that transparent and open source wrappers would be critical to the future success of header bidding and we never wanted to let a lack of resources be a barrier to entry for publishers. As the de-facto open source wrapper, Prebid allows for maximum transparency, more rapid innovation and publisher control so it is very important for Rubicon to help provide support to our publisher clients who do not have full resources to operate Prebid on their own," she said.

Publishers are craving insights from others participating in the marketplace, specifically about Private Marketplaces, Programmatic Guaranteed, and Header Bidding.  "Publishers are very smart and want input from the macro view to understand how they fit into the grand scheme. We help them recognize larger insights that they can be privy to from others in the marketplace, and then help them strategize, without disclosing any confidential information. You need a human to give you the insights."

She acknowledges that there was a period when the industry was transitioning from a waterfall model to a header bidding model that resources had to be directed more closely to upgrading tech and away from client service. Yet, over the past 18 months, Rubicon Project has embraced the same transparency and integration model that they set with their technology and modeled their client service in similar fashion. The result of that change may be one of the factors in Rubicon Project's stock price moving from $1.71 in March 2018 to its March 13th price of $6.88.

When asked what the greatest achievement of the past year has been, Wheeler noted, "We are so much better at understanding the technical complexities of the header bidding ecosystem and being experts in the space than we were a year ago."

Looking forward, she believes that the priority for 2019 will be to give back to the publisher some of the control over the process that they lost with the header bidding whirlwind.  Yet, no matter how much the tech improves, clients will always want to see the bigger picture and will rely on human connections to achieve those understandings.

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