Ad Ops All Stars: Chandon Jones, Kinesso
by Kathleen Booth, on Oct 20, 2021 9:00:00 AM
In his role of SVP of US Ad operations at Kinesso, Chandon Jones manages an ad ops team of 35+, with members spread across the country.
This week on Ad Ops All Stars, he shares his advice on hiring for ad ops teams, best practices for management, and what aspiring ad ops leaders should be focused on now in order to set themselves up for success in the future.
Listen to or watch the full episode, or read the transcript below, to hear Chandon's story.
Resources from this episode:
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Kathleen: Okay. 3, 2, 1. Welcome back to the Ad Ops All Stars podcast. I am your host, Kathleen Booth, and this week, my guest is Chandon Jones, who is the SVP of US Ad Operations at Kinesso. Welcome to the podcast Chandon.
Chandon: Thank you, Kathleen, for having me.
Kathleen: Yeah. I'm excited to have you here. We've got lots of good stuff to talk about, but if you're a regular listener of this podcast, you know that, before I get into this stuff, I always ask an icebreaker question, which is, if you had to describe what you do to a five year old, how would you do it?
Chandon: That's a great question. I had to ... It took me years earlier in my career to explain to my parents what I did.
Kathleen: Sometimes explaining things to parents is like explaining them to five year olds.
Chandon: I think nowadays it's a bit easier, through the access. Everyone can access the internet various ways. So I kind of describe it as, hey, when you're going on YouTube and there's a pre-roll commercial for one of those major brands, my team manages that. So all of the clicks, the impressions, all of that back in data and my team helps manage. So we're everywhere.
Kathleen: So it's really interesting that you said YouTube because you are definitely one of several people who've referenced YouTube as a way to make this relatable to five year olds. So this is a total aside, but it definitely is striking how many of us have recognized that YouTube is the place for all of the next generations are spending their time.
Chandon: Totally. I think YouTube ... To your point, YouTube is, dare I say, a network TV now for these kids.
Kathleen: So true. Yeah. They spend more time on it than they do on television, which is pretty interesting. Well, all right, Kinesso. Tell me a little bit about what the company is, what it does and what your role there is.
Chandon: Okay. Sure. So Kinesso is an IPG agency. We're a new brand within the company. I've been a part of IPG for about 14 years now. I oversee US ad operations, as you mentioned. So, as far as Kinesso goes, I work under the data platform and operations group, and that operations piece obviously is my group as well. So we're essentially the service engine within IPG to help provide reporting at operations and various other operational and strategic needs for our clients. So my role hasn't changed as much, I would say. I think it has expanded at operations in general, the evolution. So I believe Kinesso and my role now is just the evolution of operations and the evolutions of our industry.
Kathleen: Let's go back in time now. You said you were at IPG for 14 years, which by the way is amazing because I feel like it's so rare these days for people to stay in one place for very long.
Kathleen: So I want to get into that in a minute, but first, can you kind of trace back to when you first got started in your career? What was that progression and how did you even get into ad ops in the first place?
Chandon: Great question. I started ... I'm aging myself, but I started in '99.
Kathleen: That's all right. I started earlier than you did, so don't feel bad.
Chandon: Fair enough. I'm originally from Buffalo, New York, and I was looking for an opportunity. A lot of friends that ... I went to the University of Buffalo, had a lot of friends from the New York City tri-state area. I was looking just to leave home. I wanted just to spread my wings, if you will. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I was a psychology major working at group home. Wasn't sure if I wanted to go that route.
Chandon: I've always liked technology. I had an opportunity. I played basketball at Buffalo. My old basketball coach, he retired. He was an old Wall Street guy working at this startup. A couple of my friends from our team were working there for the summer, internships, et cetera. So I was like, you know what? One of our really good friends lived in Harlem at the time.
Chandon: He was saying, "Hey, I'm working with coach at this startup. There may be an opportunity here for you." I was like, "Great." Funny thing is, a month before, I was in New Jersey. I have family in New Jersey. First time I've seen my family since I was 18 years old. We would speak on holidays, cards, but I hadn't seen them in person in a long time. I mentioned, "Hey, I might have an opportunity in New York at the end of the summer or sometime in the summer. Could I possibly stay with you?"
Chandon: "Of course. Awesome." So I'm like, "Okay, these stars are aligning." So about a month or so later, I received a call from my friend and my former coach saying, "Hey, come on down. Can't promise you a job full time, but come on down as an intern. See if you like it, and we'll see what we can do." Let's do it. So I moved to New York state with my family in Jersey, worked there for about ... I was there for about two weeks as an intern, hired full-time.
Chandon: Then the evolution of the team, it was a whole bunch of sales guys and gals. It was me and this other friend of mine, awesome guy. He still works in industry to this day, Pedro. We just got along well. He definitely knew the industry. He was more techy than I was, but I was willing to learn and open to learning. It wasn't brain surgery, just concepts. So I spent a lot of time with him and it was early days of ad ops. There was only one banner. There was no rotating. It was pretty straightforward.
Chandon: So, that's where my ad ops career started. I was at ... Mediaplex was the name of the company. I was there for about six and a half years.
Kathleen: Did you go straight from there to IPG?
Chandon: No. The evolution of ad ops, Mediaplex expanded. I learned a lot about just business startups. It was a great team, great mentors, great colleagues that I learned a lot from. Exciting, constantly changing. I came to a crossroads where I wasn't sure I wanted to do this in ad ops. At the time, ad ops, there weren't really many paths. It was like, where do I go from here? I wasn't sure what I wanted to do.
Chandon: I was dabbling in real estate on the side. That was like a side passion. At the time you, my wife, we didn't have any children. I talked to her said, "Hey, you know what? I think I want to try this real estate thing for a while, this particular role. I just wanted to explore new opportunities." I left there, did real estate for a couple years in Manhattan, enjoyed it, interesting. I realized I didn't want to be a broker. There's so many facets, just like in our industry. There's so many faces of the industry. Being a broker wasn't necessarily the thing I wanted to do full time.
Chandon: I learned a lot, definitely real estate. Figured out, at some point in my career on the side, had some knowledge where I could use that, but I missed the industry. I missed technology. I missed the constant learning that's required and I really enjoy it. And I felt that it was still growing. It was still so young. It was still growing there, so there was lots of opportunity there. So reached out to some former colleagues, and one of my former colleagues was working at Universal McCann.
Chandon: They're looking for an ops person. That was my entry, even though I wasn't sure I wanted do ops anymore at that point. That was my entry point back in through the industry because it was difficult getting back in, being out for so long, working with recruiters like, "Oh, you've been out so long. So much has changed."
Kathleen: Yeah. It's like you're starting over in some respects.
Chandon: Yes it was. But then, when I came back, not much change at least in that world. So I had to an opportunity to come back to start at IPG under Universal McCann, and I've been here ever since and just been learning and growing in the evolution of ops. Honestly, in the beginning it was like, all right, great to get back in the industry. Now have an opportunity to explore some more, because it's easier to find a job once you have a job.
Kathleen: Yeah, exactly.
Chandon: In industry. So I said, all right, well, this will be a good opportunity to kind of get started again, kind of see what has changed, what hasn't changed in industry. The rest is history. I've been here for 14 and a half years.
Kathleen: Now you said, when you got back in, you weren't sure. You weren't really sure at the time that you wanted to be in ad ops or that you wanted to stay in it, but it was kind of just a foot back in the door. Obviously, you've stayed in it for quite some time. So can you talk a little bit about what it is you really love about ad ops and the kind of industry around it?
Chandon: Yeah, for sure. I see it as ... I'm a very, very visual person, so I'm going to use my hands a bit, but op sits in the middle of a lot of things. When it comes to the publishers, the clients, the agencies, the other technology partners, we kind of touch all of that. So having access into all those worlds, at some level, you learn a lot. I think, in the beginning, ops was the underdog kind of in the back room. No one really bothered with ops, unless something broke.
Chandon: Then, "Hey, what happened?" I've always kind of liked the underdog, I guess, mentality of let's try to figure it out. And I was always learning. I think everyone in this space, you have to be a lifelong learner. Obviously, there's times and moments where it can get tedious, just like any job or any career, but overall it's constantly evolving.
Chandon: So I think just the evolution allowed for me to be in different rooms and different conversations. It just wasn't hands on the keyboards. As the need for ops expanded, I wasn't just sitting behind my keyboard within the ad server uploading creatives. I was able to have conversations about operations. As the industry expanded, verification, other tagging requirements from a brand safety standpoint, there's other partnerships that would arise, but tagging is a big part of that. You have to have a pixel or a tag in some capacity and that goes throughout operation.
Chandon: So there's always an opportunity where you can learn more, and the need and the appreciation of the job, I think, expanded over time, where this knowledge that I was learning as a junior person ended up being very helpful. Then realizing, okay, there's a lot of stuff that certain individuals or teams may not know because they don't have that view of the landscape like we do.
Chandon: So with that learning and also just having great coworkers and colleagues and individuals along the way, that kind of helped me learn. I learned from them observing, watching. They were excited about a certain part of the industry that I would always ask questions as well. I think that kind of kept me in this world. Obviously, you grow your opportunity where you can have a larger role and realize that, okay, this is actually a career, this is actually a path. I started seeking out more opportunities in a path that, in the past when I was junior, earlier in my career, I didn't see there was a path. There wasn't really a path.
Kathleen: So that's interesting that you say that because I think that so much of the career path potential does depend on where you choose to work. If you're in a bigger company, and if you want to advance within your company, there's obviously so much more opportunity, and you have had that opportunity with IPG certainly. Can you talk a little bit about what you think the key skills were that you developed that led to you ... that opened those doors and enabled you to advance? What should somebody who's just starting out now be focused on? Maybe those are two separate questions, because maybe things have changed so much. I'd be interested to get your perspective on that.
Chandon: That's a great question. I would say, one, I think learning is key. I think you have to understand where you fit, where your role, where your department fits in the entire life cycle of activating a campaign. Early on, I didn't know. It was just like I'm working on my I account. I'm getting things live, but how it affected what was happening before and after ... I had a slight idea, but didn't really know how important our roll up is. I wanted to make sure that, when I was in position to manage people, to make them understand that this is an important role, even if no one, especially earlier, on doesn't really realize that or doesn't want to give you those kudos. That's fine. Just know that I see it. We see it. Everyone in this industry, that's in this niche role, understands it.
Chandon: I think, as far as growing and learning, one, being open to learn. Being able to adapt because everything, our industry is constantly changing. I've been here, I think, as long as I've been, because it's constantly changing and the evolution of my role has grown. It hasn't been ... It's not a stagnant role. It's not a static industry. It's constantly ... I keep saying that over again, it's always changing. Being open to that change and not letting that change stress you out.
Chandon: It can be stressful at times, just like any change in life is stressful, but when there's change and you're uncomfortable, that's when you can grow and learn. So, that's how I approach it. That's how I try to approach it with my team as well, just let's figure out how we can learn more and what's the next opportunity? What's over the horizon and what we're doing ... what does the client need? A lot of times, clients or individuals can be upset because they don't have the information. How can we be the source of that inform information for you? If you do that, you'll be surprised. You'll be a resource internally.
Chandon: That helps. Then they'll come to you for answers that maybe other teams don't have. And don't be afraid. Lastly, I would say, don't be afraid to ask questions. One thing I would do if I didn't understand, earlier in my career, what the search team did or the media planners, actually their role every day, most people will be happy to have a conversation with you and especially your peers. When we were in the office earlier in my career, I would say, "Hey, do you have time for lunch? Would love to learn more about what you do after you get the tags from us or like before. What is your day to day?" Just learn about the full process.
Kathleen: That's great. I love that you talked about the discomfort that can come with change, but also the positives, because I'm a big advocate for taking chances and trying new things. I've always, in my head, thought about those change opportunities, almost like trust falls. Did you ever do a trust fall exercise?
Kathleen: It's very scary. I'm going to allow myself to fall and do something that runs completely counter to all of my notions of safety and that sort of thing.
Kathleen: But doing it, knowing that you're to come out of it better and stronger, and being able to push past that fear and that discomfort. Change is very frightening.
Chandon: No, it is. I think that we've all experienced that just this past year and a half alone. The entire world has changed.
Kathleen: Yeah, it's so true. Now, you talked a little bit about the people on your team and managing people. I want to get into that because I know that's something that you're kind of passionate about. We talked about this before the interview. How big is your team now?
Chandon: Let me think. Great question. I would say we have about 30 to 45. We've had some changes in the past year, but let's say about 35, 40.
Kathleen: That's big.
Kathleen: I mean, it's one of the biggest of the people that I've interviewed. So what does the composition of that team look like?
Chandon: All ad ops, digital search, broadcasts, addressable. So, when you think of ad operations, all of those layers there. We're in New York, in Detroit, Chicago, LA, in San Francisco in the US. We having some amazing colleagues that oversee the international org as well, so we work closely together on that. So even though my view is the US, a lot of our clients are global. So we have a great team where we do spread our wings a bit, depending on the account, and work across with our colleagues in EMEA, APAC, etc.
Kathleen: What percentage of the business that you do is programmatic versus direct?
Chandon: Oh, that's a great question. I would say it's close to 50/50, because we would have accounts that are ... A lot of accounts have addressable, programmatic part of the plant and the activation portion is managed by my team in some way. So yeah, I would say, if is not 50/50, it's 60/40, 40 being the programmatic addressable side of things. Got
Kathleen: Got it. You touched on earlier something that I've heard before quite a few times, which is that ad ops can be a stressful job for a number of reasons. The constant change, but also the deadlines, the having to work sometimes when it's a holiday or staying late on that Friday night, or coming in on the weekend to troubleshoot something. There's always those elements to the job. So I think that, if the team isn't managed really well, those could be things that could really wreak havoc and cause a lot of chaos.
Kathleen: So I'd love to just get a sense for what your approach is to managing an ad ops team. If somebody out there is listening and they're coming into a position where they're going to take on management of an ad ops team, what do you think are the most important things to focus on to be able to get the best performance out of that team?
Chandon: For sure. I would say, one, just processes and understanding that ad ops is about process, is operations. Need to understand just the full process from A to Z, how to jump around if needed, what needs to be done prior to moving on to that next step. Can I proactively start on that following step prior to getting something just so we can move things along? I always say it's not brain surgery, but it can be very complicated. The concepts in theory are simple, but if you have one project or one campaign, then you times that by 10, 20, that's where the stress comes into play, that's where the other individuals who may not be attached to it kind of add to it. Just be aware of that, I would say.
Chandon: That understanding helps. Also understand that you working with people. I think that the people aspect is very important. Everyone has certain items in their life going on and understanding their way. Try to understand how they work and where they can be in the environment where they can thrive. You try to get to that prior to even starting the job. Just being as transparent as possible. This is what the expectations are. This is just the ebs and flows of operations. There's going to be times around the holiday season, in fourth quarter, we're going to have to work later. This account is a high priority. All eyes are on this launch or this client, this campaign, so we have to be aware of that. Make sure that we're doing everything, that the process is solid, and we're not skipping steps.
Chandon: It's human nature to get comfortable when things are going well for six months. Then that, when that high pressure moment comes up, because there's a huge launch for a holiday or a certain offer, things are a little bit more high pressure. But just making sure that the process is solid, understanding that you're working with people, and trying to build a culture that's supportive. I believe that the team should be able to rely on each other. We're better together than we are individually, especially in our operations, because not everyone works on the same type of account.
Chandon: Not everyone may have experience that same issue before, and it is always evolving. Different partnerships, different complexities with tagging, or the collection of data and how it's being pass. So all of that comes into play. Not everyone knows everything. Just being aware that you don't know everything and, if you come across something that you're not sure about, that you have resources. So just try to set the environment up where there are resources and support. Again, at the end of the day, we all have a job. This is the goal. This is the outcome that we're going to aim for. Just make sure that we're all on the same page there. Then from there, provide the support and the processes around that.
Kathleen: I'm curious whether, or to what extent, hiring is a challenge these days, because I'm hearing from a lot of people across many industries that right now the labor market is very tight and, especially with coming out of COVID and people having had a taste of what it's like to work remotely, and a lot them now making career decisions around whether they're going to be able to continue doing that. Are you finding at all that it's tough to hire?
Chandon: Honestly, I've been very lucky. I would say we've been very lucky. We have a pretty stable team where people will stick around four or five years. We haven't had a mass exodus, and I think it's partly because of the culture there that we build. We've had a few hires as of late and we've been lucky to add some really good people as well. So for me personally, at this time, we don't have a ton of open recs, but the roles that we do have ... I wouldn't say it was easy, but were lucky to find good quality people.
Chandon: I would say I've been very lucky where I've been part of a team and a group of individuals who seemed to enjoyed it and like being around each other. That support that I mentioned is there. I do my best as a manager, as a leader, to manage that part of it and do what I can there. But I've been very lucky in that aspect. So we haven't had any issues with hiring.
Kathleen: So you chalked it up to culture or at least partially to culture.
Chandon: For sure.
Kathleen: How would you describe the culture at the company?
Chandon: It's collaborative, entrepreneurial and fast paced. I think that could be a descriptor of many companies within our space, but I think you stick around for managers and people and the environment. So I think the culture ... I have a great manager, great colleagues. I have a great team. I try my best to be a great manager. So I think just the cultures, teamwork kind of bring it all together. It's about teamwork and being as transparent as you can during the process of just corporate advertising.
Kathleen: Yeah. Yeah. Now, shifting gears a little bit, you talked about some of the ... I would call them more evergreen principles of building a great team. Things like communication and collaboration and providing a supportive environment. At the same time that these evergreen things need to be in place, this is an industry that is in massive flux right now. There's a lot happening from a regulatory standpoint, technology changes, platform changes. What would you say are the top three challenges that you personally are facing as an ad ops leader?
Chandon: Wow, top three. I would say we're in the midst of ... We are a very young industry in the grand scheme of things and I think we're at another crossroads right now. So, trying to take what we know, what we've done, and moving it forward to the unknown, kind of where we think where we're headed. So trying to predict the future and provide services needs that we know that are there, and organize that in the fashion that people are aware of it.
Chandon: So just the top three things, managing this change right now, I would say is one of them. I said earlier, like I like the change, but this time I think it's-
Kathleen: It's a lot.
Chandon: There's a lot of good going on. Then we add the layer of COVID on top of that, and that it definitely adds to it. So just figuring out where the roles, because all of our roles have changed. I think they're changed slightly. If they haven't changed that, they will. We're still a young industry. I think of just kind of expanding out of your comfort zone. So I think now, for us too, because as a team, our view of the world and exposure and need, I think, has expanded, getting more comfortable in that new role and that expanded role.
Chandon: Ad ops, as I mentioned before, it's kind of been behind the scenes, especially for more junior people, but now we're becoming more upfront changing, understanding that that's a part of the job now. I think that's a big part of it. Finding ways to be more efficient at scale, where there's ... Errors happen, but trying to manage that and mitigate that as much as possible. These may be things that are historically always in the conversation, but I think right now it's kind of ... that's a big part of just the evolution of our industry.
Kathleen: Yeah. Moving fast without breaking too many things, right?
Chandon: Yes. Yes. I guess also being a bit ... having some confidence that you have some experience and have enough experience to manage the turbulent times, if you will.
Kathleen: Yeah. So, with all this change and with all the turbulence, you talked about the need to be a continuous learner, and to always be curious. How do you do that? Do you have certain sources that you rely on to keep up to date on all this stuff that's happening in this industry?
Chandon: For sure. So I would say peers, the team, our partners, building better partnerships. I think those partnerships go two ways. Obviously, partners are always the best to work with, whether at a holding company or an agency. A lot people reach out wanting access to certain teams, certain clients just to have the conversation and share their products. learning alongside with them and partnering with as many partners as we can just so we can learn, because it helps everyone involved. It helps them, helps us, helps us choose the right partner.
Chandon: So basically just spreading that love amongst the team of, all right, let's focus on these verticals, these partnerships, and let's learn as much as we can, dive deeper into certain items that make sense for ad operations specifically, but at a high level, maybe first 50 feet, whatever it is, to learn as much as we can so we can help our clients navigate, because there is so much going on.
Chandon: Because I believe that operation touches so much, we're in a position where we can help provide that guidance or be the entry point into, all right, now I know who to bring in from our team so we can provide you more guidance here, or this is what you need, or this is how we need to set things up initially. Initially, when setting up a campaign to be an operation, we know that longer term you're going to need this. You can't do it now. You'll need this in place. So let's set up the infrastructure from a tagging standpoint. Let's try to think ahead so, when it comes to time to making that change or that evolution, we're in a good spot.
Kathleen: Any specific events or publications or communities that you think are worth calling out?
Chandon: Over the years, Admonsters has been very helpful for ad operations individuals. That team, Rob Beeler is one individual who I've met over the years who's been great. I've done some panels with them over the years. For ad ops, that's been one of the main ones in New York. I know they do all their stuff outside of the city and a lot of it can be publisher focused. But in general, just having that space, a room full of ad operations professionals can be rare.
Kathleen: Yeah. All right. Speaking of ad operations professionals, my other question is who else is doing great work? We always profile ad ops team leaders on this podcast. So who else out there is and great work and should be our next guest?
Chandon: Wow. I have a list of individuals that I was thinking about this question. I know we chatted briefly prior. I have a great team now. My leadership, my colleagues, Sarah Rose, and my team are awesome. I just want to shout them out because they're great. I think the team makes the dream work, but I would say one of my ... I have great people in my career, luckily in operations throughout it. But I have one friend who, no matter what's going on, always reaches out, always is a conduit for the industry and individuals. I see him on LinkedIn sharing information, someone looking for a job, just paying it forward. So I would say Matthew Katz.
Kathleen: Matthew Katz. And where is he now?
Chandon: Great question. That's one thing I didn't look up.
Kathleen: That's okay. I'll look it up.
Chandon: Yes. I can share that with you as well, but he's always just been a great just person, individual. He's always looking out for other ad operations individuals. We worked together back in the days at Mediaplex and he's always been just a good person and a good ... Always looking to provide support for anyone in industry, but also within ad operations as well.
Kathleen: He sounds great. So Matthew, if you're listening, I'm coming. I'm coming to ask you to be on the podcast.
Chandon: Hey, Matt. Sorry about that.
Kathleen: All right. Well, that brings us really to almost the end of our time. So if someone's listening, Chandon, and they want to connect with you or learn more about Kinesso or the work you're doing there, what is the best way for them to do that?
Chandon: Well, LinkedIn obviously, and you can learn more about Kinesso by just looking up our site Kinesso.com. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out via LinkedIn and I'm happy to help if you want to learn more.
Kathleen: That's great. I will put those links in the show notes. So head there if you want to find them.
Kathleen: And in the meantime, if you're listening, thank you so much for joining me and Chandon for this episode of Ad Ops All Stars. If you enjoyed it, please head to Apple Podcasts and leave us a review. To hear more interviews with other leading ad ops experts, head to Clean.io, and while you're there, check out our resource center to learn more about protecting your user experience and your revenue. That is it for this week. Thank you for joining me Chandon. This was great. I appreciate it.
Chandon: Thank you Kathleen, for your time. I appreciate it so much.