Ad Ops All Stars: Jeremy Zimmerman, Motorsport Network
by Kathleen Booth, on Dec 15, 2021 9:00:00 AM
How does ad operations differ in the U.S. as compared to Europe?
How did Motorsport Network double programmatic revenue without increasing headcount?
How does a someone with a graphic design background become an ad ops team leader?
How can you rip out and replace an entire ad tech stack without disrupting revenue or operations?
Motorsport Network VP of Programmatic and Ad Operations Jeremy Zimmerman answers these questions - and more - on the latest episode of the Ad Ops All Stars podcast.
Jeremy got his start as an IT support specialist who was doing graphic design work and building websites on the side. When he had the opportunity to go into ad tech, he jumped at it. That was about 10 years ago in what he calls "the earlier days" of the ad ops world when programmatic was just getting started. His career took him from Rodale to American Media and Billboard, before landing him at Motorsport Network where he leads the company's global advertising operations team.
Listen to or watch the full episode, or read the transcript below, to hear Jeremy's story.
Resources from this episode:
- Connect with Jeremy on LinkedIn
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Kathleen: Welcome back to the Ad Ops All Stars Podcast. I'm your host, Kathleen Booth. And today my guest is Jeremy Zimmerman, who is the VP of Programmatic and Ad Operations at Motorsport Network. Welcome to the podcast, Jeremy.
Jeremy: Thank you for having me.
Kathleen: Yeah. I'm excited to chat with you. And, you have an interesting background. Didn't start out in ad ops like most people I talk to, so of course we'll get to that. But, as anyone who listens to the podcast knows, I always to start out by asking a little icebreaker question. And that question is, how do you, or how would you explain what you do for a living to a five year old?
Jeremy: Hmm, that is a very good question. I'm sure you've probably heard this a bunch of times at this point. But, I'm the one responsible for all those annoying little ads that get in the way of looking at whatever you're trying to watch them on.
Kathleen: True story. I have heard that before. As a marketer, you need to stop saying annoying. No, it's funny. I've learned a lot from listening to people just to answer this question. And it's funny, a lot of people do say I'm responsible for the ads, but the corollary to that, that I love that a few people have said is, "I'm the one that makes the internet free." So, let's put a happy marketing spin on that and say, "I'm responsible for putting the ads on the internet that make the internet free."
Jeremy: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I'd say most kids probably don't understand that.
Kathleen: Yeah. True story.
Jeremy: But, depends who you're talking to. I mean, sometimes I will say that I basically manage a stock market for online advertising, in a sense.
Kathleen: Which is an interesting way of looking at it. Yeah.
Jeremy: Because it is an exchange and its multiple exchanges. And so, it's very similar, people are bidding in real time, but most people don't really grasp that concept.
Kathleen: Yeah. And it's funny, because the reason I always ask about five year olds is that... And some people have even said it when I ask that question, they're like, "Gosh, I have a hard time even explaining what I do to my mother."
Kathleen: And that's exactly the point, which is that I figure if people can explain it to a five year old, then anybody's mother can understand it too, right, so.
Jeremy: My mom used to tell everyone, "Oh, he makes the websites." I'm like "Yeah, that works. Go ahead."
Kathleen: Yeah. Well, and that's actually the perfect segue into my next question, which is, how did you get your start? Because it did have to do with making websites, did it not?
Jeremy: Yeah. I had a very interesting beginning. I started off as a graphic designer. And, I was just doing work here. Well, I was a graphic designer and a IT specialist at the same time. So, I was doing IT work, but I was also doing graphic design on the side. I was getting asked to build out websites here and there. And, eventually someone saw some of the work I had done and they said, "Do you want to do AdTech?" And at that point I was few years out of college, still living with my parents was not making enough money to move out. And I was like, "Ooh, I can get a full time salary. Perfect." And I just jumped into it and ran with it. And I was in the earlier days, Google had just bought DoubleClick.
Jeremy: So, things were a lot more simpler, I'd say, in the industry at that point. And, not that it's this insanely old industry, I mean, we're only talking 10 years. But, it's crazy how much it's changed in that short of a time, where it's not even remotely close to what I do now from when I started. But, yeah, it was very interesting, the way I moved into it. And, yeah, I just ran with it, it was my first office job. It was a really cool experience. And, I definitely got to learn a lot of the beginning, which I could see a lot of the younger kids coming in and they don't really know how a lot of this stuff started. And, I was lucky where I got in at a point where I could see how it began.
Kathleen: Yeah. And your career is interesting. So, I LinkedIn stalked you a little bit before this. And, I'm looking at your LinkedIn profile now, and you've gone from ad ops roles in different companies. You started in... I don't know if I'm pronouncing it correctly, but is it Rodale?
Jeremy: Rodale. Yeah. They do that, the health magazines, men's health, women's health.
Kathleen: Yep. And then American Media, and then Billboard, which is one that I think everybody recognizes. And now, Motorsport Network. Now, in between there, I do have to ask you about this. You list on your resume that you are a Senior Flash developer. And it says, until the present, but I have to ask... I thought Flash, wasn't still a thing.
Jeremy: Flash is dead. It's not really a thing anymore. When I was in college, I had taught myself Flash, because at that point it was a big thing to learn for animation. And, I had met a person who had came up with a way to teach kids geography through puzzles. And, he was bringing it around the schools. So, I stored the product and was said, "Why I don't recreate this into a digital thing, where you could throw it up in a smart board and kids can interact with it." And, yeah, I built out a whole program in Flash to teach kids geography, through this company called Mapzzles.
Jeremy: And, there's actually a patent on it, which was cool. And, we tried very hard to sell it around. Unfortunately, schools don't really have much of a budget to spend.
Jeremy: But, yeah, there's this product out there that I helped invent, back in college, that teaches kids geography through Flash. It's still there, but obviously it's a little dated at this point. It would be very hard to use it now with in the work. And then in the non-Flash world that we're in, but it's there.
Kathleen: Yeah. That's so interesting. I saw that on your LinkedIn and I was like, "Wait, I have to ask him about Flash." So, you joined Motorsport Network in October of 2020, and you had come from Billboard, and you had been at Billboard for over two years, and we'll talk about both. But I'm curious at Billboard, how big was the team... That time were you leading the ad operations team there?
Jeremy: Yeah. I came on to help out with the ad operations. It was a team of four people. At that point, it was a little dated the way they had everything set up, programmatic wasn't really a thing. Which you see sometimes with these bigger older publishers, where they're a little slower to get into it. So, I helped clean up the operations and get more programmatic going. Although, they had done it before in the past, just company that size and so well known, they have such a direct sales going on, that they didn't really need the programmatic. But, we came in, I was working with Michael Bendell, who I believe you interviewed not too long ago. And, we cleaned everything up and brought in programmatic there. And it was very successful for a bit. And then, they sold off the company.
Kathleen: And you moved to Motorsport Network. And, tell me a little bit about that. When you got there, what did the team look like? What percentage of the business was programmatic, versus direct, et cetera?
Jeremy: So, Motorsport was very different than any previous job I've ever been at, mainly because, it's such an international company. They have offices in Rome, London, Middle East. It's literally a global company. And, traditionally I've always been on the U.S. publishing side. So, it was a little bit of a tricky dealing with all the different teams. But it was also interesting because there's definitely a difference the way programmatic's run in the U.S., versus everywhere else. So, I was learning all different groups. The team itself was really small. Their operations was very small. A lot of things we're doing now in the U.S., I'd say in the last few years with the trading, with PMPs and everything, they weren't really set up that way.
Jeremy: So, it was a lot of just bringing everything up to speed, redoing a lot of the... I focused in the beginning, majorly on the tech. Their ad tech, I won't say wrong, it hadn't been updated in a long time. So, I brought everything up to speed, and now it's night and day since I started. The fact that we've probably doubled our overall programmatic revenue within the year.
Kathleen: Wow. Now, you made a comment earlier that made me perk up. You said "How programmatic is done in the U.S. is very different than how it's done internationally." Can you break that down for me?
Jeremy: Yeah. So, in the U.S... And this isn't a blanket statement, because obviously every publisher is different... That's one thing I've learned throughout the years, is what works at one place does not work in another place. But, generally, the U.S. seems to rely much more on the open market and supplements with PMP and programmatic direct deals, while the European markets and even other areas, they don't rely on the open market as much, everything is PMP, or everything is a preferred deal. They're looking much more for that direct relationship, than buying in the open. The arguments, the things I'll hear from that side of the world is, it's interesting, it's a lot of this comments and stuff I'd hear five, six years ago here, where, "How do we know we're really buying on you? Is this real inventory?" They want that direct still.
Jeremy: So, I do think it's going to change over time, and you're slowly starting to see it, because everyone has their budgets they need to fulfill, so they're going to have to... And this is just where everything's moving, whether people wanted to or not. So, you're seeing the shift, but it's not as fast over there. They're not as open to embracing the marketplace, like they did in the U.S.
Kathleen: So, you came into Motorsport Network, and this was really a very different environment, because it was much more global from the very beginning. Can you describe for me what the organizational structure looked like in terms of both the team that you came into in the U.S., but then counterparts abroad, and how did you all work together, and who reported into who, and...?
Jeremy: It's very confusing. And to a degree, I'd say it's probably still a little bit. But, generally they have it broken off by editions. So, my team was focused more on their global edition. So, North America, parts of the UK, some of the European markets. The other, they literally have boots on the ground in those markets. So, there's usually someone else, not quite my counterpart, but someone who's more sales focused is usually sitting on that side. And, that's what I've noticed. They'll have a lot more sales focused people in my role, just focusing on the getting PMPs and deals like that. In the U.S., I'm much more managing the open exchanges, I'm more on the technical end of the monetization side of the stuff.
Kathleen: Now, were any of the other markets doing any programmatic? I mean, you've definitely said that they had a preference for direct or private.
Jeremy: They're doing programmatic. It's just not as much. Or if it's coming through, it's the general, we'll make a partnership with another company and they'll bring in all the PMPs for them. One of the big differences I've noticed is, a lot of these markets really do require people in the markets that go out there. And if you don't really have boots on the ground, they're not going to be open to talking to you. So, a lot of times they found it easier to outsource to a company that's based in that area. And, that's generally how I've been seeing it. Are they doing a lot overall? No, it's still very much direct focused. But, I'd say they're seeing what we're doing here in the U.S. with it, and they obviously want to replicate that.
Kathleen: Yeah. So, you mentioned that the programmatic business has grown considerably. I think you said it doubled in the last year.
Kathleen: So, when you first came on, were you working with anybody else? Who else was U.S. team there with you?
Jeremy: There was a few people that they were let go as I was coming in. The team was in transition. So, there wasn't really too much of a team here. At that point, there was U.S. office in Miami. However, most the team I worked with was spread out all over the country. But, there was only, I believe, two people realistically on the team. And, there was a focus, but things were a little outdated. I think, the tech was slowing things down a lot, in the U.S. at least. The fraud was an issue. At the time, they weren't really doing too much to combat that. Header bidding was very, very basic set up at that point.
Jeremy: So, we just came in, redid their wrapper, and added a bunch of the big partners that are running now in the US. And, did the basic things that most people do. And one of the biggest things I'd say was missing is... And this goes, I've noticed, every place I've been at is, it's easy to set things up and forget it. There's an attitude in ad ops. And, I don't like that. I'm very against that. So, the first thing I did is we need to set up regular key conversations with our partners, with our reps, and just have that continuing dialogue going on. And, that definitely was not happening initially. So, we brought that on and you could see lift right away.
Jeremy: Being on the publisher side, you're not going to be able to see everything that the SSPs can see. They're not always sharing that information. So, if you're not having that regular dialogue, you're not really knowing what's happening. So, we were able to get a better grasp and everything. We were able to see CPMs rise and it was just overall a huge success. And then, we just built off that. We brought in more people who are more familiar with managing these SSPs, having these conversations with people, they know the team, the people on the other side. So, it makes it easier. And yeah, that's where we ran with things.
Kathleen: To that end, fast forward to today, what does the team look like now?
Jeremy: Still a small team. There's still three of us. We actually didn't really grow, we just changed a little bit. We all do a little bit of everything. I'm the VP of the programmatic. And, I'm not above going in and setting up campaigns, helping do deals with the direct teams, setting up basic campaigns if I need to. We all just chip in where we need to. And, because of that, we got a good thing going on. We brought on a new wrapper technology, through AG Grid, which made things a lot easier in terms of getting tech on the site, and updating our partners, especially on the header bidding side of things. So, yeah, compared to six, seven years ago, you could probably do a lot more with the smaller team than you used to be able to.
Kathleen: Yeah. I was going to say, it's impressive because you've doubled revenue on the programmatic side without increasing headcount.
Jeremy: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, there's a lot of new technology out there that makes it possible. AI's definitely in the forefront of what we're doing nowadays. So, what would require two, three people back in the day. Now, it's a software that does it.
Kathleen: So, you talked about technology and revamping the tech stack, that can be very effective, but it also can be one of these House of Card situations, where you really mess things up. So, what was your approach to undertaking that process? And did you run into any challenges along the way?
Jeremy: Every turn I made was a challenge. Making a major change like that obviously, it's a little nerve wracking for people. So, I mean, the first thing was, I got pushed back from every direction I came in on. And, we decided as a group let's test out on a small site. Well, we're lucky at Motorsport, it's a Network, there's multiple sites, different sizes. So, picked one of the smaller ones. We obviously did it in staging, so we're not messing anything up in live environment. Just the same way any new tech adventure is happening. We did a lot of extensive QA on when we released it, and then we pushed it live, and just hoped for the best, in a sense. But, there's obviously some part of that, when it comes down to that. You could prepare as much as you want, but there's always going to be something you couldn't proceed.
Jeremy: And, within the first day, you could see things had changed greatly. And the revenue had doubled. And, you could tell that the buyers were much more engaged into bidding. And, we let it run for a month or so I believe. And, did a lot of back and forth comp comparisons, and then moved onto another site. It was slow change in the beginning. But once we got a few sites under our belt, and they saw the revenue change, and how direct campaigns were being improved because of this stuff. And, we were getting more interest in programmatic, that's when we hit the ground running and moving to the other sites. So, I mean, considering a network this size, I've been here maybe a month over a year at this point, and we're about to have finished revamping every site with our new wrappers. So, that's pretty quick for a publisher of this size.
Kathleen: Yeah, it seems like it. And, outside of your team who was involved in that decision making process around revamping everything?
Jeremy: It's a joint. Something on that side, you get everybody involved. So, we had our project managers involved, the engineers were involved, because obviously it affects what they're doing. Editorial was involved, because I was going to be changing a little bit of the way that the ads were presented on the site. You had the site heads involved, the heads of the company were all engaged with it. It was a huge team effort at the end of the day.
Kathleen: Got it. And you talked a lot about technology and have really told the story of how powerful it can be in impacting revenue. I would love to know, is there any particular tech that you're most excited about in terms of what's coming next? And, anything you're thinking about implementing, not necessarily name brands, but categories of types of tech?
Jeremy: Right now is an interesting time, I'd say, for tech in the ad ops world. There's definitely a lot of stuff out there. Is there anything I'd say that's really like, "Oh, this is really cool and I want to be involved with it?" To a degree. It's very hard for the publishers to make money at this point, with Googles, and Facebook, and how they're controlling the industry, that a lot of the tech coming out is a little gimmicky, in order to help make more money for the publisher. And, it's unfortunate because at the end of the day, people are coming here to read content. And, we're not making enough money to continue producing that content that they want. And, this is not a Motorsport thing, I think this is an industry issue.
Kathleen: Oh yeah.
Jeremy: We're coming up with these weird things to in order to make more money. So, we can keep doing, what we're doing, and have a job, and a house to sleep in. So, yeah, nothing I'd say that really stands out, that I'm proud of that I want to be part of. But, there is intriguing things. It's just, they're all in my opinion, ways to get more viewability, so we can get better campaigns, or how do we get more impressions so we can get more return, because the CPMs are generally dropping? I remember when I first started, it was not unheard of to get like a 50, $60 CPM campaign. Now, if they get $20, we're jumping up and down. And, we have to deliver three to four times the amount that we used to. So, that's where the tech is. It's how to produce this stuff in a way that's meaningful. And, to a degree is it a little gimmicky? Probably, but that's what we have to do in order to keep providing the public with what we're doing.
Kathleen: So, you talked about just the, call it, economic challenges of operating in the environment that we have right now, with these big platforms, and the cuts that they take, and et cetera. If you had to classify the top three challenges that you think right now are facing today's ad ops teams, what would you say those three challenges would be?
Jeremy: That is a good question. I'd say for right now, the biggest probably issue is around... It's probably the challenge of the fact that... And I'm probably looking at this more from a monetization stance, because I am programmatic. But, it is the fact that CPMs are not that great right now. And, the industry, it's very hard to make revenue. And, be successful in this industry. To the point where it falls on these ad ops teams to, "You have to make the money, so we can stay in business." And, at the end of they ad ops teams are the last line of defense in this area, because it's already past sales, everyone just says, "Okay, throw a programmatic on, you're going to make money." And that's not really the case. And a lot of the times, unfortunately, I hate to say it, but a lot of times you're dealing with 20 year old kids. I'm definitely one of the more older people in the industry. And, I don't really think I'm old, but-
Kathleen: You don't look old.
Jeremy: ... It's just how it is. A lot of times I'm dealing with a lot of people... Freshman at college, and they're being pressure to manage multimillion dollar campaigns, or they have to find a way to bring more money in for these multimillion dollar companies. And, they don't have the knowledge behind it, because this isn't anything you learn at school. In fact, I could probably safely say, no one comes out of college and says, "I want to work in ad ops."
Kathleen: I talk about this all the time on this podcast. There's no degree for it, there's no major. Everybody comes from such fascinating diverse backgrounds.
Jeremy: Exactly. And so, you're getting these young people you've thrown in it. And they're responsible. And it's definitely having an impact. I can see it on my side. And, it's definitely probably the biggest struggle I think everybody has. And the more this in industry rolls up and shrinks a little bit, because you're seeing it with publishers can't keep in business the way they used to, so they're emerging or they're shutting down. So, there's less opportunities out there. So, you're not getting the high value workforce that you were, when this first started. So, you're seeing kids, essentially, handling this without any real background, or real knowledge. And I think that's honestly, one of the biggest struggles right now, is just because it's hard to make money, it's hard to pay the quality talent that's out there. And because of it, you're seeing it now the glass line of what everything is, which should be the most important, realistically.
Kathleen: Hmm, that's a really interesting observation. When it comes to hiring people, you're right, there isn't school for ad ops out there, or at least not a traditional one. So, in terms of hiring, what are the essential hard or soft skills that you look for, that you think are important?
Jeremy: So, it's funny, maybe two years ago, me and my friend went through this procedure at Billboard, where we were interviewing people, and everything was straight out of college. So, we knew we were looking for people with no background in ad ops. So, basically, we focused on people who had technical skills that were able to problem solve on the go. And we give them these trick questions to see how they would handle it. And, it wasn't really to trick them, as much as see how they react and approach the problem at hand. Because the truth is, every issue you have in this industry, it's completely new. You have to backwards engineer to figure out, what's going on, and you're becoming your own expert right there on the spot. Because, there's no booklet to go and like, "Okay, this isn't working. These are the reasons why." There's nothing like that. And, if it's not working today, the issue might be completely different than the issue it was two weeks ago.
Jeremy: So, it's trying to find someone who can think on the fly like that, and be very creative in the way they're approaching a problem. And that's why I think I've been so successful is, being that I came from an art background. My head doesn't really work the same way, I guess, a regular engineer would. So, I approach it very methodically and from different angles to approach, "Why is this happening?" Looking at all the different aspects of it, and that's very important. It's more the ability to figure things out on your own and drive that further than really the knowledge, because the background skills, you'll learn that, you could pick it up. If you're very tech savvy and you can investigate things, you should be able to pick up that stuff real quickly.
Kathleen: Yeah, that makes sense. All right, well, shifting gears, I have a couple questions that I always ask folks at the end, and I want to make sure we save enough time for these. The first one is, the theme of this conversation, and in fact, most of the conversations I have on this podcast is just how much this industry is changing. And, it's technological change, it's platform changes, it's regulatory changes, it's all of it. How do you stay up to date? Do you have certain sources that you rely on to keep yourself educated?
Jeremy: I do. Well, at first, I will say, that's the main thing that attracted me to this industry. I am definitely one of those people who get very bored, when things are exactly the same. If my job is the same every year, I don't think we'd be talking right now.
Jeremy: So, I'm constantly reading up about everything. But, I'd say my main sources are honestly just keeping in touch with people in the industry and talking to them. That's really the best, in my opinion. Although the last two years, it's been next to nothing, but I try to go to all the events when they're out there.
Kathleen: Which events are your favorites?
Jeremy: I like the Digidays. AdMonsters isn't bad. Honestly, my real favorites tend to be when the companies do little one off things on their own. Because, those tend to be more, what that company is working on, they want to showcase that stuff. And, that's where you really see all the new things more. A lot of the AdMonsters and Digidays, they're good for sales people, because you're doing your social networking stuff. But, for me, if I was younger, they're amazing. Because you can go, you can really network with everyone, there's a lot of bigger people there to talk to. For me, I'm at a point where we don't really share as much as we used to when we were younger. Because we all have our little secret sauce thing. Although, I try really hard not to do that. I like to be open with everything.
Kathleen: Now I'm like, "Man, did I miss an opportunity to get the secret sauce out of you on this podcast interview?"
Jeremy: But yeah, so it's just keeping in touch with people, that's the major thing. Because, everyone's doing stuff differently. I learned that part a long time ago. There's no real cookie cutter solution for everything.
Jeremy: So, what works at one place won't work in another. So, you just keeping in touch with everyone, you could grab little bits of what everyone's doing, and work it into what you're doing at that point.
Kathleen: So, you came on this podcast because as you pointed out, Michael Bendell mentioned your name, when I asked him who's doing great work. So, now I'd love to pose that same question to you, which is, on this podcast, we like to profile people who are either currently leading ad ops teams, or who have done it in the past, and who are really doing outstanding work. Who do you think we should interview as our next guest?
Jeremy: I would say, someone who I used to work with and she's really moved her way up throughout the years, is Jennifer Castillo. She's at Dow Jones. I worked with her at Rodale for years. And, we've kept touch in touch over the time. And, I've just always been really impressed with her. And, I've seen her from the start to move up. So, I always kind of respect that a lot. And then, I have one other person I'd say, but she's not really on the ad op side. She's more on CTV, and she much more has her focus on the industry, is Alicia Dino. She's someone I go to a lot for information and stuff.
Kathleen: Well, those sound like two good ones. And I love that you mentioned two women. All right. Last question for you is if somebody wants to learn more about you, connect with you, ask you a question about what you talked about here today, try to get your secret sauce out of you, what's the best way for them to connect with you?
Jeremy: Definitely LinkedIn. I'm pretty active on it. Although, sometimes I go through little periods of not being. But, I'd say LinkedIn is definitely the best place to reach out to me.
Kathleen: Great. All right. Well, I will put the link to your LinkedIn in the show notes on our website. And so, head there for that information. And, if you want to read, or listen to, or watch more interviews with leading ad ops experts, definitely head to clean.io, and check out our resource center for those interviews, as well as more information on protecting your user experience, your brand, and your revenue. Thank you so much for joining me this week, Jeremy, this was a lot of fun, I enjoyed meeting you.
Jeremy: Thank you so much. It was a joy to be here.