Ad Ops All Stars: Keith Candiotti, Optimera

by Kathleen Booth, on Jul 21, 2021 9:00:00 AM

Keith CandiottiAs an ad ops leader, what are the biggest challenges you wish you could solve?

For Keith Candiotti, viewability was at the top of the list. During his tenture as Director of Ad Operations at the New York Daily News, Keith learned a lot about building high performing ad ops teams and optimizing the team's tech stack and processes. 

Building on that experience, Keith went on to found Optimera, a company that began by focusing on helping publishers to optimize viewability and has since evolved to provide a wide range of services aimed at improving ad revenue and performance.

From how to work with a direct sales team, to differentiating your direct business from your programmatic offering, Keith shares his insights on what it takes to lead a best-in-class ad operations team (along with fun anecdotes about stints as a commercial truck driver and the founder of a real estate property management company).

Listen to or watch the full episode, or read the transcript below, to hear what Keith had to say

Resources from this episode:

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Kathleen: Welcome back to the Ad Ops All Stars podcast. I'm your host, Kathleen Booth, and this week, my guest is Keith Candiotti, who is the founder and CEO of Optimera. Welcome to the podcast, Keith.

Keith: Very nice to be here, Kathleen. Super excited.

Kathleen: Yeah. I'm looking forward to digging into it with you. Before we start, can you just say a few words about what Optimera is for anybody who hasn't heard of it before?

Keith: Sure. So Optimera is a company that focuses on what we like to call publishing technology. So, a lot of startups into the ecosystem, they're grasping at straws, trying to figure out what will make them successful. And a lot of times they end up going, oh, the buy-side, we just have to get hooked up with one agency and we'll be a rocket ship from there. And that's something that we very much pushed back against during our existence. And so we really focused on how can we help publishers who often struggle with being on the same technological page with much bigger sites or just whatever their technical struggles may be as it comes to ad ops and ad revenue.

Keith: How can we kind of be a hub for lots of publishers and develop solutions that kind of the tide that lifts all ships, if you will? So we originally started with helping publishers optimize for viewability, which was a really big buzzword back in 2015 through kind of 2019, and it still is. We've kind of branched out to do other things. So we basically exclusively work with publishers and just help them optimize everything to be as successful as they can.

Kathleen: Awesome. And you, I don't usually interview people on the podcast who are on the, call it, the ad tech or the vendor side. But one of the reasons that I was looking forward to talking with you and wanted to include you is that you created the company because you come out of Ad Operations. You have been an Ad Ops leader, which is really who we generally talk to, and you started this business because of a need you saw in the market. So, we're going to get into that in a minute. But before we dig into your career and your background, I have my favorite question that I'd love to ask every guest, which I'm going to ask you, which is, when it comes to ad operations specifically, how would you describe that job to a five-year-old?

Keith: Good question. So I think that ad operations is making sure that you can help the sales team execute whatever they're trying to execute in as an efficient manner as possible. Maybe those are really big words for the five-year-old, but I'm going to give the some credit here. We're talking to a bright one.

Kathleen: Nice. I love it. So, and I love that that's like a servant leader mentality. So I mentioned that you come out of the world of ad operations and you spent several years at the New York Daily News in the ad ops division. Let's rewind the clock though, and you didn't start out in ad operations. I saw from your LinkedIn profile that you started out as a graphic designer. And I always like to say, nobody goes to school for ad ops. Nobody's 10 and says, what I want to be when I grew up is an ad ops person. So how did you wind up going into ad ops?

Keith: Yeah. So I, super winding back the clock quite a bit, when I graduated high school, my kind of like, when I'm 10 , what am I going to be when I grow up? I really wanted to be an auto mechanic.

Kathleen: Wow.

Keith: I was going to go to auto mechanic school. Me and all my friends were really into cars and whatnot. And I got a taste of what it's like to do that professionally and hated it. So I'm like, no, I'm not going to do that. And then I started thinking, well, what's an easy degree I can just go out and get? And I'm like design, of course. And so I did that, and in the middle of doing that, I started a real estate property management company while I was in college, and so that was my thing. That became my life for years.

Keith: And that was all the way up until about 2010 when the whole mortgage crisis hit, or 2008. And so 2008 hits and I'm like, oh, real estate's not doing so good anymore. I have this graphic design degree I never used, maybe I could get a job. And so I was living in South Bend, Indiana at the time, which is where Notre Dame is, to put a pin on the map. And I applied for a job at the South Bend chocolate company. And I said, I've never had a design job, but I'm ready to go.

Keith: And the owner was like, okay, well I need someone to make the packages and make the website and make posters for shows and like this and that, and so he hired me. And so here I'm doing my graphic design work at the South Bend chocolate company, taking photos of chocolates and eating them right afterwards.

Kathleen: I was just going to say, how often did you eat the merchandise?

Keith: I always made up an excuse that we needed a new photo for something, and I would always go find my favorite thing in the store and then take like two pictures and then just eat the whole thing. So I-

Kathleen: And did you ever get to the point where you hated chocolate because you ate so much of it? Did you ever get to the point where you didn't like chocolate anymore because you ate too much of it?

Keith: No. No, no. Luckily, they're very varied selection, so I just kept the rotation going.

Kathleen: Nice.

Keith: But anyway, so this is fast forward a little bit through all that stuff, but now I'm doing this graphic design thing for like a year and a half and I'm like, I need a little bit more money. What can I do? And so I'm going through Craigslist and I see this nondescript ad. And it's like local-political site needs help with web, whatever, whatever. And I'm like, oh, the local democratic committee of South Bend, Indiana, needs some help with their website and maybe I'll get 500 bucks. So I send my resume and I get called in for an interview. And I go to the biggest building in South Bend.

Keith: It's like this 14 story high skyscraper, if you want to call it that. And I meet with this gentleman and he says, oh, well, I work for I'm the CTO. And we were recently acquired by Forbes, and we're a growing brand and we're hugged here in South Bend, but we also have an office in Chicago, and tell me about what you're doing and what's going on. So at the time, I'm always tinkering around with code and I was building this social media website. And I'm like, oh, I had this idea that people can come onto the social media website and create their profiles. And what if they're a band and they want to get the word out. Well, I built this advertising platform where you can choose people who like this type of music and live within this radius, and it will prompt to those people that, hey, there's a show.

Keith: And so he stops me and he's like, oh, so basically you build DFP. What's that? And he said, well, it's this ad platform, and we just got started on it. And so we've implemented it on the site and we've been getting open exchange revenue, but we just got a sales team, and we need somebody to take what the sales team is doing and make it work in the app platform in DFP, which is DoubleClick for publishers, which is the old name for GAM, if anybody's not that long in the industry. And so basically he hired me and he said, okay, you seem really smart. I don't know what to do with you. Here's an office, here's the login to GAM or DFP. You figure it out.

Kathleen: Yeah, go figure it out. Exactly.

Keith: And so I would talk to the sales team and just, and anytime I would go to him and I'd be like, hey, how do we traffic a line item? He'd be like, that's where you go figure out. So I really got thrown in the fire for my first ad ops job.

Kathleen: Wow. That's impressive and scary, I think, but also then it makes me wonder, is the upside to that, that there's nobody there to yell at you because they won't know if you've done something wrong?

Keith: Well, I think it was great to have that experience. So I think I'm a very fearless tinkerer. I'll break stuff just to know how does it break. How do you fix it? And so I think it was really nice to have this job where I was in the background working on stuff. Sometimes it didn't work out. Sometimes I would break something, but then I would have to figure out, okay, how do I fix it? And I was that much more smarter for next time.

Kathleen: Yeah.

Keith: It was really nice to have that autonomy in this type of role, I think.

Kathleen: No, that was that, correct me if I'm wrong, that was that RealClearPolitics? And then you made the move to the Daily News.

Keith: So, in between there, so I'm working at RealClearPolitics, and me and the CTO, we start a company on the side. And the company on the side was a vision that my CTO had, which was how could we optimize how the open exchange works? And this was way back in the day when the open exchange was all tag-based. So, anybody who's used to hearing the term header bidder and all those things, this is before any of that existed. And it was horrible, inefficient times. But he had this idea; it was almost a precursor to header bidding of a way to optimize that. And so we worked on that together and all the things were going really well. And then we had this very kind of like odd falling out. And this was after a few years of working there, and I ended up leaving and I was like, oh, wow, this was like out of nowhere.

Keith: I was making really good money. Where am I going to make this type of good money doing ad ops in South bend, Indiana? That doesn't exist. So I'm thinking about it. I'm like, well, my best friend, he drives a truck and he makes about as much money as I do, so I'm going to go get my CDL and I'm just going to start driving an 18-wheeler. And so my intermediary job between RealClearPolitics and New York Daily News was driving an 18-Wheeler around the US.

Kathleen: That is actually terrifying, and I've said this to my husband before, I would never want that job. Those rigs are so large and it's like, to me, it's so scary thinking about driving one of those and not destroying something or killing myself in the process. Like, wow.

Keith: It certainly took some getting used to it. And when you first start out, you start with a trainer, and what that means is somebody's always driving. So you're sleeping in the back while the other person's listening to the radio, drinking coffee, honking the horn. It's a rough environment to get into. But as I progressed through that, well, a year and a half of doing that, it ended where I was delivering wood to Amish Furniture factories throughout the Midwest. And this one day I'm wrestling with the door, it's February, there's like horizontal sleet. I'm stepping in a big puddle of mud and I can't get the door closed. And I'm like, you know what, forget this. I'm going back to ad ops. That was a pretty sweet moment. So I update my resume and I send it everywhere but New York, and I'm still living in Indiana at this time.

Keith: And somehow the New York Daily News reaches out to me and they said, "Hey, we saw your resume. Would you like to take a call with the director of ad ops?" And I was like, ah, I don't really want to move to New York, but it'll be good interview practice. So sure. Why not? And we get on the phone and we hit it off. We had this really great conversation. And basically he said, if you want to move to New York, I'll give you the job. And so I think this was on a Tuesday. So I told my trucking company, like I'm leaving on Friday, and I packed up my car and drove to New York and started at the Daily News on Monday. So it was a pretty quick transition for sure.

Kathleen: That is an amazing story. It's probably the most interesting career story I've heard so far while doing this podcast. I did not expect you to tell me that you were a truck driver, which is super cool. The question I have is, do you still have your license? Can you still drive a big rig?

Keith: So I kept it up for a while. One of the things just you know...

Kathleen: Yeah, you never know [crosstalk 00:12:35].

Keith: But I ended up feeling very secure at the Daily News, and I decided, you know what, I shouldn't have a crutch, I should be all in, in what I'm doing. It was kind of a momentous moment to just let that lapse and be like, okay, like I'm an ad ops professional, and that's what I'm going to do.

Kathleen: That's so funny, that reminds me, this is maybe a silly analogy, but it reminds me of like, I used to have a pair of fat pants and I was like, as long as I keep these fat pants, I'm giving myself permission to gain all the weight back. And so I got to get rid of the fat pants and go all in, so.

Keith: Yeah, 100%. Love that.

Kathleen: Oh my gosh. So, okay. So then you went to the Daily News and you had a variety of different positions there. Walk me through what the progression looked like.

Keith: Yeah. So when I kind of day one, when I walked into the Daily News, what they... So, basically, the Daily News ad ops team had through a confluence of events all left the company. So there was basically two women who were working as account managers on the sales side, who got dragged over and said, you're the ad ops team now. And these were both, they've been working for maybe a year or two. So they were swimming without a life preserver, and it was really tough for them. And so new management was being brought in, and my boss, I think, was the second hire. And I was the third hire of all the new people that were being brought in. And so his directive to me was, okay, first I need someone to manage all the ad technology. So I don't know what's going on. I don't know if we're implemented correctly. I have no idea Keith, just try to figure it out.

Kathleen: Again, figure it out. It's a pattern here.

Keith: Yeah, yeah, which was amazing for me. So I'm like, oh, okay, great. And so one of the first projects I had to do was implement header bidding. And this was for those familiar with what header bidding means, this was long before pre-bid existed. This was the very beginning when an SSP, a supply side platform, would come to you and say, hey, implement this JavaScript that we have on your site code, and we're going to an auction before DFP, which it was still called at that time, runs. So we'll have a bid before the ad platform runs. And having going back to what I mentioned earlier about tag-based set up, when I read all the documentation for pre-bidding, I was blown away by the brilliance of what this meant. It was such a leap in efficiency, which was awesome. So that was my first task was to get all the documentation from the vendors, figure out how it needs to be implemented.

Keith: I didn't have to do any of the code work, but I had to then regurgitate that to our tech team, make sure they understood how to get it implemented, get the code, do all the QA, et cetera, et cetera. So the first year and a half at the Daily News was just a lot of code; actually, a little bit less than that, but it was just a lot of code technology, getting everything cleaned up. And then what had happened was we started effectively get direct sold campaigns, but they were failing consistently. So they were not launching on time. They were severely under-delivering. They were getting no clicks. They were implemented completely incorrectly and the ads weren't showing up. And so I told my boss, I said, hey, it's not my responsibility, but here's all the things that are going wrong.

Keith: Here's why all these things are happening. And so he said, well, why don't you just be the ad ops manager too, and make sure this stuff doesn't happen. And I took a lot of pride in making sure these things worked correctly. And so having a really good team and the blessings from my boss, I was really able to just course-correct the organization, not only the ad ops team, which in my opinion, was doing a good job, but it was more getting sales, account management, trafficking, get everybody on the same page about how we work, what we're doing, and making it more efficient. And so we turned it around. We became one of the better publishers in all of our advertiser's work; to the point that they were shifting dollars to us instead of away from us. So it was really satisfying to go through that whole optimization strategy of the Daily News, I'll call it.

Kathleen: Nice. And was that the position that you held there when you left the company?

Keith: So, when I left, I was basically doing the same thing. I moved up to a director role at the... But it was just my boss went up a position, so I went up one. And so it was all in name and money, but not... the responsibility level didn't change. But we were also a pretty tight group. I think that the largest that our team ever was, was maybe six people. And more often than not, we were three or four.

Kathleen: Interesting. And what percentage of the business was direct versus programmatic?

Keith: Yeah, so I think it was normal us to be doing about 10 to 20% direct, and the rest programmatic. But of the 10 and 20% that was direct, a lot of these were very robust items. So it wasn't, let's just run an ROAS campaign or a run of site campaign. It was, we want sponsorship of this type of content. We want an exclusive type of ad creative or ad product. We want takeovers. We want interstitials. We want sponsorship. So when there was a direct sold campaign, there was a lot of moving pieces and a lot of different vendors we had to cobble together to make those things happen.

Kathleen: Yeah, that makes sense. So when you think about ad ops and the Daily News, where within the business, obviously there's the monetization goal, but you were there for several years at a crucial time within the industry in terms of how it evolved. Strategically, how did that change the role or did it change the role of ad ops within the overall business?

Keith: Yeah, I think it was interesting that my frame of reference of ad ops coming into the Daily News was I just deal with the salespeople. And my job is to try to never tell sales, no. And my experience has always been that sales will go out and just make stuff up and sell it, but how do we then say, okay, whatever, we know we have money coming in, now, we just got to make it work. And so that was my first year at the Daily News, and what I expected the industry to continue being. With the implementation of header bidding, this gave, what I would describe as unprecedented access, to all of the SSPs to our inventory.

Keith: So in a way, we almost made the SSPs our competitor to our sales team, because the SSP can now go to Macy's and say, well, yeah, you could do a one-off IO with the New York Daily News, or you can come to us, X, Y, Z, SSP, and we already work with the New York Daily News and 10 other New York brands, and we have incredible scale across the entire us. So why don't you just come to us instead. And it'll be a cheaper CPM. So as this was happening, there was this, oh my God, as a publisher, we have to get on the programmatic boat.

Keith: So now we're like, well, how do we create deals? How do we spin up a national programmatic sales team? How do we account manage all this? How do we troubleshoot and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So now there was this moment where the full focus was, how do we create audience or tie into third-party audiences? How do we hook up all these deals? How do we create a sales strategy? So, me personally, with my boss, with the director of the programmatic sales unit, we're going to The Trade Desk. And we're pitching on why they should be creating a deal on the New York Daily News.

Keith: And so then the rule changed into this programmatic focus, but it seemed that a lot of that labor was very unfruitful. And I think it's because it was still nascent. Nobody really knew how it worked. And even when you hooked up a deal, it still didn't transact more than a direct sole deal would. So there was kind of this, okay, we're spinning our wheels. We're cherry picking somebody from the open exchange, creating a deal. That deal makes us $7 a month. We're paying commission to somebody on that $7. Like, why not just leave the open exchange programmatic sphere doing its thing and focus back on the direct sales piece? And so it was undulations back and forth in between focusing on the two.

Kathleen: So how did you work that out though, that conflict between... You described it as almost competition between the SSPs and your direct team.

Keith: Yeah, I think it still is to this day. And I think the problem or the solution for it that we came up with was, well, how do we differentiate ourselves from what we're offering the programmatic buying channel? So, at that time, if you wanted to buy programmatically, you're basically talking normal IAB sizes on display positions. You're getting the 728 by 90, you're getting the 300 by 250. But if you wanted to take over, well, that wasn't so easy to do, or there really was no way to technically do it at the time. Or if you wanted a video or if you wanted a content sponsorship or a logo or something like that, you couldn't do that programmatically. And so we said, ah, well, that's our golden. So we'll use that to go to the director and say, here's all the stuff you can't get.

Keith: Because a very common feedback from buyers would be, oh, hi sales person from the Daily News. I already buy you for a $2 CPM on the open exchange. So why do I need to talk to you? And so then we had to educate the buyer. Well, if you're buying programmatically and you're buying at $2, this was back in the days of above the fold, below the fold, or at the top of the page, versus the bottom of the page, you're getting all the below the fold stuff that's not premium, because all of our premium stuff is up top. And so I was trying to create these issues or these problems to make it seem like the sales team was the salvation, and here's how you actually do good. Now, a lot of different publishers were doing that. I think where we were most successful though is we didn't take the direct sold business for granted.

Keith: And I still do a lot of publishers that we work with, I'll train a lot of their campaign managers or their ad ops teams. And what I see you working in a new organization quite often is that, oh, we have this direct sold campaign. It's run on site. So we set it up and we have this added value component. We set it up and it's pacing, then that's good enough. And then I say, yeah, okay, fine. Is the CTR or the click-through rate of this campaign better than your site average? Are you driving whatever the KPI is for this advertiser? Are you just optimizing it for the goodwill of optimizing it? And more 99 times out of a hundred, it's oh, no, we just set it up, and the ad platform's taking care of it.

Kathleen: The Ron Popeil set it and forget it approach.

Keith: Yeah. And the way I always looked at it was this, when a campaign ends, there's going to be some new young person working at an agency that's going to get a stack of wrap decks. And they're going to sit there and they're going to input them all through an Excel spreadsheet, and then they're going to sort, by KPI, greatest to worst. And then they're just going to go, here's the top 10 sites manager that we should keep buying on. And so my thing was we should always be at the top of that Excel spreadsheet.

Keith: So I always made it a really big deal for us that we should always be optimizing everything, always striving to get the best performance that we could on everything. And the feedback for us was often, wow, you guys drove the highest conversions, the highest CTR or the highest... So we knew it was working. And I just always assumed, if you're buying the New York Daily News, you're probably also buying the New York Post, you're probably also buying the New York Times. So how do we out optimize? That's the only way we're going to win. And then so this was where a lot of our focus went into.

Kathleen: And how did you train your team to do that? Because I feel like it's really a juggling act, right? You have to keep pace with all the direct sales, orders and the deadlines, and the troubleshooting around that. And then do all the rest of your day to day stuff. How do you train them to build a rhythm that supports that?

Keith: Yeah. So I always try to make sure that I had nothing to do all day.

Kathleen: This is going to answer my next question, which is going to be, what did your day-to-day look like?

Keith: Yeah. Yeah. So I always tried to make sure I had nothing to do. And then whenever anyone on the team had a problem, it wasn't, oh, do this, or, oh, give it to me and I'll fix it for you. I would just go sit next to them and I would say, okay, here's how I would do it, and go and pull this report. And I'd sit there and make sure they pull it. And I go say, do you understand why that number is the way it is? Yeah, I get it. Okay, here's this. And walk them down the path, because I wanted everybody to think the way I was thinking about it. And I don't mean that in a grandiose way, but just like if we're all thinking about the problem the same way, we're all going to solve it the same way.

Keith: And now if I know that we're both thinking about it the same way, I'm going to trust you to take it 99% of the way before you have to come to me with it. And just getting them in this like self thinking rhythm where they could do it themselves. I thought that was so important. So I would just dedicate time to the people and make sure that they can get things done. And that worked really well. And sometimes often it worked too well, because after a year, they get a job offer or an internship and then they would be, they would have all the right answers in that interview, but that was fine because it didn't actually take that long to train anybody on. It was just sit down, let's work through these problems and get it done.

Keith: So that was always my and continues to this day to be my philosophy is just get everybody to think for themselves, but to understand why is it the way that it is, and then let them connect their own neurons and come up with an efficient way to deal with it.

Kathleen: So, I have to now ask you, how did you set up your schedule so that you had nothing to do all day? Because I feel like this is the problem we all deal with. I can only speak for myself, but like my schedule is a case study in death by meetings. So how did you manage all that?

Keith: Yeah, so, there's this quote, I don't remember it exactly right. But basically Bill Gates was in an interview and he was talking about his ideal hire and he said something to the effect that, I always look for the laziest person because the person who's the laziest just tries to get things done the fastest so they can go back to being lazy. And I would say that that resonates with me very much and not in a sloppy way. I don't think laziness means sloppy, but like when there's a problem, I always think, how can I solve this and never have to deal with it again? What process can be set up that we fix it once and it's fixed from there on out. And it takes a lot of upfront work and it takes a lot of communicating to people.

Keith: It takes sometimes technology getting involved, a lot of process. But once that process is honed, then the nice thing is, if something goes wrong again, you could point, oh, step seven B in the process broke. So we need a step seven C in the future. And as long as we're all on the same page about that, that's how it's going to go. So usually I would come in in the morning and I'm a notoriously bad morning person. So I would stroll in at 10:15 with my Dunkin coffee. The campaign managers will be doing all their morning reports that kept an eye on all the pacing of campaigns, CPMs across all of our programmatic stuff, transactional things, whatever they're doing all of that. My boss is in meetings or whatever, giving me something to do. I'm just like move, move, move, get this stuff done as fast as possible.

Keith: And there would be days where literally I wouldn't have anything to do. And I'd even tell my boss, I'd be like, “Oh, I'm so frustrated. I have nothing to do.” And he said, “Enjoy it. That's what you're supposed to do.” If you get yourself to the point where you're not doing anything, then all the people are doing what needs to be done and any problem is getting resolved. So enjoy it because come Q4, you'll be working until 11:00 PM, every day, getting stuff set up, which of course always happened. And that was it. It's the best I can explain it, but it's just, I think a lot of ad ops workflow problems is problems reoccurring over and over and over and over again and having to deal with the same thing. And if you just fix that problem and you make sure it doesn't happen anymore, in my opinion at least, or in my experience, the world changes and it just becomes so much easier.

Kathleen: It's interesting. You just really reminded me of something. I used to own an agency and at one year we did a company retreat and the whole theme of it was, this is the year we're going to document our processes. But before we could go down that path, we had to convince the team of the value of just having processes in the first place. And somebody turned me on to this group exercise, which it's so much fun and it really drives the point home. And it reminds me of what you're talking about, which is, are you familiar with the sport of competitive cup stacking?

Keith: Yes. Where they go up and then go on.

Kathleen: It's crazy to watch it, and it's a lot of kids that do it and their hands move so fast. Half the time you can't even see them moving. It's crazy. And so the exercise was, I was at this executive retreat and they divided us up into teams and they gave each team a stack of red solo cups. And it was a competition and it was, we're going to set a timer and we're going to say, go, and each team needs to try to build these red solo cups into a perfect pyramid and then break the pyramid back down and restack the cups, right? Just what they do in competitive cup stacking. And so we all went through it and it was hysterical and ridiculous. And some of us just, the pyramids fell over and some of us got it, but it took us a really long time.

Kathleen: And so we went through, it was like heats and the second heat, it was the two top ones. And eventually we came to the winners. And then at the end and they asked the winners, because you had to do it twice, they were like, what did you change between the first time you did it in the second time? How'd you get faster? And at the end we watched a video of a champion cup stacker, which was mind blowing. And the whole point of it was, the winners had a process and they refined the process over time and they got faster and better. And they won the competition. And it was so much fun to do, but what an interesting way to illustrate exactly what you're talking about, which is if you get the process right, it solves everything.

Keith: Yeah. It's almost like if you try to do the cup stacking on a table that's wet and it's just going everywhere. No matter how good your process is, you're standing with a bad foundation. And when you say, well, let's put a rubber mat down and now the cups aren't going to slide everywhere. And then, oh wow. Now we're able to make every next step better. And I think that's what it was. It was really taking the time to make sure that this is I think the most important, that the basics were always done right. Because what I find is, as you're training somebody up, or as somebody is gaining more experience, they start to become very distracted by the next big thing, whatever that means. And they forget the basics. Whenever somebody new starts working with me or for me, or train somebody, I always tell them, these are the phases. Month one, you don't know anything.

Keith: You're not going to know what to do. Month two, you're going to start to understand what's going on and you're going to start to do it. But after month two, you're going to become confident. And then the problem is you're going to think you know best. And you're going to break something in the third month. Time and again, everybody breaks something in month three, and then I say, good, now you've touched the oven and you realize it's hot. So do the basics, you always have to do the basics.

Kathleen: And don't touch the oven twice. It's okay to do it once, but learn from your mistakes.

Keith: Yeah. There's no bigger pet peeve for me and no faster way to sour a professional relationship, than continuing to make the same mistake twice. And that just drives me crazy because once I think that mistake is made and you say, okay, here's how to fix it. And you give that to somebody. If they break it again, if they do the same thing again, where do you go from there? And I've had that happen before, and I've just sat across the table from somebody said, three times, this really serious thing broke. And we've covered this time.

Keith: I don't understand where the disconnect is. And I think when that happens, it just, sometimes it's not the right role for the right person. Ad ops is just wondering whether those weird things where you either get it and you like it, or you do it and it's a paycheck. And I feel like the people that are like, oh, I do it, and it's a paycheck, it's hard for them to thrive in this because it's one of those things that really challenged you because it's still so wild west, I think in ad ops. For as many rules and as much as it's evolved, it's still, tomorrow somebody could make up something new and the whole industry goes, we're doing that now.

Kathleen: Or they could get rid of cookies or.

Keith: Yeah. Yes. Exactly.

Kathleen: Yeah, it's crazy. I feel like we're living in the middle of that wild west scenario and it's playing out, it's dragging along even longer because now Google has delayed their deadline and it's, the general sentiment that I'm picking up on within the industry is, a lot of people are starting to feel like, can we just rip the bandaid off at this point? I don't know. But then there's people who are like, I don't ever want to take the bandaid off. So, yeah.

Keith: No, I think that the cookie going away to go on that tangent for a second. So in my opinion, I really think that this is more of Google muscle flex than anything, where who relies on the cookie? Well, the SSPs rely on the cookie, Index Exchange needs to drop a cookie. AOL needs to drop a cookie, TripleLift needs to drop a cookie so they can go and have a competitive advantage against AdEx. Well, now Google who owns the browser owns the ad stack, owns the revenue stack, says no cookies anymore. They're terrible. And we don't want to need her. Okay. But what browser do you have to sign in to, in order to do anything? And where do you search and where do you have all your activity?

Keith: And if you have an Android phone, so Moodle can say, yeah, get rid of the third party cookie, because we already know who the user is, of who that really… the SSP is. And it really pulls the rug out from under them. Now, what I think that creates, so for publishers is a really interesting opportunity to get out of the SSP ecosystem and take their audience back over. So as I was saying earlier, the SSPs have become by proxy, the publishers. It's much easier for an SSP to say, I own all these sites. I am the daily news. I am New York Times. I am the New York post. Don't go to one of those individually and try to do three separate IOs, just come to me. I'll make your life so much easier at a cheaper CPM. So basically publishers have created a monster in a way, that's competing against themselves.

Keith: And because these entities get to control or know the audience, they get to bundle those audiences up and say, oh, give me the money. And so now publisher sales teams wonder why we're struggling. Okay. So now the cookie is going away. So forget all of this. Oh, we're going to realign the cookie. So, that way all the SSPs still know who the users are. I would rather say, great, we're cutting that lifeline. We're going to create all of our first party audience deal. We're going to hold it all. And now if you want to transact on our site, come talk directly to us. We will sell you our first party audiences. We will sell you our premium inventory and come back to the table. Now each much easier said than done of course, but...

Kathleen: I feel like the bigger publications are already doing that, but they have the means and the head start. And so it is this division between the haves and the have-nots within the publishing world.

Keith: Yes. As it always seems to be true.

Kathleen: As it is in the bigger world, too.

Keith: Yeah. Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. But I thought the cookie change of foot by Google to extend it a little bit further was a very interesting decision. In my opinion, I think it may play into some of the antitrust discussions that are going on now, if I want to wear my tin hat, I'm going to believe that there's some overlap there. But there's just been a lot of that in the news lately. And I think that it's good that Google is being questioned. I do think that they just own a little bit too much of the pie. And it's not good, I think for the industry, as everybody would think it is.

Kathleen: I think you're probably right. Well changing gears for a minute here. And I think I might know the answer to this from what you've said, but I'm curious to see if I'm right. If you could turn back time and go back to when you were just getting started out in the world of ad ops, what advice would you want to give your younger self?

Keith: I think that I would say that rather than being distracted, I think early on, I was a little bit distracted and maybe this was just being more youthful and that's just what happens. But I think something I did when I started at the New York daily news, that I did not do at RealClearPolitics, was I said to myself, for one year, no entrepreneurial ideas, no side projects, just be the best ad ops person you could be for a year and then do whatever you want. And so I would read like the trade magazines, I would read the help docs. I immersed myself in it.

Keith: And I think that was really good for me. And I think if I can go back to day one, I would have said, you know what, don't spend half the day reading Yahoo news articles, or how to build a bird house. Read about the industry that you're in, become an expert in it. Just understand why everybody's using the lingo they're using. And where's your place in the world in that whole thing. Because once you understand your place, then you can define, where do you want to go from there? And I think I didn't do that. And then, so that'd be my change.

Kathleen: That's really good advice. I just think, especially in the world we live in today, and how connected everything is. And, on an average day, I'm on my computer and I have slack opened. And because I'm in marketing, I have LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter and email. And it's like, man, it's so easy to get pulled into other things throughout the day. And I think they call it context switching. And once you get pulled away from one thing, coming back to the thing you're supposed to focus on is so hard. So I love that advice.

Keith: Yeah, absolutely. And even in my life today, I try to create that space. I normally have, I assume that my day is going to be, I'm just being pulled in every direction from nine to five. But usually I'll stay at work late and I'll say, okay, a five o'clock, there's this one email I have flagged, I'm going to spend the 15 minutes or two hours and just do that thing. Just get that thing done or get it to somewhere where I can pick up on it the next day. But it's like getting closer and closer. So I really try to make that space and have at least one thing a day that I can hang my hat on and say, I accomplished that one thing today. I often tell friends of mine or even coworkers, oh, I haven't done anything today.

Keith: And they say, oh, you've done this stuff all day. But I'm like, yeah, but that's all the tedious stuff, it just needs to get them. I haven't gotten something done, like a project done. And I say project, but it could be responding to an email. It can be so simple as that, but sometimes it's a 20 minute write-up that you have to give. And I think just getting one thing done a day makes me feel really happy when I go home that when I'm sitting on the couch, watching Netflix or whatever, I don't have the sense of guilt of, come on, you could be working right now, or you could be doing something productive. It's giving yourself that space by just checking something off the list.

Kathleen: Yeah. That's great advice. So you talked about reading trade mags and learning. And that's one of the questions I always ask all the guests on this podcast is, with all these changes that are happening in the world of ad ops, are there certain sources that you really rely on to stay up to date?

Keith: Yeah, I think it's really hard, actually. And the reason I think it's hard is because, since it's the wild west, there's also lots of different opinions. It's a very opinion driven industry, and people will tell you something works and it's the best thing ever, and you should be doing it too. And then as a publisher, you implement it and it doesn't work at all. And then it's, well, did I do it wrong or were they wrong? And what it really is, is some things weren't really great on the right content, right audience, right at position at the right time. You take that exact same thing and apply it somewhere else, it's not going to work. And this is why I think a lot of ad tech companies, this is their misstep, is they develop something for a certain client, this one thing. And then they go, oh my God, that client makes so much money.

Keith: So just put it on any publisher. But then it doesn't work as good. And they're trying to fit this square peg into a round hole. So back to the question, what do you do? I really think I learned more from my network than I do from anything that I read on the interwebs. So I'm always asking friends of mine that publishers that I believe are doing a good job. And therefore, I think we're thinking the same way. What are you doing? What are you seeing, what's successful? And bouncing those ideas off of each other, but then always thinking, well, what does that mean then? Where's that going to go? What's the next step then?

Keith: And if you get to the point that you start guessing where we're going to next, I think that's a really great place to be because now you can start to structure yourself for that next big thing. So I wish I could do a shout out and say this one thing, but it's really just the people that you know are going to be in the same ad ops culture that you're in, and just talk to them and what's everybody doing and what are you doing, and making sure that you're on the same page.

Kathleen: You just gave me the perfect segue into my next question, which is, on this podcast, I try to profile ad ops team leaders. Are there particular people of that profile within the ad ops world that you think are doing really outstanding work and who should maybe be our next guest?

Keith: Yeah. Yeah. So a few names come to mind and I'll shout them out. So first I want to shout out Ilya Utkin. He hired me at the New York Daily News and he's one of the most smartest, just brilliant ad ops minds that I've ever worked with. So I think he's great. And I just want to tell him, thank you because he's what's gotten me basically here today. Another person that I think has been probably one of the most forward thinking people I've ever worked with, is Manny Balbin. And I think a lot of people will recognize that name.

Keith: So he's been everywhere and anywhere and he's one of the people that will take data and use that to inform what should we do next? And I think he's really great at that. And one other person who's been super influential to me is on Joseph Hayden. So he used to run ad ops at US News and World Report, which was daily news sister company. And anytime I had an idea and I would go to Joe, Joe would go, that's a terrible idea. Yeah. And we would just fight it out all the time, but in fighting it out, we would always arrive at the right answer and then shake hands and go, yup. That's where we got to. That was great.

Kathleen: That's awesome. I love that.

Keith: Yeah, those are the three people that I think really deserve a shout out and they're just great and have contributed so much to the ad ops person I am today, I think.

Kathleen: Well, those sound like three amazing people that I'll have to hunt down and see if I can get them to agree to come on. This has been so much fun. We didn't talk a lot about Optimera, it sounds like you're doing amazing work there. I hope everyone goes and checks out your site. What's the URL for those who are listening?

Keith: Yeah. It's Optimera, most importantly, .nyc. So we're one of those.

Kathleen: Check that out for sure. And Keith, you're just an incredible resource on things happening in the ad ops world. And so what's the best way for someone to connect with you online?

Keith: Yeah, so, I have LinkedIn. I think the only other Keith Candiotti lives in Florida and he's a doctor, so not to be confused, so feel free to friend or message. I love talking to people and just getting a pulse on what's going on and hearing what other people are doing. Or on our Optimera site, we have a contact us form. So if anybody wants to drop a message there, I'd be happy to connect.

Kathleen: Fantastic. All right. Well, thank you so much for joining me for this episode. And if you're listening and you enjoyed it, please consider leaving a review on apple podcasts or the podcast platform of your choice. And to hear more interviews with leading ad ops experts head to, and while you're there, you can check out our resource center to learn more about protecting your user experience and your revenue. That's it for this week. Thanks Keith.

Keith: Thanks Kathleen.

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