Ad Ops All Stars: Rob Beeler, Beeler.Tech

by Kathleen Booth, on Aug 18, 2021 9:00:00 AM

Rob Beeler

What does it take to build a successful career as an ad ops leader?

This week on Ad Ops All Stars, Beeler.Tech founder and CEO Rob Beeler shares insights from his storied career in ad ops.

Known throughout the industry for his roles as Content Czar, and later Publisher and Chairperson at AdMonsters, Beeler's career has spanned in-house work as the ad ops leader for Advance Internet and, to providing consulting and building a thriving community of ad ops professionals at his company Beeler.Tech.

He describes working in ad ops as "50% of your day is putting out fires, 50% of your day is being strategic, and 50% of your day is managing people" — basically, a battle against complexity — and talks about why learning from the wider community of ad ops pros is the best way to stay at the top of your game. 

In addition, he discusses the importance of building your personal brand and why that can help you to advance in your career.

Listen to or watch the full episode, or read the transcript below, to hear Beeler's insights.

Resources from this episode:

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Kathleen: Welcome back to the Ad Ops All Stars Podcast. I'm your host, Kathleen Booth. This week, my guest is none other than Rob Beeler, the founder and CEO of Beeler.Tech. Welcome to the podcast, Rob.

Rob: Wow. Woo-hoo. I've been excited. My name has been dropped so many times. I feel it was time to show up. It was time to show up.

Kathleen: It was time to show up, and to be clear, for those listening, a lot of people, I always ask everybody who's doing great work in the world of ad ops, and a lot of people have mentioned Rob. I have not interviewed him before now, not for lack of asking. So, I made it my mission in life to be the biggest pain in the neck in his world so that finally he'd have to say yes, just to get me off his back.

Rob: Hardly the way that I perceive that, that same situation, but I get it. Sometimes my schedule does get away from me, doing a lot, a lot of different things, but always wanted to do this, especially again, when I saw my name start popping up, I was like, okay, well, this is something I'm going to definitely have to do, so I'm excited to have this conversation.

Kathleen: No, I'm excited to have you here. I mean, and you have done a ton in the world of ad ops, and your name gets dropped a lot for good reason. We're going to get into that, but as you know, because you have listened, I always ask this icebreaker question, which is, how would you describe what you do to a five-year-old? So, interested in what you're going to say.

Rob: I've listened to all of these. I'm going to be a difficult guest at this point and just say, when I'm talking with a five-year-old, I typically try to talk about what's interesting to them versus sit there trying to sit down with a five-year-old in the sandbox, and try to explain to them the dynamics of an open marketplace for programmatic and how all the identity solutions are going to impact all that.

Rob: But I guess, if you're asking really what I would tell a five-year-old, it's that the overall job is trying to make the internet better, and that just takes people to continually connect all the parts together. You notice I didn't say anything about advertising, I didn't say thing about operations. Again, we're talking about a five-year-old here. But there is a part of it, even when I have to explain it to my mom that there's just a part of it that, the weeds part of it doesn't make any sense, but there is a piece that ...

Rob: I like the word balance, because the word balance means that we're trying to make it good for the consumer, good for the people who are funding, whatever efforts are, to create the content. If you kind of take that approach, you get out of, I will say this has happened to me once at a wedding party where someone kept asking questions to understand it, and I kind of walked them through it, and they're like, "Oh, you're the person that sets cookies and takes all of my data. By the way, this was like 15 years ago.

Rob: It wasn't even like a hot thing, but this person was already tuned in that I already knew more about him than him. I decided I'm never going to walk into that. Keep in mind that like, I technically do do ad operations because I do do it, but for a long time, I just did events around the topic, which made it even more difficult to explain what I do. It's like there's this whole concept, and then I do events around it, and they're like, how does that work? It's all about balance. Just go for balance, sounds, I think it resonates. I'm not sure about the five-year-old demographic, but for others, it works well.

Kathleen: You actually answered this perfectly because the reason I asked that question, funny enough, is not really to be able to explain it to a five-year-old, it's like, I always look back, do you remember that show, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? Or I think it was.

Rob: Yeah.

Kathleen: I used to watch that show and be like, no, no, I am not clearly, because I do not know the answers to these questions. I have the same challenge. I'm in marketing. You would think marketing would be easier to explain than ad ops, but you'd be really surprised how, when I talked to my family, they're like, so, you do advertising, right? I'm like, no. I mean, sometimes that's a part of it, but it's funny. I've always just assumed that if people can boil down what they do in a way that makes sense to a five-year-old, then you can also boil it down in a way that makes sense to your mother or your cousin or your neighbor.

Kathleen: Funny enough, that's like the spirit behind that I'm coming at that question with. I love the way you just explained that, and I love the concept of balance.

Rob: I'm going to make a suggestion that you'll, I think you'll enjoy, is there's a British skit. I'll maybe we'll add it as a link or whatever. There's a skit where this guy shows up to a cocktail party and asks what other people do, and he keeps referring to the fact that, well, he's a rocket scientist. Well, it's obviously not that, oh, you're a school teacher. That's so good. I mean, not rocket scientist. Then this person shows up, they are a brain surgeon, and so they outdo it or whatever. I feel sometimes like with ad operations, there's almost that whole part of like, well, it certainly isn't ad operations. You can take this kind of approach of going like, this is a whole thing you can't explain. You just have to be in it to know it. Just know I'm [crosstalk 00:05:43].

Kathleen: If you have to ask then ...

Rob: Just take that approach.

Kathleen: Right. I love it.

Rob: What, you don't know what ad operations is? Come on.

Kathleen: No, I mean, it is ... And it is kind of confusing even to smart, relatively well-educated people, let's be honest. You use the word weeds, and I do think that there's a lot of technical weeds than you could go into. Before we get on that path though, I want to back up, because you talked a little bit about your career, and it's been interesting to me in terms of who I've spoken to. Because when I set out to do this, I wanted to talk to people who were leading ad ops teams.

Kathleen: I have definitely spoken to a lot of people that are doing that right now, but I've also really enjoyed conversations with other people who either did that at one point, and now we're doing something different, and so looking at like, where has their career taken them? Or some people who work with those people, and you are kind of like all of the above, right? Like you said, you do events, you do ad ops. You have a community for ad ops people. You have this really interesting perspective on the industry.

Kathleen: I want to start out by just having you trace back the history of your career and how you wound up in this world ad what that, the evolution of your career has looked like.

Rob: Yeah. I was born into it. It was bequeathed that from the very moment that I'd been in ad operations. Again, obviously like everyone else, it fell into my lap. I went to school for film was on my way to head to Hollywood. Had people interested in me being there, but I knew I was going to be poor the minute I landed, I was going to be hungry, and everyone was going to offer me free jobs to work for free. I just didn't think I was going to do it. Plus I was really good with computers. Again, this is early days.

Rob: I just kept getting jobs where I worked prepress for a printing company that worked at an ad agency and that ad agency led to me working ... I moved down to New Jersey for the Asbury Park Press. Along the way, again, it was just like someone that can connect those dots. At some point, I got exposed to seeing an ad server, and it was kind of a being at the right place at the right time, where someone said, can you do this for us? I guess there's a part of it like, I knew early on that I didn't want to be a programmer.

Rob: I used to. I could go into the stories of what I used to do back in the early hacking days of what I could do, but I just knew that wasn't me. I could create code, but I couldn't edit code. I couldn't go in like, ah, it doesn't work, then just move on.

Kathleen: To heck with it.

Rob: I just don't want to do it anymore. I knew I didn't want to do sales, sales. There's a part of like, I'm just someone that can help connect those dots, like solving puzzles.

Kathleen: This is reminding me of, oh my gosh, Say Anything ... Not Say Anything. Who's the actor in Say Anything?

Rob: Yeah, John Cusack.

Kathleen: John Cusack, his other movie, where he's like, "I don't want to sell anything, I don't want to buy anything. I don't want to buy anything sold, I don't want to sell anything bought." It's a process of elimination. Right?

Rob: That's why I think a lot of people wind up in ad operations is their first thing is I don't want to do sales. Now, here's the kicker, everyone's in sales. Whether you're selling internally your idea or you actually have to do it, but that's okay. You don't have to be on the front lines. You can be someone that's like one trench back from those people that are out there trying to do sales. But yeah, I mean, it really kind of fell into my lap. I always tell the story that my very first day of ad operations, I realized I hated it.

Rob: In part, because it was like ... First of all, I was in charge of web analytics, financial reports and ad operations for 10 sites, and the only help I had was an assistant who quit the day I started, and then actually receptionists at the various websites I worked for. They actually had the receptionist trafficking ads on ... You can just imagine training someone when they go like, oh please, while they go take a call.

Rob: The analytics were this difficult concept or whatever. But instead of quitting, I just went, I've got to optimize and delegate and automate, and I got to make this job go away, which it turns out to be the best approach when it comes to solving ad operations. How do I make this process better? In my attempts to dig out from a job, I got a job just kept going and so forth. Each year I did it, I got a new challenge. And then, just to cut ahead, one thing that I'll say is an issue we have within the talent within ad operations is sometimes the best next move is to leave.

Rob: Again, it'd be great if companies saw the value of ad operations people and just had a path out the captain in the company, but overseeing what they do really best. Right. I was like, do I really want to leave where I am to just change the cast of characters, but have the same problems? I struggled with that. I didn't want to do that. But then I started going to AdMonsters as a publisher attendee. The one thing was, is I prided myself as, at any session that was there, I'd raise my hand and ask a question or make a joke. You might see that happen ...

Kathleen: You?

Rob: Yeah, to whatever that is, but ... I bought it. I bought it whole, just fully, the concept of bringing people together. Obviously, at some point, AdMonsters approached me, and there's a story to that, but then they approached me with the idea of running content, and that got me talking about it, not just doing it. But I realized that over time, I was losing some of it. Again, when I left, programmatic was starting to happen, but then header bidding happened, and I couldn't talk to it so much because I wasn't doing it.

Rob: I realized that could affect my ability to continue to do what I do. I had a whole bunch of ideas, and so I still love my AdMonsters, still got to be emceeing at the next event, as long as they have me, but I also have to go on my own journey where I consult, I do the operations, I do my own kind of events, I do my own thing, because there's so much to be done and I just want to be involved in all of it.

Kathleen: I mean, what you just talked about makes so much sense. I've experienced this in a very different way. I've had a weird career journey. Before I went into marketing, I was doing international development consulting, totally different career. I used to travel to countries in Africa and places like that, and it was all around like, how do you outsource management of your water systems to get better water effectively? I developed this very specific expertise and contracting out water systems like government on water systems.

Kathleen: Then I went, and I was doing that for a long time, I went and worked for a company that taught government people how to do it, and it was a great job and I loved it. But about two to three years into it, I was like, I have an expiration date, because if I don't go back and do the consulting work again, I'm going to get stale, I'm going to run out of stories and examples. Like, it's just not going to work. That's kind of like the point where I went into marketing because I knew I needed to change careers, and that's a longer story.

Kathleen: But what you said really resonated with me because it's true. So many fields, if you're not in there doing the work, you can't teach other people. They always say, you know you're an expert when you can teach someone something, but you have to be able to do it yourself first. Right?

Rob: Yeah. I think that's right. Look, I mean, I think there's an opportunity with people in ad operations to build their own careers. I love getting invited to my kid's career day because I basically went, everyone said what they were doing, doctors to chefs, to all that kind of stuff. I just sat there, said, what if you built your own job and just did most of the stuff that you love? You don't get to do ... You still have to do things you don't love. I do not care for billing and invoicing and all that kind of stuff, but you can find people to do that.

Rob: There's a part where you can build that kind of part of your career. The key thing for ad operations people is you always get that little bit of an itch as to what the other problems are or where can you go? I do think that people consider the consulting route. I think, for many people, that is the right decision, but there's also a part where I don't think they realize just how much comes with that, how much harder it is, because it feels good to work across multiple things and you just get to touch them on a certain level, but it's a harder model to keep.

Rob: I just knew it was really good for me, in part, because I always knew I was going to do a different, and that, that's my business model, where everyone else zigs, I try to zag, because I'm sure there's something that they've left as an idea that I'd love to explore. Trying to problem solve however it is in different ways.

Kathleen: Well, amen on it being hard. Because I owned an agency for 11 years and I totally know where you're coming from on that. You're right. It's not for everyone. I've interviewed a couple of people, so like you and then James Strang, who's gone in that direction. Then I've talked to some other people who've interestingly gone in the direction of like evolving from an ad ops team leader to going into client services. I just talked to Liz Rodriguez who did that, and some others who are branching out in different directions.

Kathleen: That is one of the interesting things. There are, Keith Candiotti, who went and started his own company, there are all these different paths and I think you're right. It's too bad there isn't a path that's more linear within ad ops itself to continue to grow. I suppose one way to grow is to just, in terms of the types of organizations you choose to work for and the complexity of the teams that you have to manage, and depending upon whether you're managing a team that's direct, or programmatic, or both.

Kathleen: There's that, but you're right about the career path being challenging. I want to get into actually the role of the ad ops leader a little bit. Because I think, going back to what we said earlier, you have this interesting perspective, like you are acting as an ad ops leader for some companies in a consulting capacity, so you're experiencing it yourself, but then you also, you run a community of people and you hear all the conversations.

Kathleen: I would love to get your perspective on, like right now, in this moment in time and where we are today, what are you experiencing and hearing as the biggest challenges that ad ops the team leads are facing right now?

Rob: Yeah, I think it comes down to, it is a resource issue underlying, which is, and I've used this before of, if you're managing ad ops, 50% of your day is putting out fires, 50% of your day is being strategic, and 50% of your day is managing people. While that math doesn't make any sense, it's true. There's a part, especially because I did a survey last year in our community asking about Q4. What was Q4 like? There was some of that actually mentioned to having pulling an all nighter. I'm thinking like, wow, that's just not healthy.

Kathleen: No.

Rob: I think that there's an aspect that, even though, and I would say more in the US than in other parts of the country, that the role of ad operations has been elevated. People realize that, to be successful as a publisher, as a company, it's about operations, even more than sales in one respect. If you could fulfill better, especially because of programmatic, you don't have to put so much weight on sales, there's still a part of just being under funded in terms of what you can do. It's a challenge because you talk about things like identity and everyone feels like they have to be up to speed on it, and yet they don't have the time to leave the call to then go and do something on their own on that front.

Rob: In other words, people show up to get the content because they need to hear that someone else is moving on it and try to take notes, right? Like, oh, you don't like that vendor, then I'm not going to talk to that vendor. I see that a lot in our community of like, who works with so and so. I've ever worked with him. If you get a referral, yes or no. Someone's making a decision just by the fact that someone else has done the homework and gone through it.

Rob: It's one of the reasons why I think the community in ad ops is so strong because you're competing with the complexity. You're not competing necessarily with each other. But I do think kind of maybe, more in line with your question, that it's a tough spot to manage, especially because you're generally hiring people into a new position, younger people who this might be their first professional job, and you're trying to get them to understand what being professional is, while giving them a job that is continually changing. I think that there's just an underlying ... This is like management and triage. I think of mash, which is a cultural reference that most of your audience will not get.

Kathleen: I gotcha.

Rob: But it's very much that like, what's the term? Just like the kind of surgery it is, just like, you just cutting and ... You're just trying to keep things alive. I think that, that's still there. So, it's very hard to look up. Some of the people that you've talked to have elevated to a more strategic role. We need more of these people in this strategic role because they are ultimately the only ones that can navigate the future of publishing. It's just going to be all about understanding user experience, privacy, that conversation, and tying that to monetization.

Rob: Those are different departments at a publisher. They're just not well set up for that. And someone needs to be that main cog for those kinds of conversations.

Kathleen: It was interesting to hear you talk about like, it's a battle against complexity. I loved how you framed that. One of the things that I've started to feel in the conversations I'm having with these people I've interviewed is that, and I could be wrong in this, I would just love to get your take, is that it's almost like, people talk about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. I feel like there's this dynamic like that in the publishing world, where you have these really large publishers that have had the resources for years to devote to more, almost like R and D and innovation, and so they're ahead when it comes to developing first party audiences.

Kathleen: They've had these big newsletter subscription strategies for a long time and so they're more ready for a lot of the stuff that's coming down the pipe with identity and cookies, etc. Then there are the smaller and the medium sized publishers that are very under-resourced, understaffed, don't necessarily have the kinds of budgets to support testing and being, like having a larger appetite for risk and trying new things. I just wonder, with all the changes that are coming, is that going to create this divide between the two and widen that gap? If that makes sense.

Rob: One thing I will say, and I don't think anyone's being disingenuous when you say, even if you ask the big companies or the big publishing companies, no one's sitting on all the resources they need to do what they're doing. Okay? You can talk to a Viacom, you can talk to New York Times, NBC and whatever. NBC, which has like the Olympics about to happen, are right now scrambling, and not going like, wow, so glad that we've done all of these things to build to this moment, press the button and we make billions of dollars, right?

Rob: It's always a scramble for all of them. While there is still a have and have not, so I think your analogy is absolutely spot on. Just so you know, it isn't like anyone sitting pretty [crosstalk 00:22:39].

Kathleen: Right, nobody's clocking out at 5:00 and going, it's all under control.

Rob: Yeah. I always see that. I always look when someone makes a comment like at our live events, where you'll just ... Someone says like, well, if I had the resources that someone across the room had, go look at the person who they're referring to, and they're just like, roll their eyes like, please.

Kathleen: A hot mess under the surface.

Rob: But there's obviously a scale or size of a publisher that can invest in data scientists and the technology. I think the thing that has been really tough on that front has been that those companies have been able to make bets, and at the same time, the ground on which we built this entire industry is shaking enough that it's hard to necessarily know that those things will pay off. So, it may be that large companies are in the same boat as smaller companies.

Rob: I'll also say that certain smaller companies are more sophisticated and more nimble than some of those larger companies. It's almost again what cart you've tied your future to, in terms of like, if you've got a legacy newspaper that's going through seismic changes, they could pull down a digital company in months.

Kathleen: It's faster to turn a speed boat than a cruise ship, right?

Rob: At times, right? But you want the cruise ship. Yes. You want all the things that come with a cruise ship. There's a lot of that. Do I think that there's going to be some divide to it? I really worry about that happening. I will say this, because I feel like I'm a advocate for publishers in trying to bring all publishers things. But when I say all publishers, I don't actually mean all publishers. When I say that, because anyone can be a publisher in the arbitrage game and some of the people who are just gaming the system for money. I don't care about you.

Rob: Go find another industry. But if people are investing in creating content, I care that they're able to continue to do that. I think that, that's something that we need as a society. The part of it is going to be that publishing may not be a good industry to be in, in a couple of years unless we solve some of these things. I don't think that, that just means replicating the open marketplace that we have, but there is an aspect of, I should be able to build an audience and I should be able to monetize it. I think it's really the other people that are going to have to kind of solve for it.

Rob: It'll always be an opportunity to help a small publisher. It's just bad that, will that scale in the way that advertising is bought and how marketing works and so forth, funnels down to them that I do think it's going to be harder for smaller publishers. I really do, but I do think it's an opportunity for companies to come in and help them.

Kathleen: Yeah. It's going to be really interesting to see where it goes and it's sort of really hit home for me in the last few weeks, what it's going to mean for all of us because, and I live in Annapolis, Maryland, and my local newspaper, we're the Capitol of the state, and we have a local newspaper that was used to be independently owned, was then purchased by The Baltimore Sun Group, which was then purchased, like Tribune Publishing, and now that's just gotten rolled up. We have no idea if this paper is still going to be around. If it's not, we will have no local news, and that's devastating.

Rob: Absolutely.

Kathleen: This could be a whole nother podcast, so I won't go on and on. Only to say that, no, I really feel that very much in my community right now. If that goes away, we're going to have a huge hole. Changing a little bit the topic, but staying on this thread in some respects, with all of that happening, what advice do you have for people who are in ad ops leadership positions right now, as far as what they ought to be doing at this moment to prepare themselves to be successful in the next few years knowing about all these challenges that are happening.

Rob: Yeah. That's a really big question. I think about that in a sense every day, and it evolves, and again, and it's ongoing and it's nuanced, because of obviously all the different scenarios. Underlying, this is more about the publisher level than it is ad ops, but I'll get to that. I'll say this again, this is my soapbox topic. I'm going to be putting it in anything I put out there. The only way to navigate the future is building it off your audience.

Rob: There's going to have to be a new relationship between a publisher and a consumer that says, look, here is the model. This, again, has to happen at the local level as well. Here's the model. We create content, we need to get paid for that content. Otherwise, we don't have a business. So, if that's your attention to advertising, cool. That subscription's harder ask, but could be there. All of those things have to be an underlying thing, but forget all the ad tech.

Rob: Forget all the ad tech and go like, if you're not thinking that way, you're off the mark. But then, if the publisher is thinking about that and can get the organization thinking about that way, and that's across departments, that's the part where publishers have been these little fiefdoms of marketing and editorial, and IT, and ad operations and sales, all same goal, but different KPIs in ways that get them against each other. I mean, I've just experienced that for 20 years now.

Rob: I just love to see more publishers. Anyway, where does ad operations fit into that? If that's the goal, then it comes down to making sure your advertising part of the user experience works, that it's obviously secure and safe. That's obviously a key piece of it. But then it's just a matter of, look at it this way, I almost think that there's a pivotal moment that's coming that I, as the publisher, now getting consent to serve advertising.

Rob: It's literally, I have the trust of that user. And guess what? Ad tech, it is your privilege, it's a privilege that you get to work with me because I have that relationship. Not the, give us the data so we can buy you and we'll tell you what you're worth. Fuck that. I'm sorry. I don't know if anyone's sworn on your podcast yet.

Kathleen: No, you're good.

Rob: But it's there. All right, good. Because screw that. Right now I put a ring on the finger, guess what? It's my relationship. Not yours. You did nothing. I did the work, and so there is the new line and paradigm. What ad operations people have to do, who have spent all the last number of years just feeding the oxygen into the system of like, here's signal, here's first party data, here's context, here's all this stuff. Tell me what it's worth. Stop, come back. I will tell you that it's got value.

Rob: And now we're going to exchange off of that. Will that affect buyers agencies, all that kind of stuff, and they'll look around us and try to buy every other way? Yes. Good luck. Good luck. Buy only Facebook and see how far you can scale your business. At some point, you stop, and you go, what else can I do?

Kathleen: No, even I was going to say, people will come back to what is ...

Rob: [crosstalk 00:30:26].

Kathleen: People are going to come back to what's producing results at the end of the day. I'm a marketer. I buy advertising. You won't keep paying for something that isn't going to provide you the outcomes you're looking for. I do think eventually, you're right. If publishers build really great relationships with their audiences and if there's a lot of loyalty there, I think that will translate into results for advertisers.

Kathleen: I tell this story all the time on the marketing side, and it's really interesting. In the media business, there's this difference between like subscription and membership, and it's a psychological difference. Subscription is, I'm paying you because I want to regularly get something from you, whether that's, I want my newspaper every day or I want my newsletter every day. As soon as I stop getting value, if I stop having the time to read it, I'm going to turn. Whereas membership is about, I believe in this greater thing that you're doing and I want to be a part of it.

Kathleen: The story I always tell us about The Washington Post. This is just my personal story, as a customer, I lived in DC for a long time and I was a subscriber of The Post, and I stopped subscribing because I just didn't have time to read the newspaper. I was like, I'm not going to keep paying for that. Then recently, The Post kind of came out with this rebrand and their new tagline, Democracy Dies in Darkness, and I was like, I want to support that. I subscribed to The Post, and yes, is it a great journalism? Absolutely. Like, you need to have a good product.

Kathleen: This applies to all marketing. You have to have a good product, but if you can layer on top of a good product, like a cause, and something that gets people emotionally invested, which The Post has done really well, I'm paying for that damn newspaper and I still don't have time to read it, but I'm not going to drop my subscription. I think that there's ... When I listened to you talk, what sprung to mind was like, it's this marriage of kind of, what's happening in the retail world where you have more direct eCommerce brands coming and cutting out the middleman and they own their relationship with their customer.

Kathleen: It's this marriage of that with like, how do you introduce something that's going to drive like loyalty and passion for the product? If you can merge those two things together, I feel like that's where the magic is going to happen for publishers.

Rob: That's your have and have nots. It's not about the size of the publisher. It's the sophistication of the publisher and it's their brand and that relationship with the user. That's why, again, you might say like these people, like Hearst and these other larger organizations have spent time building their brands and even their sub-brands so that users are supportive of that. They're perhaps less as a mission than what obviously The Washington Post has put out there in terms of your point about democracy.

Rob: But it's those that actually attract an audience to the point that people have converted and they want to be a member or they want to subscribe, or whatever that is. They're the ones that can be successful. If you have a website that just gets drive by traffic, that's where your CPMs are going to drop in the next number of years, and then you go, do you really have a model?

Kathleen: Yeah. There's different ways to do that, because like The Post, we mentioned, that's one type of mission driven brand. But what I've seen also that's interesting is a lot of publications moving in the direction of elevating certain subject matter experts and kind of selling the personal brands of their journalists and people become very loyal and follow those and/or really tapping into like niche interests, like New York Times with their cooking subscription. And people are super passionate about that if they love to cook. It's not a one size fits all thing, but I think you're really right about you have to tap into something that gets people excited and committed to coming back.

Rob: I would take that, relate that to the other question you asked about ad operations people. Again, obviously I'm a poster child of this particular concept, but everyone, in terms of your career, should work for a personal brand. Right? In other words, what publishers are learning is that their journalists have their own brands to them, and if they figure out ways to elevate them, but keep them in the fold, they benefit, and that person benefits. It creates even more ... Again, I think people are trying to figure out how to curate all the information being thrown at us.

Rob: You start to look at more individuals than you do necessarily companies. You could be that person within your company. What all that takes is going do the ... I've said this in a mentoring session that I did. Again, I'll just make this real quick. But I had someone who was like a ... Role was as an analyst for a particular company, and I gave them some advice. But in the whole event that I was at, I got the first words that actually, they had the same role, and they were asking, how do I get ahead?

Rob: I was sitting there going like, oh, how do I give the same advice to the same people? I went, you know what? You work on something unique that no one else does within your company. That's the story you need to start telling. You need to start answering questions your boss doesn't even have time to ask you for. To even ask the question, and go like, hey, I work on these three accounts. I'm seeing this pattern, and then create a report out of that and report it. I'll tell you this right now, if you do this to a boss and you send them and you go like, "Hey, buddy, here's the report on this."

Rob: They might not have time for it. But at some point, when you stop giving it to them, they're going to be like, "Where's that report?" Or they might say, "Hey, develop that idea further." Next thing you know, you're not a trafficker, you're not the analyst, you are you who does multiple pieces and has this perspective in the company, and you become the go-to person when it comes to X. That to me, I think, is the future across any industry or any job is start building your personal brand. I don't want everyone to move to a gig economy. I think there's this huge danger there, but almost approach it that way, like this is my gig.

Rob: This is what I do. Look, if you need Beeler. I'm Beeler. That's my marketing strategy, and it works, because I built it to be that.

Kathleen: Yeah. I think you've raised a really interesting point, which is, well, the personal branding thing, I think you're spot on, and that's true for any career. it's a future-proofing move. You build your own brand within the company. You can build your brand outside of the company. All of these things will benefit you in the long run. It sounds like though, that might be something that there's more, almost education needed within the industry on that topic. Because a lot of the people I've spoken to who are in ad ops, some of them gravitate towards it, precisely because it is sort of an under the radar role.

Kathleen: Not necessarily direct client facing. They like the ... I don't want to call it invisibility of it, but there is something to that that draws people in. I think for some folks in that role, it would feel very uncomfortable maybe to think about building a personal brand.

Rob: But there's one concept for both managers and people to look at, and it's funny, because it's an old book and I don't hear it thrown out there as often, but there's a thing called the Peter principle. You know what I'm talking about?

Kathleen: I've heard of it, but I don't know a lot about it.

Rob: I'll give you the, perhaps too watered down, version of this, but you can imagine that at a garage, auto repair shop, the owner is like, we need someone to manage all the other mechanics. So, you take your best mechanic and you put them in charge of the team. Well, you just took the best person at being a mechanic and put them into a position of management, which may or may not be what they want to do. What happens is, again, there's more to it, but there's this idea that people will get raised to the level, to the point where they're now incompetent, right? That's a hiring [crosstalk 00:38:44].

Kathleen: It happens in sales all the time. That's usually who gets hired to head up sales teams is the best salesperson and they're not always the best managers.

Rob: If you're that person who wants to stay under the radar, you need to make that known. But then, you have to sit there and make sure you're explaining your value so that it works. By the way, somebody who wants to do management is going to love you for that, but you just got to have to create that symbiotic relationship. Understand what you want, and if you don't want to build a personal brand that anyone knows what you do, that's fine. Just make sure that you're compensated for spending your time becoming an expert at what you do and not at telling the world that you do it.

Kathleen: Yeah. The other thing that really struck me as I was listening to you talk is, if the future for ad ops leaders is within the broader context of working for a publication that's going to be aggressive about building out a first party audience, which would then put that ad ops leader in a position of kind of taking back some of the balance of control from the advertising ecosystem and being able to set their terms a little bit more directly, what does that imply for, in the future, what the ad ops team of the future should look like? Does it mean that there will be a change in the composition of that team?

Rob: Yeah. Look, I mean, there's definitely a part where ad operations started off as kind of order takers with JavaScript, plus Java script, right? Just working through a couple of those things. That complexity is just continues to grow, especially ... Look, it's not a foregone conclusion that first party data is going to do every ... And fuel the industry the way that it should. One hopes. Again, all that work does that and we have to take that step, but that takes a level of understanding of that audience and understanding of the packaging, the value, and a keyword you use that has to be in every conversation, performance, that is going to be there. That takes more data driven people, that takes analytics. I think it's probably less about coding because the solution should do that for you.

Rob: But look at this way, people are going to be promising AI machine learning solutions, and what all those systems don't have, that's a really glib statement, but I'm going to go with it anyway, is someone to know that the AI is correct, or that the machine learning is fed with all the right things. Having that ability to holistically draw that picture of your business and then let the computer tell you what it should do and feed that back, still going to be an art form for the next five, 10 years, and a great place to put in and put your career in that motion is to just understand that, because it's just getting more complex.

Kathleen: Yeah. Well, I feel like that's the perfect inflection point for us to now transition into the two questions I like to wrap things up with. First being, and I've asked so many people this question, and we've talked about it here. This has been the theme of our conversation. This industry is changing so quickly, and I think your ability to keep pace and understand those changes, as you said, the battle with the complexity, is, in some respects, the defining factor that will determine your success in ad ops. Are there some sources that you turn to, to stay ahead and to win that battle with complexity and educate yourself?

Rob: Yeah. I'll say this. Ad operations typically is not a, in the moment news breaking type of thing. There is an ability to take a moment and wait. In other words, Google makes an announcement about the deprecation of third party cookies. The fact of matter is, is that you don't need to have that figured out 15 minutes after you heard it. You have time to process and hear other people. I will say that I can't keep up on Digiday, AdExchanger or AdMonsters, every Reddit thing that comes into there, every Slack that I'm in, I can't keep up on all of it. But what I do do is I talk to people in the community, and it's almost like, once they've processed it, then I get to sit there and go and listen to it.

Rob: Again, keep in mind, we are an industry that loves to talk about ourselves and it's noisy, and a lot of it is self-interest. Take a step back from that, talk to other people that are like you and build that, spend more time with that, and the ideas of what you need to do, will grow. Again, that's what, from my very first AdMonsters experience to what I do with Beeler.Tech, is I try to cut out, if anything, some of that noise, to just going like, what are you thinking? And how are you like me? And why are you saying it what it is?

Rob: Again, I'll just, real quick down the AdMonsters part, my very first one, I came back with 10, 20 pages of notes, I don't take notes, but I was amazed. Shout out, Adrian D'Souza was at Siena at the time, and he sat there and laid out, here's how we're building an ad server and building all this system and all these types of things. It became my blueprint. I took every bit of note. By my last AdMonsters attending as a publisher, I might write five, 10 words down, but it was because I heard someone say something and they said it different than the way I said it, and that became the genesis for the rest of it.

Rob: To your point, what do I look to? I don't look to the trades. I don't look to any of that stuff. I look to talking to other people, and if I can get them engaged in talking about a topic, I listen to that nuance, and in there is all the gold of like, let me rethink about what I've been doing.

Kathleen: Yeah. And to just plug you for a moment, and because many of my other guests have said this, like you have a great community for that, you have a great Friday afternoon virtual happy hour, you have a Slack group. I do like that you've built a place for those conversations to happen, and many people have mentioned that as their go-to resource, so that's great.

Rob: That's all I want to do. I don't know why. I don't know if I would do this if I were in this industry, but the fact that matter is that someone ... Again, almost think about like how much time we would save. I'll use GDPR as the example. Everyone in ad operations had to write up a deck for upper management to explain GDPR. If we all worked on one deck, or someone did an amazing deck and then shared it with everyone else, we would have saved thousands of hours of time.

Kathleen: So true.

Rob: The more that people can just say, hey, I did something, and share, saves so many other people so much time, that they get to then contribute to that. That's my underlying goal, is if I get people to share, and then they all learn from that, we can be all better at our jobs, and then let's get to the point where publishers are competing against each other. Eventually, what I'm building should eventually fall apart because The Washington Post and New York Times can't be in the same room in the same conversation, but right now they can because-

Kathleen: That's awesome. I love that. Well, and I've seen, through these conversations, just how collegial the industry is, which is one of the things I've really enjoyed getting to know about it.

Rob: This role, this is the ad operations role. There are other people that do too. I won't say that. That's not true, but again, you try to get people out of sales role together, they don't really share. Because that's not their job, is to sit there and say, hey, I'm vulnerable. I don't understand. Someone explain to me with their competition. Agencies have a hard time with this. Brands are up in their head. Anyway, so not everyone gets to do it. But I'll just say this. I think the combination of AdMonsters and some of my efforts and a few other people, we created this environment for operations people to understand that they can raise their hand and say, "I don't understand, can someone help me?" I'm proud of that. I'm proud of being one of the people that did that.

Kathleen: No, it's a great community and full of really nice people. At least the ones that I've met. On that note, that's my second question, which is, and I'll preface this question with, you've already given me the names of lots of people who are doing great work in the world of ad ops, and I'm sure, and sitting in your shoes, it's hard to name just one or two, but I'm going to put you on the spot anyway and say, is there someone in particular these days that you think is doing really outstanding work and who we should invite to be the next guest on the podcast?

Rob: Yeah. I'm going to break, and again, I'm going to use my ... Just, well, again, I guess you don't have a podcast if I don't say the answer. Anyway, what I can say is I've got names for you, and I'm going to list. If you're talking about people that are kind of in the game right now, I think that, and I would say again, more for people that can advise others, because they've had a career and they've built some things, that are still kind of in the game, Rachael Savage at Conde is amazing. Nicole Lesko is amazing. Melissa Chapman who is the collaborator on Beeler.Tech gets her hands dirty. She, again, is just one of those people that is like, why we do what we do, because just cares about others so much and just does a great job.

Rob: Dennis Colon, I won't mention which company he's working for right now, but Dennis is someone to talk to. Dennis always just reduces things down to such great points and so forth. I have other names of people in the game, but my fear is that you're going to call on them and they're going to say they can't talk because they tend to get muzzled. I'll offline those people, so don't call them out. But here's my other list for you, which are, and you actually brought this up very early on in this call, and I didn't anticipate it, but I'm glad it happened, which are people who are doing other things outside. They started in ad ops and they built.

Rob: Ben Barokas at Sourcepoint is one of the ... Let's put it from a monetary. You know how people rank basketball players by how much money they made? Ben's probably up there at the top, but there's also, so a part of like Ben saw it, Ben had the vision. He's someone to sit there and kind of talk to and think about that. A friend of mine, Scott Newton at Twitch, was playing a role outside of ad operations, but has grown Justin TV to Twitch, was there for all of that. Amazing. Bryan Moffett, NPR has gone to that kind of general management role outside of operations. I mean, I remember when he was just like stitching stuff together, and now he's overseeing it.

Rob: Amazing, to kind of see that. Kerel Cooper who worked with me is now the CEO at LiveIntent, so that career journey, and again, as someone who's in marketing, ad ops led to CMO role, that's an amazing story. And of course, he's got his own podcast too. Then there's like Pooja, who's at Google, Pooja Kapoor, who again, I just remember her attending AdMonsters, and then you go on like, she's in charge of some pretty big stuff over at Google [crosstalk 00:50:52]. I can name a lot of other people, but they're just like ... Those are the people that I sat down with like I got to mention these people. These are people I go to, to help me just again, navigate whatever's coming up.

Kathleen: That's such a great list, and I love that you included the second list of the people who have gone on to do other things, because like I said, in the beginning, it is, I feel like that's such an important part of the story of your ad ops career evolution. You can go in so many directions, and it's interesting to hear the directions that people have actually gone in and what's happened. Well, with that, this has been awesome.

Rob: I've gone over time.

Kathleen: No, no, you haven't. This is so great. I knew that there would be no problem for us to fill like as much time as we had, and that was one reason I was so looking forward to this, but if you're listening and ... Thank you so much for joining me, first of all, for this episode, and thank you, Rob, for joining me. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or the podcast platform of your choice. And to hear more interviews with other amazing ad ops experts, head to, 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. Rob, I'm so glad we finally made it happen. This has been great.

Rob: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. This was awesome.

Kathleen: Thanks for joining me.

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