IAB Singapore Rising Stars: Mediamath’s Marrah Africa on dedicating a career to programmatic education

Following the first rising star feature , the IAB Singapore Programmatic Committee continues its hunt for the industry’s brightest talents behind the technology. This series aims to find out how these passionate practitioners got started, the secrets behind their success and what they are doing to drive the industry forward.

Describing herself as an ad tech evangelist, Marrah Africa, NMI senior manager, training and certification APAC at Mediamath, developed a personal commitment to further programmatic education in the region.

Starting her programmatic career in Mediacom, Africa developed planning and operational process for programmatic adoption for P&G ASEAN, educating internal and client teams across six markets.

Africa believes that a successful marketer today must be both a scientist and an artist. At the heart of successful programmatic adoption is a solid foundation to turn theory into practice through relevant and thought-provoking education. Bridging businesses to the right solutions requires a strong establishment of “what’s in it for me?” and breaking down the complex jargons by speaking through the language of others.

Moving to Mediamath to lead their educational arm, Africa pioneered as the APAC lead for New Marketing Institute, an education program. She single-handedly developed and rolled out the program for the businesses across the region.

“As programmatic is still in its infant stage in most of the Southeast Asia countries, it's crucial that we need someone like Marrah, who truly understands how programmatic works and the true benefits of programmatic and be able to transfer her knowledge to individuals at group-level. This is how we can grow programmatic together in the region,” shared Anna Chan, regional managing director, Asia of Amnet.

Mediamath and the New Marketing Institute will be one of the contributors to the IAB Singapore’s Adapt and Grow Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) for Programmatic Advertising. The programme, launched in partnership with the EDB & WSG, is developed to help meet the growing need for talent with programmatic advertising skill sets. We look forward to working with rising stars such as Africa at the forefront of the industry to develop the leaders of tomorrow.

What did you think the word programmatic meant before you started your job?

I thought that programmatic meant automation, as it was the widely used definition. Today, I know that automation remains a big part of programmatic, but to harness its power, it should give advertisers access to scale, data, and machine learning to deliver on business outcomes. There’s so much that you can do with programmatic. You need to be strategic and keep going back to figure out what it is that you’re trying to achieve with the technology to meet your business outcomes.

What do you love the most about programmatic?

I got into digital advertising because I am passionate about using data and technology to solve marketing problems. The transition to programmatic was quite natural for me. I believe that you are always 10 steps ahead of someone and 10 steps behind another. When it comes to programmatic, I find myself thinking there’s so much I don’t know, yet at the same time there’s so much knowledge that I can share with others. As a trainer and educator, I have the opportunity to both learn and teach my learnings to others.

How do you predict programmatic will change the future/evolve?

Programmatic will be the standard for marketing versus being treated as another line item or channel. It’s really about using data and technology to be more effective and efficient marketers. The reason that it’s not yet adopted across the board is because there’s an adoption curve to technology. Just like smartphones, you have the early adopters, early majority, late majority, laggards and, for some, it’s the only thing they know. People may use it in different ways but anyone who uses a smartphone will find it hard to imagine going back to an analog phone.

Share an anecdote or any funny story from your work experience

I shared a case study where phase 1 of their programmatic journey failed and the people chuckled. Most case studies don’t reveal failure, however, it did show how the brand succeeded on their second attempt by applying lessons learned from their failure. programmatic can be easily hyped up by throwing in buzzwords to appear innovative and smart. But when you adopt technology or any major change for that matter, it often requires a learning curve where attitude and outlook can play a huge impact on success.

Any advice for new entrants to get into the industry?

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. When you start, it will feel complex and overwhelming and that’s ok. Don’t be shy to ask questions and do your research. Once it feels like you know everything, be your own devil’s advocate. The industry is growing at an exponential rate and you can’t be complacent; you have to want to continue to learn.

Gregory Pichot is director of client advisory at AppNexus and the co-chair of the Programmatic Committee at IAB Singapore.

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