Keeping ahead of real-time: PubMatic president Kirk McDonald on adapting to the 'new normal'

Kirk McDonald

PubMatic president Kirk McDonald joined the company in 2011 from Time Inc, where he was president of digital. We caught up with him to discover his views on the changing face of the Cannes Lions Festival and how PubMatic is helping publishers adapt to the new era of real-time media.

Every year we see an increasing number of technology companies at Cannes Lions, an event once purely for advertising creatives. As a technology company leader, and regular Cannes attendee, what impact is this change having?

No one denies anymore the critical role technology plays in everyone’s job in media and marketing, whether you’re a media buyer or seller, marketer or ad creative. As a creative, code and algorithms are essential to your relationship with your audience. So the face of Cannes is naturally evolving to reflect the industry. This is what you’d expect of the festival as it’s always been a progressive celebration of innovation. At PubMatic, we’re very proud to be part of this new conversation about technology’s enabling role in the consumer’s content and advertising experience.

Despite the acceptance of the role of technology, does the average Cannes attendee, from marketers to media buyers, really understand new technologies like programmatic advertising?

The reality is no. The technology is moving so fast, and whenever technology touches a new industry it tends to accelerate it. The speed of change it is generating in the advertising and media landscape is so fast, we can’t expect everyone to fully understand every aspect of it all the time.

There are no new best practices until we create them and that is happening in real-time. Everyone is trying to learn their new normal. They are willing participants but the technology companies can lock them out by speaking their own language comprised of impenetrable acronyms. There is a regrettable temptation for innovators to arbitrage on the ignorance of their customers.

Can you, then, describe what your own company does without acronyms or industry buzzwords?

PubMatic is a software technology provider, providing marketing automation software giving publishers a platform to enable them to realise the full potential of all of their digital assets. On the media buyers’ side, we offer a buying and planning console that enables brands and their agencies to access audiences at scale across all channels, all streams, and all ad formats.

So how are you helping publishers make the change to real-time media?

One of the biggest problems for publishers is that they are faced with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of technology solutions that all sound the same. The approach we’ve taken is to integrate with all these solutions. This means the publisher has just one platform to deal with, and can simply turn on or off all these interesting new partners from within a place where they have ultimate control of how their inventory is being exposed to this new automated way of buying and selling.

We’re working with hundreds of publishers that make trillions of impressions available on our platform, allowing buyers to access audiences programmatically at scale.

Some of the biggest concerns among brands and agencies around programmatic advertising enabled by platforms like PubMatic are ad fraud and viewability. How are these being addressed?

This issue isn’t going to go away quickly and it’s probably been here longer than anyone wants to admit. We need to solve some very distinct problems for buyers today. They’ve got to find a way to qualify the impressions they’re buying and they need to work with partners that help them do that.

Second is the pre-filtering process that needs to happen to ensure that they’re not bidding on bad inventory. Buyers need more control and the ability to dial up or down on the level of suspicious activity they are willing to accept. This is crucial because if you take a binary approach to this, you can end up cutting out a lot of very good inventory when you exclude the bad.

This feature was first published in The Drum's special Cannes issue, guest edited by Publicis Groupe chief executive Maurice Lévy.

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