Sizmek CEO Mark Grether: 'We are going to position ourselves as tech-agnostic’

By Ronan Shields | Digital Editor

September 25, 2017 | 5 min read

Barely a month after the acquisition of Rocket Fuel, Mark Grether, Sizmek, chief executive officer spoke with The Drum to outline his vision on how the newly merged entities will hope to offer an alternative in a market dominated by ‘the duopoly’, its new look leadership team, plus the reception to his offering at the recent DMexco conference.

Graduating from the role of executive chairman to chief executive officer following the completion of its takeover of Rocket Fuel, Sizmek’s new leader first tasked himself with putting together a leadership team assembled from the ranks of both organizations.

“We are coming together as one organization with a leadership team focusing our strategies, and messages around one big theme which is that we are the biggest independent buy-side platform,” he says.

The new look leadership team comprises of: Ken Saunders who remains in his role of chief financial officer at Sizmek; Rachel Walkden as chief operating officer of the combined organization; with Markus Plattner serving as chief technology officer.

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Elsewhere, former Rocket Fuel marketing chief Eric Duerr will take on the same duties at Sizmek; Sarah Goodhart joins the company as chief people officer, and Mike Caprio will assume the role of chief growth officer.

Grether points out that Sarah Goodhart’s newly created role of chief people officer is a deliberate attempt to ensure the successful integration of the formerly separate outfits – which is increasingly a key consideration among strategic investors when deciding on where to place their bets in adtech.

Among the key positioning messages Sizmek wants to portray to the market are its global scale – its regional leadership teams will be headed by David Gosen, general manager, EMEA, and Kees de Jong, general manager, APAC – plus its independence, ie it is not conflicted in what media its machine learning technology will recommend on a media plan.

This language would suggest that Sizmek’s leadership is eyeing a potential opportunity for itself given the growing chorus of voices expressing dissatisfaction with levels of transparency in the digital landscape, especially with ‘walled garden providers.’

“From our perspective, it’s really important that we have a tremendous amount of access to data, because of our ad server we sit on top of the media plan, therefore we see data in programmatic [buys] but also in non-programmatic [buys] especially when it comes to campaign performance,” he explains.

This is the first pillar in what Grether describes as “the 5 C’s of performance”, the other four are: consumer-level data derived from its data management platform; contextual data which helps it establish what kind of an environment an ad is served within; creative data which it is able to glean given that they serve that ads on page; plus cost data granted by its demand-side platform (DSP).

“So the idea is that we have this opportunity to have all five data assets available in one place,” he explains. “And then on top of that we then put in AI, which came with the Rocket Fuel acquisition, and then we act as the decisioning layer on top of the media plan, on top of different DSPs, as we are going to position ourselves as being DSP-agnostic.”

This means that Sizmek’s clients, Grether is also eager to point out that it will be “agency-first”, will have full autonomy to choose which DSP they will use to bid on media, a position born out of his belief that agencies will use multiple adtech vendors alongside each other.

“Therefore we’ll be the decisioning layer, powered by AI, who sits on top of the DSPs and unifies the decisioning across the different programmatic outlets,” he adds.

Discussing some of his early work in spreading awareness of this new positioning, Grether claims the recent sentiment from his meetings at trade shows such as Dmexco this year are that media agencies want “an alternative to Google”; so much so that they encourage them to build relationships with their clients along with themselves.

Going on to address the “overcrowded Lumascape”, Grether points out that an additional USP he hopes to bring to the market is “transparency and simplicity.” He believes that advertisers can struggle with the complexity of the tech landscape, therefore an additional service-layer is something Sizmek hopes to bring to the market.

“So giving them simplicity in campaign planning and execution, and doing it on a global scale is definitely something they are looking for,” he adds. “And of course, what advertisers and agencies both want is transparency on how media is spent.”

A third component to Grether’s pitch is that its newly acquired AI components brought on board by Rocket Fuel will help it both provide, and better still demonstrate, the improvements in campaign performance it will bring to campaigns, says Grether.

“I spoke with advertisers and agencies, and they understand that we are putting together the platform, and they all want to sign up,” he says, when asked if his recent spate of Dmexco meetings bore any success. Furthermore, he hints that one of the major European automotive manufacturers attending the event were eager to sign on board once the respective platforms are stitched together.

“We also have a lot of clients here in the US, including a very big telco company that reached out to us after we announced the deal, and they wanted to know what we could do going forward,” he says. “So we have a lot of inbound requests.”


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