Media Media Planning and Buying Meet the Media Minds

Meet the Media Minds: Paul Kelly, chief revenue officer of A Million Ads


By John McCarthy | Opinion editor

August 10, 2021 | 8 min read

Adland has a penchant for celebrating creative, but often forgotten are those planning, buying and executing the campaigns. Meet the Media Minds sees The Drum address that imbalance and dig into the models and strategy of the world’s biggest media agencies.

A Million Ads

Paul Kelly, chief revenue officer of A Million Ads

This week we catch up with Paul Kelly, chief revenue officer of A Million Ads, regarding the opportunity in audio.

What would be your first lesson for a newbie in audio advertising?

The first lesson would be to actively challenge the conventional wisdom that audio advertising is best suited to broad, awareness-based advertising. It’s very good for that, but the innovation at the publisher level coupled with the diversity of formats and content genres in audio has opened up tremendous opportunities for brands looking to create meaningful connections with their customers.

What are the biggest challenges facing the business?

It’s a great time to be working in audio, especially if you’re a marketer. Without a doubt, this medium has imprinted itself into our daily lives.

Data shows that over 190 million Americans over 12 listen to audio online monthly. In 2020, the US digital audio ad market was worth approx $3bn, up 13% from 2019, and it has no plans of slowing down, with data showing it will rise to $5bn+ throughout 2021. With this surge of audio comes a mountain of fresh and exciting opportunities for marketers, and yet, like other broadcast media, this medium also comes with a set of new challenges.

One of the biggest challenges for the business is attribution and lack of measurability. Because of the way we listen to audio media, conversions often take place at a later date. Unlike traditional advertising media such as display, where advertisers can track digital conversions like clicks, downloads or sign-ups, audio hasn’t replicated these capabilities.

While it’s fair for media owners and ad tech companies to assume responsibility for proving the efficacy of what they sell, achieving that is challenging for a host of reasons – the human brain and privacy, to name a couple.

Nevertheless, we’re starting to see a step-change across the industry. As attention and resources continue to grow across streaming platforms, marketers know the importance of harnessing innovation to create a strategy that sets them apart. Connecting the dots between listener and behavior – ad response – is a critical piece of the puzzle. By reporting on dynamic audio, you can measure delivery across your targeted segments to see who is engaging most with your brand for real-time campaign optimization.

Why does audio excite you?

Consumers give you their greatest attention when listening – it’s the theater of the mind, and what could be more powerful?

Several years ago, Jon Landgraff invoked the phrase ‘Peak TV’, and he was pretty correct. The proliferation of premium subscription video services (mainly Netflix) was not accountable to rating points or advertising revenue. Instead, the platform created commercial viability for a breadth of content at a run rate that was previously impossible. Today, the same is happening in audio but to an even greater extent. Yes, we have an explosion of new audio formats. Still, we also have tremendous technological innovation as evidenced by social audio – Clubhouse, Facebook Audio Rooms, Twitter Spaces. The democratization of audio production and distribution has spawned thousands of new formats and creators. Media is a cultural mirror, and the pace of development and the consumer influence of audio makes it pretty damn exciting.

What’s the most clever or innovative use of audio you can think of?

Personalization in audio through contextual data cues hits home and makes an already personal form of media even more unique. One clever use of audio I liked was Westworld’s The Maze voice-activated game to promote the show, which won various awards.

Also, and I might be biased here, but my agency ran a campaign in the UK where poor weather prompted a smart speaker ad for a Vitamin C supplement. The ad concluded with an add-to-cart message that would register the user’s response and act accordingly. True shoppable audio. I’ll be honest, that was a Black Mirror moment for me.

How is your agency evolving and how’s that differentiated from the competition?

We’re continuing to evolve our capabilities concerning attribution and shoppable audio. Looking ahead we’re interested in broadcast radio, which has incredible reach, and of course video, where we’ve already run several campaigns for leading brands such as Under Armour. A key differentiator is that unlike other optimization tools on the market, A Million Ads is pre-optimized. We’ve anticipated and planned for every potential variable, then the actual data (not an algorithm) determines the unique configuration of the ad that’s served – all in real-time.

The brand relationship: how’s the power dynamic, pay and payment changing?

The pressure to create better ad experiences for end consumers is growing for the whole advertising ecosystem. Recent research we conducted showed that 75% of US respondents feel annoyed when seeing or hearing exactly the same ad many times over. Consumers are demanding more, and I feel brands, agencies and tech providers are working more closely together to help achieve this end goal.

Brands are taking greater ownership of every consumer interface. More media buying in-house and more first-party data will make ad messaging more relevant and valuable from an advertising perspective. That’s been something we’ve been delighted to address as we can integrate first-party data from real-time betting odds to purchase history to inform our creative decisions for ads. In terms of the dynamics, we have great partnerships with publishers and consult extensively with agencies, but our client relationships have become more prevalent because of the evolution.

Is tech making your job easier – or stifling creativity?

Technology has made advertising more addressable and therefore more efficient. The mantra for a long time has been the right message, right person, right time. Technology has done an excellent job addressing the last two, and now it’s managing the missing link. Technology isn’t stifling creativity; it’s unlocking it.

Where’s the money going? What’s the shift over the years?

Gravitational rules apply. Money follows the attention. The shift has been from linear feed media (TV, print) to personalized media (social, SVOD, digital audio). That’s why we see growth from CTV to TikTok. The consumer expectation is personal. In particular, audio is exploding right now. According to eMarketer, the average US adult will devote 11.7% of their media consumption to digital audio this year, which is roughly 1 hour and 34 minutes per day on average. This year will also see a tipping point where the proportion of time spent on digital audio will overtake traditional radio listening for the first time.

Make a big prediction about the sector across the US market.

Personalization is gaining traction and will become more critical than ever. We have seen this across the industry, with significant ad spend shifting toward personalization, especially in audio. Our research study ‘The Power of Personalization’ confirmed this shift, with consumers demanding more personalization in their advertising and willing to share significant data points in exchange for better ad experiences and higher value exchange.

The need for dynamic advertising will continue. While the world is slowly going back to normal, the new standard will mean possible continuous changes for advertisers and brands, meaning the need to stay agile and flexible will prevail. For example, a travel provider may want to change their messaging at the drop of a hat due to changing travel restrictions.

My prediction is that audio generates a creator economy comparable to video for adult demographics. The time you can devote to a screen is significantly shorter than what you can allow via earbuds. Time is attention, and as above, money follows.

Last week we caught up with Emily Marr, chief production officer of Leo Burnett.

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