Why I’m proud to run a 65% female and 60% BAME programmatic team

 Programmatic Stars celebrates the pioneers, trailblazers and innovators holding the role of Head of Programmatic, one critical to any company today.

Azad Ali is Head of Programmatic at Spark Foundry and previously worked at Amnet and The Exchange Lab. He oversees one of the programmatic sector’s most diverse teams.

What do you love most about your role as Head of Programmatic? 

The fast-moving nature of the space means a constant cycle of learning keeps me on my toes. Being at the forefront of new and innovative technology solutions means there’s always something to look forward to. 

Also, it’s nice to feel like the popular kid! Given programmatic is such an in demand component of the digital ecosystem, the position I’m in means conversations, meetings, and LinkedIn invitations are never in short supply!

What is the biggest opportunity for programmatic over the next year? 

The flexibility within the targeting options that programmatic provides is an incredibly powerful tool in allowing brands to stay relevant. It’s fair to say given the current global climate, those in the advertising space are taking stock of their individual situations.

Whilst it may be more of a reminder than an ‘opportunity’ as such, the ‘right user, right place, right time’ mantra has always been part of the programmatic ethos.

If you add ‘right message’ to that, we are in as pertinent a time as any to engage with users in a sensitive and personalised manner. 

A refocus on brand values and brand affinity can help reset the perception around the value programmatic can offer.

What is your proudest achievement in programmatic? 

Programmatic trading isn’t something you learn about in school or university. Everyone pretty much falls into the space whilst generally having some kind of technical or mathematical background.

Nonetheless by aiming to hire individuals, both past and present, whom I believe would add something different to our offering, I’m proud to say that I’ve developed an incredibly diverse team. 

My current group of Programmatic Traders – of whom 65% are women and 60% BAME – benefits as much from our differences as we do our shared experiences.

As an individual who has become increasingly more vocal about diversity and inclusion topics, being able to practise what I preach without consciously trying to do so, is certainly a realisation that fills me with pride.

What are the biggest challenges for programmatic and how will we overcome them? 

I would say there are two main challenges and they’re both psychological.

Firstly, we simply need to get out of the mind-set that a changing market is an obstacle to overcome. Even with certain pending restrictions, programmatic will remain an environment that is more directly measurable than most media channels.

Not only that, but it provides great insight into user behaviour, as well as an incredibly flexible method of user segmentation. The programmatic landscape will always be a hotbed of innovation – a focus on that will continue to move the space forward. 

The other challenge is instilling the ethics of targeting people over hitting numbers. I’ve always had the principles of sensible targeting imparted on me and it’s something I also pass on to my team. 

Unfortunately not everyone in the space necessarily plays by the same rules, to the detriment of the entire industry. Bad targeting practices have led to a backlash that has in turn contributed to the establishment of ad blocking, GDPR compliance and Browser Tracking Prevention initiatives.

We need to rally around individuals and organisations who recognise the advantages of a healthy, collaborative and mutually beneficial eco-system in order to maintain the longevity of the industry.

What innovation or technology in programmatic are you most excited about? 

The advent of custom algorithms is a pretty exciting prospect for both clients and traders alike. Whilst the major Demand Side Platforms have all made good strides in developing smarter models, the ability to tailor an algorithm to ultimately address a client’s specific business objective could be a game changer. 

How is the role of ‘head of programmatic’ evolving or changing at present?

Whether it is keeping a watchful eye the latest technology solution or implementing a QA process to ensure budgets are forensically scrutinised before going live – some things will always remain essential.

A position which was rooted in operational excellence has increasingly taken on more commercial relevance. Combining the technical skills of identifying best in market solutions with the business nous of ensuring it all makes commercial sense for our clients has become the norm.

Additionally, not only has programmatic taken on a larger significance in the digital ecosystem, but emerging channels such as connected TV, digital Out Of Home and digital audio mean programmatic leads need to know more than just a little bit about a lot!

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