Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

My Digital Hero: Gavin Dunaway, The Media Trust

Gavin Dunaway is Product Marketing Lead at The Media Trust. He was previously Editorial Director at AdMonsters, and was previously a journalist at Adotas.com and TheStreet.com. We find out who his digital hero is.

Who is your digital hero?

Stephanie Layser, VP of Advertising Technology and Operations at News Corp.

What has she done to win hero status in your eyes?

I remember the first time I met Steph at an AdMonsters event years ago, I thought to myself, “Oh man—she has vision.” 

But she has so much more than that—in addition to seeing how publishers could regain lost leverage in digital advertising and take advantage of the programmatic markets, Steph has shown extraordinary bravery in standing up for digital publishers’ integrity. Her willingness to speak out about unfair and self-serving practices by major (often intimidating) adtech players has been inspiring to publisher ad operations professionals far and wide.

How has her heroism helped drive digital?

There’s a lot of resignation among ad ops due to the dominance of a certain monolithic adtech company that shall not be named. The limitations of the ad server have long been a ball and chain on publisher monetization efforts in the programmatic age, and over the last few years ad server features and flexibility have been removed under the bogus banner of privacy.

Steph’s campaign for publisher monetization rights has been an extended battle. Rather than accept that one adtech partner controls the fate of so much digital ad spend, she’s encouraged publisher revenue folks to demand better treatment from adtech partners and seek alternative revenue paths. 

An early header bidding booster, Steph’s fierce advocacy for Prebid has helped turn that into a flexible, highly useful tool for publishers and adtech companies alike (well, except for that one).

In my new-ish role as Product Marketing Lead for The Media Trust—which aids publishers, adtech, and enterprise companies in protecting their digital users, I’m extremely thankful for Prebid’s transparency as it helps track down bad actors abusing the advertising pipes and inform publishers of the cost of bad ads.

Not only has Steph’s been involved in the ongoing evolution, she’s been a great help to peers in showing how to get the most out of their Prebid setups. She’s also been key in pushing the value of publisher first-party data segmentation for the post-3rd-party-cookie (3PC) world. 

Her presence on social media, webinars, and panels at in-person conferences is always welcome, as she somehow finds some new insight to share. In addition, she’s a highly collaborative person, constantly in conversation with her publisher revenue peers to figure out what’s best for the media-selling community.

It also doesn’t hurt that she’s mighty handy with a quip.

What’s the biggest challenge in digital we need another hero to solve?

Advertising in a post-3rd-party-cookie world, but Steph’s on the case there too as the Prebid Privacy and Identity Chair. I just attended a fascinating webinar on Prebid developments here, hearing about new ID modules that support multiple types of identifiers; the single sign-on initiative, which could be a huge boon to publishers and consumers alike; and progress in enabling direct programmatic trading on publishers’ proprietary first-party data, which will likely be super transformative. The Prebid crew are good folks, actively working on ways to enable smart audience targeting while also empowering consumers to take agency of their data. 

While I think Steph and her peers are doing great work on the publisher side, we probably need a hero among digital advertisers for the post-3PC landscape. A powerful brand advertiser needs to stand up and say, “Hey, we’re not going to have the same wealth of data and access for measurement and campaign optimization, so we need to adjust our digital thinking and strategies.” 

I’m not holding my breath—when Chrome shuts down 3PC support, advertisers will immediately flock to walled gardens. Eventually they’ll embrace the 3PC’s replacements (there are many), but I’m worried advertisers will also embrace shady technologies that offer a simulacrum of 3PCs—at the cost of violating consumer privacy.

I’d love to see a brand-side advocate working in tandem with adtech and publishers, propagating new privacy-friendly technologies that will likely deliver better campaign performance, even if it’s not measurable in the old ways. 

But it’s a joke widely shared among the adtech set —you’ll have to pull 3PCs from digital advertisers’ cold dead hands.

What is your most heroic personal achievement so far in digital?

Little ol’ me? If I must toot my own horn, I’m glad I was able to spread so much information (most of it helpful, I think) about header bidding as it was taking off, and helping publishers connect and learn from each other when the technology was in its infancy. I fondly remember all the excitement at AdMonsters conferences in 2015 and 2016 as the realization set in that header bidding leveled the programmatic playing field. 

I also remember asking agency and DSP folks around that time if they were worried about a massive uptick in duplicative auctions. They said, “Nah.” Sigh—they shoulda seen it coming.

On a side note, I have some honorable mentions here—Rob Beeler of BeelerTech, who recruited me to join AdMonsters and has long been a beacon for publisher progress; and Chris Olson, CEO of The Media Trust, whose goal to make the Internet a safer place inspired me to join the team. The former used to be my boss and the latter is currently my boss—I think I’ve threaded the brown-nosing needle with honorable mentions. 

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My Digital Hero

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