Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

My Digital Hero: Ana Milicevic

The digital industry’s not really about technology, it’s about people. The digital economy is supported by technology but is conceived, created and developed by people, the heroes of digital.

But who are their heroes? Who inspired, supported and taught them along their journey and to become digital heroes?

We want to find out. So, we’re asking some of our industry’s leading figures to nominate their digital hero and to explain what’s so special about them.

Ana Milicevic is Principal at digital advisory firm Sparrow Advisors. She was responsible for the development of the Demdex platform (now Adobe Audience Manager) and held exec roles at a range of tech and media companies, including developing video and mobile product for UNICEF.

Who is your digital hero?

Adam Solomon – although I’m slightly worried he’ll make me get him a superhero cape for this. We’ve known each other for many years and worked together across a variety of companies and scenarios.

In the US market folks tend to be hyper-specialized and Adam has always been about thinking differently and finding opportunity in fields that are blending. I’m a firm believer that innovation happens on the edges and Adam’s career and willingness to challenge himself with different leadership roles across companies large and small gave me a blueprint for my own path.

He’s a lawyer and a rocket scientist so we’re quite lucky he’s chosen to work on media and advertising and not, say, jet propulsion and space law.

How has their heroism helped drive digital?

Adam was early to ad-supported consumer software and digital video; he then spent most of the next decade working to modernize digital product offerings and future-proof traditional media companies like Viacom, Time Inc, and Hearst.

He then went on to explore the intersection of digital signals and offline targetability via direct mail at Pebble Post — you get the idea: it’s always something combining the very bleeding edge of innovation with a traditional, well-established sector and a strong, direct effect on revenue generation.

He’s just stepped into a new role that is still under wraps but that I’m so very excited about since it’ll give him the opportunity to re-frame how we think about data in marketing.

What are the biggest challenges in digital we need another hero to solve?

We so very rarely seem to consider the perspective of the consumer in all of this; so much so that it’s common to hear execs brag about their own extensive ad blocking habits.

If you’re exposed to hundreds if not thousands of ads per day, frequently mere inches away from your face, then every mispersonalization, bad creative, and glaringly obvious mismatch of creative to content adds up over time (hello, auto advertisers pushing big pickup trucks to someone who lives in Manhattan, I’m looking at you).

We could do a far better job of describing the value of digital advertising to folks who are not in our industry or we risk ad-skipping and ad blocking becoming the norm. Add to that the monthly high-profile data breaches and we really have a way to go to rebuild trust among consumers.

We also need to think about what digital means: we’ve had that label around for 26 years now and there are entire generations of consumers who did not know a world before digital. Operationally speaking, we’re still dealing with organizational silos and cross-channel challenges among the non-digitally native brands.

At the rate at which things are changing on the consumer side, we don’t have much time to adapt before that adaptation itself becomes obsolete.

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

I helped the United Nations launch an array of new digital initiatives covering 50+ countries. It was a beautiful mix of challenging work dealing with difficult topics and circumstances, but I now get to say that something I’ve built literally helped save the lives of young people across the globe. That’s really hard to top as far as professional accomplishments go and I’ll forever be extremely proud of that work.

I was the head of product at Demdex (now Adobe Audience Manager) and pioneered a big chunk of the DMP space, especially around collection, uses, and activation of first-party data. Many of the use cases I’ve mapped out a decade ago are just now hitting mainstream adoption and it’s been wonderful to watch and continue to tinker with the evolution of data management and customer data in advertising and marketing. Plus, I know where all the various bodies are buried.

I co-founded Sparrow in 2015 wanting to scale this brand of cross-functional expertise and experience from all sides of the ecosystem to as many companies as possible. We focus on the hard problems and work with brands, media owners, adtech & martech companies and investors to make sure various strategic digital transformation efforts don’t fall flat thanks to mis-steps that are avoidable.

So much of the work needed to successfully build and execute a digital strategy can be hidden unless you’ve seen it and done it all before; we’ve done it all before.

Who would you nominate to appear in this column next?

I was going to nominate Amy Kean but of course she’s already been on! I’d love to hear from Kristina Prokop, the co-founder of Eyeota and my partner, Maja Milicevic.