An Interview with Sam Thompson, Amplifi Australia

11/28 By Andrew Gilbert

Name: Sam Thompson
Job Title: Programmatic Strategist
Company: Amplifi Australia

The Australian online advertising market continued double-digit year-on-year growth, reaching $7.6 billion in 2017 financial year, according to the latest IAB/PWC Online Advertising Expenditure Report. More than half of all digital ads are bought through programmatic or ad networks. Andrew Gilbert, Sales Director ANZ at IAS, recently sat down with Sam Thompson, a Programmatic Strategist at Amplifi Australia to talk about the Australian advertising industry and the specific challenges we are facing collectively in ANZ market. You will also learn more about how Sam entered the programmatic industry and who has inspired him to achieve what he’s doing today.

How long have you been in the industry, in programmatic and at Amnet?
Sam: I have been in the industry for 6 years,  and have worked in both programmatic and at Amnet for the past 3 and a half years.

Everyone in the Australian media industry has their own unique journey that got them here, tell me about yours?
Sam: I started in the industry working at Rural Press, which is FFX’s regional arm. It is there that I began writing articles for their website/mastheads tech section, as well as selling the media on both of those mediums. Over time I moved to Sydney and joined another publisher, called New Scientist (which is one of those publishers that people tend to not know at all, or absolutely love!). Here I continued to write tech-based articles, sold inventory on the website and really honed in on learning more about digital media. As I was selling to the agency groups I began to understand the digital media landscape, and in particular the evolution of programmatic media. Around this time I was offered the opportunity to join Amnet ANZ as one of the first few employees nationally.

Name one awesome thing about our industry and one that’s really challenging, specific to the ANZ market?
Sam: What is awesome about the programmatic industry is that we are lucky enough to work in a space that is evolving and growing every single day. This gives each and every one of us the opportunity to be at the forefront of the powerful data and technology shift in media and provide the most up-to-date, efficient, bespoke and ultimately relevant media solutions for all of our clients.

This awesomeness also provides us with challenges. We need to stay ahead of the game when it comes to cutting through the ever complex landscape. Ensuring that we partner with and understand the best providers in the market in terms of inventory access, DSPs for activation and independent 3rd party providers for measurement is the key to success. This also provides the challenge of ensuring we evolve at the same speed as the technology and wider industry does.

How do you advise people best get to grips with the complex landscape?
Sam: It’s all about having market-leading experts in your business and ensuring that there is a constant loop of internal education, coupled with client education and a business that strives to break down barriers. This ultimately leads to upskilling the entire business, obtaining a deep knowledge of existing infrastructure and newer programmatic capabilities as well as keeping our clients at the forefront of industry challenges and what we are doing to overcome them.

For a bit of fun, if you were going to explain programmatic to your Grandma how would you do it?
Sam: I’ve actually tried to do this a couple of times now and fallen flat on my face! Alas, I shall try again. To be fair, it has been spoken most times. Maybe I should try interpretive dance?

Programmatic is the use of data and technology to make informed, automated media buying decisions at scale, and enhance the relationship between brands and consumers by delivering relevant, personalised messaging.

The past year in the Australian market has been quite a challenging one and anyone who works in digital knows this first hand. What’s your perspective on it?
Sam: Indeed it has. However, I see these challenges as a positive. Without challenges, the industry won’t progress and won’t be challenged to break down barriers – but it will ultimately strive for improvement (even if by force!).

The challenges are varied and stretch from data quality to media transparency, brand safety, lack of understanding, complexity, auctioning, attribution, measurement, viewability, ad fraud and ad blocking.

My perspective is that – as with any dynamic industry – we will always face new and different challenges, especially as technology iterates and consumer behaviours shift. What we can do is collectively move forward as the most innovative, targeted and trusted programmatic agency in the space, and drive the progression of the technologies available to us so that we can execute in the safest, most intelligent and most effective media channels for our clients.

How does media quality in general play into your buying strategies?
Sam: Media quality is very much at the forefront of all buying decisions that we make. Without going into too much detail, we partner with the leading technologies in the market for measurement and verification (including IAS!) and have a three-pronged media quality strategy in place to ensure we are purchasing only the highest quality media in the market. This is inclusive of all media quality variables from brand safety to ad fraud, viewability, stacking and measurement quality.

Who are your biggest influences? Who or what inspired you to do what you’re doing now?
Sam: My biggest influences in life are most definitely my family. While not inspiring me specifically to undertake a programmatic journey, they inspired me to be the best I possibly can, no matter what is in front of me. Whether that be in life, work, school, travel or sport – my family have always helped me to remain forever authentic, motivated, educated and adaptable while questioning the status quo and continually striving to better myself in all walks of life.

Outside of that, I am influenced by people who look at the world differently to the majority and are not afraid to show others. Think the likes of the developer of gonzo journalism, Hunter S Thompson; activist and rugby union player, David Pocock; and politically influencing and all round fantastic band, the Beatles – to name a few, but certainly not limited to.

And last but not least, what’s the elephant in the room? The thing that no one is talking about – but they should be, in your opinion?
Sam: I’m going to flip this question a little. I’m going to touch on something that the industry is making a lot of noise about, but can’t seem to find a well-rounded and overarching solution to.

Increasingly I hear blame pushed on to different functions of the programmatic ecosystem for the challenges that we are facing – some of it warranted and much of it very much misinformed. What we fail to acknowledge is that the functions within our industry need to work together to create an ecosystem that works for all. As it stands, all we need is one function within the chain to break and the whole process has the potential to fail. We need to not only be aware of, but strive for a unique and valuable digital landscape that allows for publishers to yield, advertisers to work cost efficiently and tech to continually develop and improve for the ultimate benefit of all involved.

I think we need key leads and influencers from each step in the chain to come together to find realistic solutions to ensure our industry remains stable and fruitful for all involved, to help lead the innovation that we need to drive the digital media buying lands.