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Changing Of The Guard At Verve Meant To Balance ‘Premium’ Sales And Programmatic

For week number two, CEO Nada Stirratt is ushering in fast changes in marketing leadership, as CRO Smith exits and Videology’s Herman joins on biz dev.

Verve's Nada Stirratt
Verve’s Nada Stirratt

As Nada Stirratt settles into her new role as CEO of location-based ad platform Verve Mobile, big changes are coming to the leadership team, as the company seeks to better define its marketplace identity by striking a deeper balance between traditional media sales models and closer agency deals through programmatic.

Earlier this week, the company brought in interactive ad sales executive Brad Herman as its chief business development officer, a newly crafted position. Herman arrives from video ad marketplace Videology, where he served as chief media officer and was responsible for all media operations, corporate development, product strategy, sales, and publisher relations.

But as Herman enters, sources tell GeoMarketing that Chief Revenue Officer James Smith has decided to leave Verve, though that decision was expected when Tom MacIssac stepped down as CEO almost two weeks ago, before Stirratt’s hire was official. In addition, Stirratt also has to fill the chief marketing officer role — as she indicated when she was first brought on.

This recent exit paves the way for Stirratt to begin her plans to redirect the company in several important ways, from its marketing profile to the companies it partners with on to the way it approaches the changing programmatic landscape.

Verve and the aforementioned executives were not able for comment. (We will update this story if that changes.)

Ad Tech At The Crossroads

Herman and the Verve CEO go back several years to when Stirratt ran the digital ad sales unit for Viacom’s MTV Networks division. Herman’s tenure at Videology could serve him well in his new job. Videology, like Verve, was rooted in being a niche ad network, albeit for broadband video instead of mobile ads. About three years ago, Videology sought to shake off the relatively limited model of serving only publishers to being a full-blown programmatic provider to buyers, sellers, and agencies alike.

At least for the moment, Herman will effectively serve as interim CRO. Among his primarily accomplishments over the past few years, Herman was credited with refining MTV’s ad serving system. He also “played a critical role” in negotiating a $500 million partnership between Viacom and Microsoft, granting the latter the exclusive right to market Viacom’s unsold advertising inventory.

Verve's Brad Herman
Verve’s Brad Herman

“Today, the opportunity for location-based advertising is significant and global and the seamless integration of product and corporate strategy is critical,” Herman said in the press release heralding his hire. “I am excited to join Verve and help accelerate the investments of such an innovative company.”

While many close observers have told GeoMarketing of Verve’s own, more recent evolution to embrace programmatic principles under the widely-respected MacIssac, Stirratt is charged with sorting out the kind of “schizophrenic dilemma” that afflicts most ad tech companies that have been around for a decade or so: Deciding whether its more crucial to pursue a traditional ad sales model or to push full-steam ahead as a data-driven provider of location analytics and self-serve ads to agencies.

People both inside and outside Verve who have noted the New York-based company’s need to adapt to programmatic have praised MacIssac and Smith for making decisive moves in that direction. In particular, MacIssac is stilled viewed by many staffers as a leader who was committed to a data-driven approach, but simply wished to avoid the limelight and conference stages that executives are often called on to serve on. Even Smith’s detractors, who felt that he was too wedded to traditional sales from a “premium-focused” publisher perspective, have lauded his management acumen in growing the company to profitability.

To be sure, over the several months, Verve had been making more direct strides in adopting programmatic methods. The company has both expanded use of the geo-data and in-store visitation analytics it can offer clients and has been in the process of setting up a private marketplace. “With programmatic ad spend set to top $10 billion this year, it’s clear that marketers realize the opportunity it provides,”  MacIsaac told GeoMarketing in October, when that decision was made.

In general, several sources contend that there was a reluctance to move away from the standard ad sales approach involving insertion orders as opposed to striking formal, direct relationships with the agency trading desks that would allow self-serve ads backed by Verve’s geo-data through its platform.

“There doesn’t seem to be any real enterprise technology sellers at Verve and my expectation is that [Stirratt], because of her recent background at an analytics company like Acxiom, will bring in that data-driven, automated approach and transform the company,” one source told GeoMarketing.

Media Model vs. SaaS Model

Over the past few years, many ad tech companies, particularly ones considered demand-side platforms or data-management platforms like Turn and MediaMath, have moved from fee-based insertion orders to an enterprise SaaS model, which provides recurring revenue from software licensing and margins.

The argument for the SaaS model over the media model/insertion orders is this: as soon as Verve creates a single, unified interface, it can promise agencies and even buying groups like regional auto dealerships greater control over their mobile advertising, location-based and otherwise.

In sizing up the competition, sources say Stirratt might consider looking at xAd, which has gone from its beginnings as a “hyperlocal ad network” to being billed as a location ad marketplace, and PlaceIQ, which can be regarded as a DMP specializing in geo-data and analytics.

The differences between xAd and PlaceIQ are pretty plain: from its ad net start, xAd has access to thousands of app publishers via its platform and can serve and create geo-targeted ads around places of business; PlaceIQ’s promise is that it can help agencies and brands have a better understanding of audience segments based on the location trails and patterns smartphone users have.

Both those companies have struck important deals recently as well: xAd just began integrating its app publishers into The Rubicon Project’s exchange-based system to create private marketplaces for thousands of app publishers; meanwhile, PlaceIQ has expanded its work with Publics Groupe media agency Starcom MediaVest Group, as well as Acxiom, to align geo-data with addressable TV ads.

There are plenty of ways Verve can go. Besides blending and avoiding certain attributes associated with xAd and PlaceIQ, as well as other geomarketing peers and rivals such as YPFactual, NinthDecimal, Thinknear, and Placed, Stirratt’s main focus is coming up with her own strategy to connect programmatic advertising and in-store analytics with beacons/indoor marketing, audience buying and media sales, and, ultimately, figuring out how mobile drives omnichannel marketing for major brands.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.