Robert Sawatzky
Jul 22, 2019

Integral Ad Science chief: 'I want to be sure we're making the right bets'

Six months into her new job as global CEO of IAS, Lisa Utzschneider is rolling out new offerings swiftly in a bid to push the pace, but says she still sleeps well at night.

Integral Ad Science chief: 'I want to be sure we're making the right bets'

It's been a busy first six months for Lisa Utzschneider, the new global chief executive of third-party verifier Integral Ad Science. After starting in January, the former Amazon VP of global ad sales and chief revenue officer at Yahoo is embarking on no less than what she calls "the transformation of IAS," coinciding with the company's 10-year anniversary.

In recent weeks, IAS has ramped up verification and brand-safety offerings, including being the first to push into OTT streaming and connected TV, while expanding relationships with the major platforms.

Since the company's verification business involves all digital media devices and touchpoints, the company deals with virtually every player in the digital marketing ecosystem. So when Campaign caught up with Utzschneider at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity last month, she had a busy schedule meeting advertisers, holding companies, publishers, platform partners like Google Facebook and Amazon along with the leading DSPs and programmatic players.  

Given that you deal with so many touchpoints, what’s your main focus right now?

As a company we’re focused on three core strategic goals. The first one is operational excellence, ensuring internally we have the right infrastructure and systems and processes.

Our second area of focus is our go-to-market, ensuring that both the story we’re telling about IAS, our value prop, our positioning, resonates with the digital community, also ensuring that we’re bringing the voice of the customer in, and that customer priorities are integrated into our product road map. 

And the third core area is all around product innovation. We’re investing in both our core verification business and then also investing in future technologies, like our recent announcement with OTT and connected TV. And also that we’re integrated into the leading platforms.

The reason why it is so significant is, for one, we’re first to market. 

Your connected-TV offering is in beta with key US video publishers. What's the plan to roll it out more broadly?

[On June 5th] we announced that we launched a beta earlier this year with Verizon and eight leading video publishers and basically what it means is we’re the first to market with core verification of connected TV in the market. What we’re doing is verifying video ad to completion on those eight video publishers.

The reason why it is so significant is, for one, we’re first to market. And then secondly, working directly with the video publishers, everyone’s tech stack is different, so we’re able to go in deep with each publisher and understand the intricacies of their tech stacks. We're also leveraging the data and ensuring that we are setting the right foundation for connected TV when it comes to verifications so that when we roll it out more broadly, which is what we’re doing in the back half of this year, that we get it right.

When might connected TV verification come to Asia?

That would be in future. Right now the beta is in the US and we’re going to include additional advertisers for the back half of this year and then roll it out globally in 2020.

On the brand-safety side you’ve already been working with Google/YouTube. On June 13, you became an official certified brand-safety partner for Facebook. How significant is adding this Facebook agreement for you?  

Given the footprint of both Google and Facebook it’s very relevant and meaningful that we’re partnered with both when it comes to brand safety. Both Google and Facebook are taking brand safety more seriously each and every day. From a tech perspective, we have joint roadmaps, we’re aligned on what the priorities are in those roadmaps, how we’re resourcing to innovate together.

Here in Cannes, a global alliance of agencies, brands and platforms big coalition annouced it wants to tackle digital responsibility, including brand safety. Will you be looking to help them?

It was exciting to read the Global Alliance announcement and we absolutely want to partner with the platforms and the leading marketers on this. The fact that they’re announcing it jointly and so publicly is testament to the importance of brand safety and investing in brand safety. We on our end, just want to be sure we’re investing from a tech perspective so we can be as accurate as possible in detecting things like fraud and content that isn’t suitable for brands.

The content that a toy manufacturer might be uncomfortable being next to might be very different from Absolut Vodka.

Interviewing Lisa Utzschneider in Cannes

In recent months it seemed like brand safety was slipping off the radar a bit as platforms invested in ways to mitigate high-profile incidents. But does it get harder for your business if brand safety isn't in the news?

There’s increasing demand when it comes to brand safety. As the digital ecosystem evolves and become more complex there are many unknowns ahead of us. Our partners expect us to invest in technology, in machine learning, in AI so that accuracy is getting better and better.  

YouTube is a perfect example where marketers are telling us it’s no longer just the video content running in a YouTube video player, it’s all the content on the page surrounding that video too. We’re in beta in YouTube comments now to ensure that we’re verifying the comments too.

Also with YouTube, we have ranked out from high-risk content, to medium, to low, because brand by brand they view questionable content very differently. The content that a toy manufacturer might be uncomfortable being next to might be very different from Absolut Vodka. So we’re able to partner with YouTube and flag for those marketers what’s high risk, what’s low risk. 

Then when we do see high risk content running, we have a feedback loop directly to flag it to YouTube saying ‘hey, this is high-risk content’ and then YouTube determines whether or not they want to demonetise that content and not run a brand next to it.

You've mentioned Google and Facebook, but you’ve come from Amazon and have said you want to see a three-horse race. How are you working with Amazon?

Yes, we’re starting to work with Amazon on the optimisation side of our business, which is programmatic, with their DSP and verification around viewability.

With programmatic, there’s a lot of runway in APAC.

What are your expansion plans for Asia?

This year we’re more focused on investing in the foundation of our business with plans to expand internationally next year. APAC is a region where we see tons of opportunity when it comes to verification. We’re mapping out now which markets in particular we want to go into, but APAC is definitely a region where we plan to expand.

Why do you feel there is so much opportunity in Asia?

Well, for a few reasons. We have full coverage, so we cover wherever users are—mobile, desktop, video, now connected TV. If you look at the digital adoption of consumers in APAC it is exploding. You look at the poplularity of areas like programmatic—exploding. Like I said before, where the consumers go, the marketers go, and where the ad dollars are spent, that’s where fraudsters are. So we see a lot of opportunity in APAC because of that broad consumer adoption and our ability to drive full coverage.

Are there any other technologies you see being rolled out in APAC?

OTT and connected TV is critical. The other thing we’re taking a hard look at now is just building out a robust data strategy, so stay tuned for that. And then we’ll continue to invest in our core verification business around viewability and brand safety and also our optimisation business with programmatic. With programmatic, there’s a lot of runway in APAC and so we plan to partner with a lot of the leading DSPs in Asia-Pacific.

China is a completely different ecosystem where the two major verification companies, Miaozhen Systems and AdMaster have come together. Do you think in the rest of the world there is room for consolidation in your space?

Who knows? Anything is possible.

I’m a very good sleeper. But I just want to be sure we’re making the right bets.

How does in-housing affect the verification business? If brands take control of their own media, does it make it more difficult for you or give you more opportunity to sell your services directly?

As more and more marketers take more in-house, I think they become more sophisticated and better educated about their overall digital strategy, data strategy, and about how they drive greater ROI. The potential partners who might be partnered with one of our competitors—the ones who are taking it in-house and getting better educated, they’re reconsidering their current partnership—and inviting us in. So, opportunity.

As a third-party verifier are you ever worried about something slipping by your sensors and causing a big incident? Yes, this is the ‘what keeps you up at night’ question.

I’m a very good sleeper. But I just want to be sure we’re making the right bets. That we have the right priorities on behalf of our customers, that we’re investing in both our product roadmap and our tech roadmap and that we’re moving at high velocity. When I talk about the transformation of IAS, it’s precisely that. 

This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

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