For the last fifteen years, Otilia Otlacan has worked in both start-ups and well-established tech companies, specializing in content monetization and getting a close look both at what it means to develop in the industry and what it means to keep apace with growth once your company has hit its stride. She also founded Ad Tech Daily in 2008, acting as editor and publisher until 2016.
Now, of course, she’s the Head of Operations at AAX…which means she’s a key ingredient in the glue that holds the Acceptable Ads Exchange together. (She’s also a font of aviation-related knowledge, and the driving force behind keeping the AAX fridge fully stocked with energy drinks.)
We chatted about everything from Otilia’s thoughts on the current, definitely unprecedented historical moment, to living the work-from-home life in Berlin, Germany, to her thoughts on the future.
AAX: 2020 is…quite a year. How are you holding up?
Otilia Otlacan: It’s been an unfortunate couple of months, to put it mildly! But I have to say I’m feeling pretty lucky, all things considered. Not just because of the big issues—health!—but because switching to working from home has been a really smooth transition for us.
We’re a distributed team at AAX and, even pre-COVID, we primarily conducted work through video and messaging and emails. We’ve always blended office and home office. Since the AAX team is so global, we always worked with diverse locations. It’s very much business as usual!
AAX: You have such a wealth of industry experience. How did this prepare you for AAX?
Otilia Otlacan: What I’ve really seen, first hand, is the struggle of publishers to monetize through ads. It’s something that’s been going on for a long time and isn’t even necessarily something to do with the rise of ad blockers…although obviously that makes things more difficult.
What I saw first hand, over many years, is that ads didn’t monetize well in the first place, which led to publishers adding extra ads, which just snowballed. The end result? Ad blocking.
One reason I was drawn to AAX in the first place is because it’s a solution that doesn’t doesn’t disregard the users’ wishes while still helping publishers increase their revenue. Pubs can very easily sell this audience of ad filterers that monetize well and—and this is so, so important—everything is fully consented to. This solution respects the options and the wishes of the users…while keeping the balance between buyers, sellers, and users in check.
AAX: Tell us more about the lessons you learned from engaging so closely with the news that shapes the ad tech industry.
Otilia Otlacan: When you’re curating news constantly you start to notice trends, products, technology, regulations—everything going in and out of favor. You’re aware of what replaces what, and what replaces that replacement. You glean information through the important announcements being made. You’re also aware of how and where people, especially industry veterans, move across the industry.
It’s great to have that kind of big-picture view; if you’re missing the forest for the trees it can be harder to find your place.
And I found my place. This view of the industry and industry players really helped when I joined AAX, when AAX was a brand-new company.
AAX: Let’s move away from the past and talk a little bit about the future. What are your thoughts going forward, into an industry landscape changed by COVID-19?
Otilia Otlacan: Well, at the moment we see a recovery in CPMs and in ad spend from April and May. I think this is seen across the board.
But a big challenge right now is that this industry works well with in-person events. The events are like rituals: they occur every year, you get to see familiar faces. But now, without warning, that’s gone. Of course there are calls and technology, but while those work brilliantly within a team, it’s harder working with people external to your team. There’s always a risk of losing or misreading nuance and nonverbal communication, and that can be an added stressor.
That being said, I think we’ll learn to overcome this. We’ve already learned so much about navigating conferencing technology in the last few months, and I envision training and seminars and events that will help us navigate the growing pains…and get the industry back to a sense of bonding.
AAX: And where do you see AAX? What’s one of your hopes for the immediate future?
Otilia Otlacan: If I have to limit it to just one hope? Besides us existing in a world where 4K video conferencing is everyone’s default!
In that case, I’m particularly keen to see AAX expanding, especially in the EU where our solution is aligned with privacy regulations.