On June 8th, AAX ushered in a new phase of growth by welcoming Scott Schwanbeck as CEO.
Scott, an industry veteran with over two decades of experience, has a history of building high-performance teams and overseeing significant business growth.
Before joining AAX, Scott spent eight years as the EVP of Business Development at Yieldmo, closing commercial agreements with top 500 global publishers and facilitating significant expansion and growth. The previous years saw Schwanbeck in highly successful leadership roles at an array of companies including; Vizu (acquired by Nielsen), drop.io (acquired by Facebook), News Corp, and IGN Entertainment (acquired by News Corp).
And now, from his home base in New York, Scott will be leading the global AAX team, which spans three continents and multiple cities. To mark his sixth week as AAX chief executive officer we chatted with Scott about the past that shaped him, the experience of being a leader in this tumultuous time, and his plans and predictions for the future of AAX.
AAX: Welcome! Let’s start out with the basics: what drew you to AAX?
Scott Schwanbeck: The digital advertising ecosystem has always required a balance between content owners, marketers and users in order to thrive. But currently the ecosystem is in need of some recalibration.
I joined AAX because I see an amazing opportunity to restore fair value between users who dislike intrusive and annoying browsing experiences, publishers that need to generate revenue for the content they create, and advertisers that want to reach a high-value audience.
Because that’s what AAX does: AAX works with ad blockers to gain access to consumers who have chosen to utilize an ad blocker but who have also opted-in to view ads that are not intrusive. Then, AAX offers these users to buyers looking to capitalize on an exclusive, high-value audience. We also provide a substantial revenue share to our publisher partners by monetizing an audience they were previously unable to reach.
AAX: You’ve been in the industry for 2+ decades, so it’s pretty hard to isolate one learning experience or lesson. But maybe you can share a few of them?
Scott Schwanbeck: Looking back, I can chart the beginning of my early career into digital media. In the mid-1990’s I moved to San Francisco to work with a major financial services client and I noticed that a few of my fellow employees had left to join these new “internet” companies.
It became an inescapable trend and I quickly decided I wanted to be part of it. I saw an interesting future in digital so I took a risk, leaving the path of more traditional media and becoming a pioneer in the internet space.
As far as lessons I’ve learned along the way? While it’s not possible to highlight one single lesson as the answer, there are a couple of important ones that come to mind.
One of these is growth. You have to always be looking for ways to grow; whether that’s growing revenue, developing your team, or working more closely with customers. Growth should always be top of mind.
And, in a similar vein to growth, you want to embrace evolution. You never want to become stagnant. It’s vital to always look for ways to evolve, solve new problems, make your product or solution easier to use, find new customers who didn’t know your company existed. And–a cool side benefit—evolution leads to growth.
And then, of course, there’s trust—which is invaluable. Employees want to work for companies and leadership teams they trust. Customers are more willing to buy products and services from people and companies they trust. Too often people forget how important trust is in business.
AAX: The phrase is now infamous: we’re living in unprecedented times. What is the most significant way that COVID-19 has impacted the industry, and how do you see it shaping its future?
Scott Schwanbeck: It goes without saying that these are challenging times for our entire industry. In Q2 we’ve watched publishers experience record breaking web traffic but at the same time have steep declines in total revenue. We’ve also watched the buy-side reduce and in some cases stop all marketing activities due to C19. And we still haven’t addressed the data challenges that regulation like GDPR and CCPA pose much less the loss of the cookie.
Having said that. I do think our industry will emerge stronger and once again thrive and survive starting in Q4.
The good news for AAX is that C19 didn’t have that big of an impact to our CPMs or revenue. We’re seeing explosive growth in the number of publishers that want to further monetize their audience. And we’re seeing more and more buyers spend to reach our unique audience.
AAX: And what about the future of AAX? What can you tell us about your short (and longer!) term plans?
Scott Schwanbeck: A few of my main goals as CEO include positioning AAX for the future, establishing market leadership, and accelerating growth.
Our growth has accelerated in 2020. Despite C19, we’re seeing significant interest from publishers, agencies, brand and programmatic platforms.
We also want to continue to change the discussion of ad blocking towards a meaningful dialogue around providing a better ad experience for users—which will help our entire industry thrive in the future. The users we reach don’t use ad blockers to remove all ads; these are users who are seeking a better and cleaner browsing experience.
We’ve now partnered with leading DSPs and SSPs to expose buyers to the savvy, highly educated digital spenders that are our audience.
And, of course, accelerating growth is part of the process. We’re expecting a good return to normal levels of spend, and a decent recovery in Q4 and 2021. It’s impossible to talk about the future of AAX without considering the industry as a whole—we think in terms of interconnectedness and sustainability—and we’re optimistic.