Paul Bell of 33Across on The Future of Adtech—An Interview With Kieran Powell

Advertising technology is rapidly evolving, transforming the way brands connect with consumers. From programmatic advertising to data analytics, the adtech industry is driving innovation and efficiency in marketing. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Bell.

Paul Bell is the President at 33Across, an addressable infrastructure that provides identity resolution technology, programmatic monetization, and audience segmentation. In his role, he is responsible for driving the company’s growth and market strategy while overseeing the data and identity business. Paul joined 33Across as Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) in 2015, and has over 20 years of extensive experience in data and digital media.

Prior to joining 33Across, he was vice president, head of digital sales and channel management at Equifax. There, he was responsible for driving the adoption and usage of Equifax’s data across the digital marketing ecosystem. Before joining Equifax, Paul led sales and business development for Austin Ventures’ backed Divorce360. He began his career in finance and his previous positions include sales roles at Bankrate.com, Credit Suisse, and Bear Stearns. Paul holds a BS in Management from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

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Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

After graduating from college, I initially thought I wanted to be a trader on Wall Street. I started working at Bear Stearns for about a year and then moved to Credit Suisse for a couple of years. During this time, I quickly realized that trading was not the career for me, which is an important discovery early in your career journey.

I began searching for jobs in other industries and came across an opening at a website called Bankrate.com. I landed the job by leveraging my banking and brokerage experience, which helped me understand the terminology and needs of their advertisers and customers, primarily bankers and brokerage houses.

Fast-forward 20 years, and I’ve found a rewarding career in digital advertising and adtech. My background in financial services played a crucial role in my transition into this industry.

 

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career, I learned a valuable lesson many salespeople encounter: don’t “throw up on the table.” In marketing, you tend to bombard your audience with every bit of information about your product, assuming that if they knew all the benefits, they’d surely want to work with you. I would often launch into lengthy monologues, thinking that the more I said, the more convincing I’d be.

However, some good bosses and managers pulled me aside and advised me to slow down and ask questions. They emphasized the importance of engaging with the customer and truly understanding what they were trying to solve. Instead of being mechanical and rapid-firing information, I learned to have meaningful conversations, listen to their needs, and discuss how our product could help.

Looking back, I had some embarrassing moments of overwhelming potential clients with too much information too quickly. The lesson I learned was to pause, ask questions, and focus on how our solutions could address their specific issues. While not a hilarious mistake, it was certainly an important lesson in effective communication and sales.

 

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, we are working on solving the issue of addressability and identity for the open web. By “open web,” we mean any part of the internet that isn’t a walled garden like Facebook or Google, where you need to log in to access content. Most of the internet is open and doesn’t require a login to reach content and the goal is to keep it that way.

For the past 15–20 years, the internet has relied on third-party cookies to target users and measure campaign performance. However, today, more than half of the browsers in the US are cookieless, including Safari, parts of Chrome, and Firefox. This means that most advertising campaigns, outreach, and measurement only effectively reach half of the browsers available. Google’s plans to sunset third-party cookies will further impact this landscape.

Losing cookies might not sound significant, but for marketers who rely on them as part of their CRM systems, third-party data targeting, and campaign performance measurement, it disrupts how billions of digital media investment dollars are applied. Without this persistent identifier, the adtech industry loses its main method of connectivity and measurement that has been in place for the past two decades.

33Across is developing cookie alternatives to ensure the open internet can continue to thrive and grow without third-party cookies. This will help marketers adapt to a cookieless environment while still utilizing their investments in data and targeting assets. Essentially, we aim to be a well-lit path to a cookieless world, allowing marketers to maintain and evolve their strategies effectively.

 

Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the central focus of our discussion. What do you believe will be the most significant technological advancements in adtech over the next five years?

I genuinely believe the most significant advancements will revolve around how the industry targets and measures users across various digital environments — whether on phones, desktops, connected TVs, digital billboards, or other out-of-home digital platforms. Over the next five years, the key transformations will be in establishing the currencies, solutions, and sources of truth for addressability in these environments. These advancements will fundamentally change the way we conduct and measure digital campaigns.

 

How is artificial intelligence changing the landscape of advertising technology, and what potential does it hold for the future?

We are in the very early stages of AI, akin to the early days of the internet. Like the internet, AI is poised to integrate into almost every aspect of our lives, including adtech. AI will fundamentally transform how we target users, market to current and potential customers, and measure success.

One interesting development already happening is within the open internet, where publishers create content and aim to monetize it. Traditionally, there have been two models: charging users for access (a model that only a few sites can successfully implement) and the advertising model, where users get free content in exchange for seeing ads. The relevancy of these ads to the user has been a key driver for the success of adtech.

AI will enhance this relevancy by utilizing massive computational power to perform real-time, generative optimization, which is not fully realized today. Additionally, AI introduces a new revenue stream for publishers through licensing deals. Large AI models, like OpenAI, require vast amounts of training data, often in the form of words from websites. Consequently, publishers, from news corporations to sites like Reddit, are licensing their content to AI companies for model training. This creates a significant new revenue stream for the adtech and digital publishing communities, one that didn’t exist a year or two ago. AI is rapidly transforming the landscape, opening up new opportunities for monetization and optimization.

 

What are the biggest challenges currently facing the adtech industry, and how can they be addressed?

One of the biggest challenges in the adtech industry is addressability. With half the internet now unaddressable, it’s crucial to find solutions that allow us to reach users effectively. This must be done in a privacy-friendly environment, balancing the need for relevant ads with user privacy concerns.

Privacy issues can be driven by federal, state, or regional regulations like those in the EU. Additionally, large technology companies like Apple and Google, which operate “walled gardens,” are imposing restrictions on data access, either in the name of privacy or data ownership.

Addressing these challenges requires navigating the fine line between respecting user privacy and ensuring effective ad targeting. This involves staying compliant with evolving regulations while negotiating access to data controlled by major tech companies. The industry must focus on developing privacy-conscious methods of data utilization and advocating for clear guidelines on data ownership and privacy. Moreover, creating alternative solutions to cookies and finding ways to operate within the constraints imposed by walled gardens will be essential for the future of adtech.

 

How do you see the role of data privacy evolving in adtech, and what impact will it have on the industry?

Data privacy is paramount. We often think of online services as free — you don’t pay to use Instagram or browse most websites, though you do pay for internet access. However, nothing is truly free. Publishers need to make money to create content, typically through paid content or advertising models.

For advertising to perform at its best, a certain level of data access is usually required. Balancing the need for data with privacy concerns will be an ongoing challenge for adtech. The industry must navigate what data can be accessed, the rights to use that data, and how to use it in a privacy-friendly manner. This balancing act will continue to shape the future of adtech, requiring constant adaptation to ensure compliance with privacy regulations while maintaining effective advertising strategies.

 

Can you share a case study or example of a groundbreaking adtech innovation that has had a major impact on the market?

One example that may not sound groundbreaking to industry insiders but has profoundly impacted users is retargeting or remarketing. Even my parents, who are 78 years old, understand the concept — they may not call it retargeting, but they know that after visiting a website when shopping for a car like Ford they’ll see Ford ads and other automotive ads across different websites for the next 30 to 60 days. They jokingly describe it as being “chased” by ads.

Retargeting works because it capitalizes on the fact that someone who has already shown interest in a product or service is more likely to convert than someone who hasn’t engaged with the brand. This method is highly effective in increasing conversion rates and driving sales.

From a performance standpoint, retargeting is groundbreaking. It not only boosts conversion rates significantly but also has become so ingrained in users’ online experiences that it has changed expectations about post-engagement interactions with content.

 

What are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Marketing and Advertising Industries?”

  1. 1. Learn to Manage Up — Regardless of your position, understanding and adapting to your boss’s style can significantly enhance your career. Early in my career, I learned this lesson when I took the time to understand what information and format my manager preferred for updates. By aligning with their expectations, I not only made their job easier but also built a strong rapport that opened doors for mentorship and career growth.
  2. 2. Show Reliability — Consistency and dependability are crucial traits in any industry. Showing up consistently, whether for meetings or deadlines, builds trust and reliability among colleagues and supervisors.
  3. 3. Embrace Curiosity — Being curious and proactive about learning beyond your immediate responsibilities can lead to unexpected opportunities. I’ve seen how colleagues who explore new technologies or industry trends outside their core tasks often become invaluable resources within their teams. Curiosity fuels continuous learning and innovation, which are vital in the dynamic fields of adtech and marketing.
  4. 4. Be Adaptable — The adtech industry continues to rapidly evolve, requiring professionals to embrace change and adapt quickly. Throughout my career, I’ve had to navigate shifts in technology and market trends. Each change brought new challenges but also fresh opportunities to innovate and grow. Embracing adaptability not only keeps you relevant but also positions you as a leader in navigating industry shifts.
  5. 5. Seek Opportunities — Opportunities rarely knock without prior groundwork. By consistently demonstrating reliability, curiosity, and adaptability, you position yourself to recognize and seize opportunities as they arise. Networking events, new project initiatives, or leadership roles often emerge for those who are prepared and actively seeking growth.

 

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe there’s a significant news crisis both nationally and globally. In today’s world, unbiased news coverage often attracts fewer viewers and clicks compared to sensationalized content, creating a dilemma because news is also a business. However, unlike other businesses, news serves a critical role in society.

I would love to initiate or support a movement that promotes unbiased news and restores its place as a trusted source of information. Balanced reporting is essential for individuals to make informed decisions, whether in their personal lives or in shaping public opinion. The positive effects of this movement would extend beyond the news industry, contributing to a healthier global discourse and better-informed societies overall.

 

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My LinkedIn.

 

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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This original article was originally featured on Authority Magazine.