Year in Review from TRUSTX

From Members David Kohl and Terri Walter of TRUSTX, a premium private marketplace, connecting the world’s most trusted advertisers and publishers

How have your priorities/goals shifted from the start of 2020?

We built TRUSTX four years ago to restore trust, transparency and safety to programmatic advertising. We’ve been steadfastly focused on this mission since launch, and it would be an understatement to say that 2020 has been anything short of a wild ride. Two things jump out as shifts in our own priorities as we look back on this unprecedented year in history — namely:

  • Far greater focus on supply path optimization: This year, we and our clients became much more serious about supply-chain cost efficiency, largely because media buyers and brands needed to stretch COVID-constrained ad budgets as far as possible. Their goals were straightforward: minimizing waste from tech taxes and maximizing working media value. When budgets tightened in Q2, many buyers doubled down on their SPO efforts, which meant that we needed to elevate our story with proof points on transparency and cost-efficiency. The efforts have paid off, for sure. This year was definitely a tipping point for media agencies who stepped to find the clearest paths through the ad tech maze.
  • A new level of dedication to sustaining trusted, professional news: 2020 may very well go down as the most destructive year on record for America’s trust in the news. We’re honored to represent many iconic news brands, and are energized to see so many advertisers and agencies stepping up to invest in the face of this year’s unprecedented “truth decay.”  In 2019, we started working with the 4As Advertising Protection Bureau (APB) to define new approaches to brand suitability in news. We activated many of the APB’s principles in 2020 by launching a group of “Responsible News” PMPs to make it easier for brands to place their ads exclusively with 100% brand-safe professional journalism. We and our clients collaborated with The Ad Council and AdTech Cares to support trustworthy reporting on COVID health safety, and we plan to continue to prioritize our focus on sustaining journalism well into 2021.

As we navigate this “new normal” do you have an idea of how you’re going to set your objectives/goals for 2021?

We’re being careful not to over-plan 2021. Certainly, we’re proceeding with optimism that the spend that bounced back in second half will remain stable, and that the clear economic value we were able to deliver in 2020 helps us build a stronger, more diverse client base in the coming year. Further, the industry’s attention on “post-cookie” ad targeting, measurement and attribution will become a more dominant theme in the coming months, and we are investing heavily in this area. So to us, the new normal is the new nimble, and we’ll be keeping a rolling 90-day outlook up to date to help us navigate 2021.

How has your company been able to maintain a positive work environment, remotely? 

We’re fortunate to be a small team with work-style flexibility as a core part of our culture. Shifting from in-office to at-home was probably less disruptive for us than for many of our peers, and we’ve definitely done our best to add a little fun into the mix to keep spirits up. During the warmer months, we figured out how to get the team together for a few socially-distanced, outdoor “play dates.” I loved both our Spring and Summer outings, including the opportunity to connect with everyone’s spouses for the first time. Certainly, as it gets colder here in New York, we’re going to need to be more resourceful in counteracting the screen-fatigue that I know we’re not alone in feeling. For one, we have some virtual client get-togethers planned for January. As CEO, I’m also going out of my way to connect regularly, one-on-one, with every member of our team. It’s been a challenge and we’re all powering through.

What industry trends do you think will be prominent in 2021? Which ones will become less important?

Most certainly, 2021 is going to be the year when our industry figures out how to ween itself from third-party cookies and mobile device IDs. In some ways, the 2021 ID revolution will make the digital advertising market of 2020 look tame. Beyond the future of digital identity, our bets are that:

  1. Agency media buyers will continue to focus on programmatic cost-efficiency and supply path optimization (SPO), and by necessity, supply-chain transparency. Transparency and accountability are tablestakes; we’re pleased to see advertisers and agencies giving this the attention it deserves.
  2. More advertisers are recognizing the effectiveness of advertising in news, and they will focus more of their media spend toward sustaining professional journalism in 2021. The demand for news will continue to push the brand safety vendor community to deliver more nuanced approaches to brand suitability, and we’ll see a healthier level of ad spend with trusted news publishers.
  3. The decade-long practice of audience buying above context will finally evolve in 2021. As brands put more value on trusted partners, this will force a move towards contextual buying in quality environments. The deprecation of third-party IDs will accelerate this trend.
  4. And specifically for TRUSTX, we are unwavering in our mission to deliver a better programmatic experience to advertisers, agencies and premium content publishers. We anticipate, with the industry’s more discerning view of how and where they spend, companies that promise transparency and safety will be well positioned.