[The Business Interview]
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Larry Harris, Chief Marketing Officer at PUBMATIC, the fastest-growing on-line company, for the last five years.Since 2006 the company has been at the forefront of developing innovative technology to help publishers automate the process of evaluating and selling their advertising inventory.Pubmatic combines the industry’s most comprehensive brand tools with a true real-time bidding platform. Mr. Harris learned early in his life that he would have to make his own way. He’s only had one job in an over 20-year career that was already well established. Otherwise, he has always created and pitched all of his other jobs and teams. Now he is using this same innovative approach to help PUBMATIC bring diversity into the field of advertising and marketing.
BSN: Good afternoon Mr. Harris. How are you?
LH: Good afternoon. I’m very well, thank you.
BSN: Can you tell me what some of your responsibilities are as Chief Marketing Officer at Pubmatic?
LH: I am responsible for all advertising, public relations, the contents of our website and how our products are presented to the public, as well as the training our teams receive.
BSN: Wow, that’s a lot of jobs.
LH: It seems like I know what I’m doing but I just hire well.
BSN: You’re a native New Yorker and you’ve been in this industry for over 20 years, so you’ve seen how African-Americans have become a huge part in the face of diversity in the technology space. What do you think we can attribute that to?
LH: A couple of things. As we used to say when I was a copywriter, “Our clients made us do it.” A lot of the clients want diversity presented to them and a diversity in opinion and ideas. Because at the end of the day, advertising is about not just ideas that get results, but the ability to sell that idea into the culture of your clients and move it through to live ads, digital and TV ads. And you need a diversity of voices to help you do that. You would never, if you were clients of the Army, show up with an all-White team.
When I started, as a young adult, creating for Budweiser, Anheiser-Busch never let any of their agencies have an all-white team. Our clients tended to have great diversity, whether it was IBM, Kellogs or Proctor & Gamble. They talked about diversity, they trained about it, they supported it. They knew it was vital to their success as a global company. And so that drove advertising to increased diversity. As did, obviously, law suits. Brother Al Sharpton would say he played a role in pushing it along. Those New York, law suits, especially, got people’s attention.
BSN: How important is PUBMATIC’s role in the digital media space?
LH: We have a super important role in the emergence of real-time media and more importantly in the personalization of advertising. So as we start to learn more about people’s personal data and their social graph, their friends and what they give money to, increasingly that’s going to empower us to deliver not just better and more relevant advertising, but better and more relevant content. Delivering the right message, at the right time, to the right people on a particular sight or sights is what’s going to drive both content and and advertising into the future.
BSN: The Madison Avenue Project researched the deep-seeded racism and discrimination African-Americans faced in the advertisement field. How has the image of diversity changed in the last 20 to 30 years?
LH: Primarily, the biggest thing that we see is that there is diversity in casting now. I can remember when I was a kid, you just never saw a Black person on a commercial. Now you see a great diversity of casting, you see an increased use of minority directors. I can remember a time when Spike Lee was the only one doing general market spots, but now you have a lot of African-Americans doing general market spots.
BSN: What role does your company play on personifying diversity in the New York workplace?
LH: We are hugely diverse. We are data-driven. If you walked through our hallways you would see that. Our employees are Latino, Indian and African-American. This includes managerial positions. Our President and C.E.O. are both African-American. Our C.M.O. is from India. We have offices in London, Australia and New York City. 50% of our entire company is Indian. In major agencies you would be hard-pressed to find 10 minorities in management positions. I think we are the standard in our industry for diversity.
BSN: Where do you see the African-American community in the advertisement industry in the next 10 years?
LH: This is a new generation of advertising. We’ll start to see younger folks as leaders. We are past due for this. And we, as African-Americans, are good at adapting to change by nature. We have that talent. Advertising is a great creative industry. There are so many opportunities.
It’s definitely something to be excited about. We live in the age of conversation and people crave authenticity. As soon as a commercial is viewed, people are on Twitter commenting. Ultimately, the world will drive agencies to be diverse of they will perish. The pressure is going to stay on them to make a place in their roster for diversity in their management as well as a diversity in voices in their media in order for each culture to be relevantly engaged. People know when you’re faking it. So diversity is vital to each company’s success. Advertising still has a long way to go and there’s a lot more work to do.
BSN: What can we do as a people outside of the workplace to help bring diversity into the workplace?
LH: We need to talk to our young African-Americans about opportunities during their transformative times, which is from eighth grade until their second year of college. We need to build bridges, have more career days at schools and churches.
They need to be made aware of all the opportunities available in the advertising field. Like, ‘Hey, you like CSI? Did you know that guy produced a commercial before he was an actor?’ There’s room for more promising young minorities to come into this field and thrive. Our senior people need to mentor our young people and teach them to be individuals who can contribute rather than individuals who feel ignored. We have a wonderful diversity program at the AD-CLUB called IMPART. It’s focused on some of the short-comings in the industry that prevent African-Americans, in particular, from succeeding as much as we’d like to.
BSN: Awesome. That is going to be a huge help-meet to our young. We thank you so much for your time Mr. Harris and all that you and your company are doing. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
LH: You’re quite welcome, thank you. Take care.
PUBMATIC is the sole technical support for what is the first pro-bono digital initiative in the history of this industry. The company is pledging to find $10 million worth of media which will be donated by brands and agencies. All of the proceeds will benefit programs focused on enhancing minority recruitment and minority training across the advertisement industry.