Cover Story

Mari Kim Novak Is Leading The Automation Of Advertising

Mari Kim Novak spent nine years as head of Global Marketing at Microsoft Advertising. Now she's impacting the future of advertising automation.

June_2015Mari Kim Novak, chief marketing officer at Rubicon Project in New York City, has a philosophy for job hunting that hasn’t failed her yet: she’s always looked for the right company, not the job, to further her career in advertising technology.

Such philosophy can be credited in part to landing her positions as senior vice president of Global Advertising Solutions at Rubicon Project – her job prior to becoming CMO – and nine years as head of Global Marketing at Microsoft Advertising.

“I worked my way straight up the [corporate] ladder but what I did do is that I worked for companies that I wanted to work for. For me, I never minded doing the work to getting to the next place but I never understood taking the job at a company that I didn’t love,” Novak explained.

“The job and the company must be a really great fit for you because you’re going to spend as many hours working for them as you do with your family. It’s important that I’m nurtured by them and vice versa,” she added.

Novak said the key to successful ad tech campaigns is “asking the right questions,” more specifically, not being afraid to ask, “What if?”

“It’s about being disruptive and innovative,” she added of the marketing strategies at Rubicon, where they’re striving to fully automate advertising, and at Microsoft, where she labored to bring such names as MSN, Xbox, Skype and Bing into the mainstream.

“At Microsoft, we listened to what the industry wanted and Rubicon is no different. They’re truly innovative and have offered me a canvas that allows me to challenge the norms,” Novak said, noting that as CMO it’s her responsibility to “create new business initiatives and foster key strategic relationships with buyers on the Advertising Automation Cloud.”

She added, “I like to be a little surprising in the choices of my marketing approach. Technology in general is intimidating and hard for people to understand. You need to know how tech affects you, not how it works. You have to ask yourself, ‘How can I start a conversation and highlight the need for technology?’ Then they [consumers] start having it as part of their conversation, they drive awareness and then adoption [of the product]; that can be over 18 months or 5 years.

“My advice is, don’t wait for the product to launch, don’t think about it from a dollar perspective, look at it from a strategy, know where you want to go and then work backwards,” she continued.

The goal at Rubicon, Novak said, is to fully automate ad tech much the same as the travel industry has done. “Wouldn’t it be great to be able to buy and sell ads as easy as it is to buy an airline ticket and buy a stock? We take for granted how simple it is today,” she added, noting that the consumer must always be at the center of the conversation.

“Look at the relationship of the consumer with advertising. For our industry, it needs to be that simple; getting that ad to that consumer needs to be easier. It hurts the industry not to be automated. When we gage success, we look at the success of our clients,” Novak said of the work at Rubicon.

“If you take the risk, you evolve. Clients especially are looking for their businesses to reach consumers across all devices; it’s impossible to reach them manually, businesses must automate. Every person and every business will evolve at their own pace when using automation. The consumer has to be at the center and listen to them and what they want and then automation will deliver,” she added.

The success of advertising technology isn’t the only victory necessary in life, however; family, volunteer service and advocating for women in tech are equal priorities for Novak. She currently serves as treasurer of the executive board of directors for The Advertising Club of New York and as a board member of Advertising Week.

“I’m very involved in mentorship and mentoring. It’s very important for women to have support systems and networks outside of their workplace and families,” she said. “I was blessed to always have strong role models, strong bosses throughout my career and then later in my career it’s been about being inspired by my team having success, not in the ones but in the many.

“It’s a wonderful time to be a woman in ad tech. There is so much opportunity and growth in this industry and a focus on diversity,” Novak continued. “I would encourage any woman to be in the tech, advertising and engineering industries. I think a lot of people are intimidated by it but there are so many opportunities in this industry. Think about what you’re great at and think about how you can influence that business. I’m not a coder but I can help people to be more comfortable with tech through ads. If you find a company that you like you should be fearless!”

When asked if such fearlessness in her professional life correlated to her personal one, Novak replied, “You can never have it all. I don’t think this is just a female issue; you have to make choices. Women most often will beat themselves up about it more than men but you’re always trying to balance [the personal and professional aspects of your life]. Females are very apologetic about working so much but men don’t apologize; we need to be as comfortable as men and not apologize for it.

“It’s the individuals who empower themselves to get the work done no matter what the hours; those who can achieve work-life balance are the ones who are truly successful. It’s also really important to understand your company’s culture, if the company allows you the flexibility to work from home. Tech allows us that flexibility,” she continued.

Such flexibility, Novak said, has allowed her to evolve with the industry, noting that her professional aspirations will never cease. “I really don’t have a finishing line,” she added. “I never really looked at my career as a race. Every experience has been a great chapter in my life, whether direct mail marketing [at the beginning of my career], living in Europe [working for Jupiter Media Metrix from 1997-2001] or working in advertising and technology. I love this chapter of my life and I never intend to stop writing it.”

When asked if she had any advice for aspiring women in tech, Novak replied, “For any younger women just starting out, take risks and really have fun. There’s no reason why anything you want to do, you can’t do. Empower yourself to make the choices and don’t let anyone make decisions for you. You only have one life to write the chapters of your own book. Doing what’s right is boring. Go with your gut and you’ll never be disappointed!

About the author

Katelyn Gendron

Katelyn Gendron is a native of New York, who is currently living and working as a newspaper editor in Western Massachusetts. She took the helm as Editor in Chief at Lioness in 2013, structuring a strong editorial calendar and securing well-known entrepreneur interviews. A SUNY grad, Katelyn is a world traveler who has documented her journeys for various publications spanning five of the seven continents (she plans to visit the remaining two during her lifetime), her motto: “Life’s a ball. Let’s play!”

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