Pangis Becomes Xaxis COO -- And Most Powerful Woman In Programmatic

Nicolle Pangis, who began her career in a junior role at then-fledgling ad technology company 24/7 Real Media, has been named chief operating officer of Xaxis, the nearly $1 billion programmatic media company created by WPP, which acquired 24/7 Real Media in 2007.

The appointment is part of a reorganization following Xaxis founder Brian Lesser’s appointment to CEO North America of parent unit GroupM, and Brian Gleason’s appointment to succeed him as global CEO. The move makes Pangis the second most powerful person in Xaxis and one of the most powerful women in media.

Pangis, responsible for much of Xaxis' accelerated growth, most recently was its global chief revenue officer -- responsible for roughly $750 million of its global P&L -- and was a key player in several recent strategic moves, including Xaxis’ integration with AppNexus.

Except for a brief hiatus as director of Northeastern operations at ad tech firm Cadent in the early 2000s, Pangis has spent her entire career at Xaxis and its predecessor company. In the following Q&A, Pangis explains her new role, what differentiates Xaxis from other programmatic media suppliers and some of the biggest misconceptions the market has about it.

Real-Time Daily: How do you divide your responsibilities with Brian Gleason? What does the COO do?

Nicolle Pangis: I’m responsible for product management, engineering, human resources, strategic partnerships -- any of the operational roles -- and Brian is taking more of the revenue side. I have a background on the sales side, but I also spent quite a bit of time in product and tech. I spent about 50% of my time on the front-end side of the business and 50% of my career on the operational part. Brian is a great person to work with, because we kind of complete each other’s sentences on stuff. It’s a good team.

RTD: How deep into the back end do you get? Can you write code?

Pangis: No. I’m nerdy, but I’m nerdy in a different way. I’m not an engineer. I have a marketing background. I’ve just worked so many years with engineers that I understand how technology works. I can’t write code, but I can communicate with engineers.

RTD: This appointment makes you one of the most powerful women in the industry. There have not been a lot of high-ranking women in ad tech. How symbolic do you think your appointment is?

Pangis: You’re correct -- there are not a lot of high-ranking women in the business, but there are a lot of very capable women in it. If this helps pave the way for others, then that’s fantastic, and I hope that’s the case.

RTD: Last time I checked in with Xaxis was an interview some months ago with Brian Lesser, when he predicted Xaxis would end the year with $1 billion in programmatic media revenues. How close did you get to that?

Pangis: Just shy. For sure, this year we’ll surpass $1 billion.

RTD: At that level, you’re close to 10% of the programmatic media marketplace. Does that share matter? Does that kind of scale give you more leverage as it would in conventional media-buying? Or is it about being smarter and having enough positions in the market that you just have more intelligence?

Pangis: Scale certainly matters in a lot of respects, but our goal is to just be the smartest programmatic media company in the industry. And in our view, that’s not just about being programmatic. It is one of the ways we run our business, but it’s the layers of technology that we run in addition to the programmatic parts that drives our power.

The power of Xaxis is not that we use programmatic platforms in and of themselves. It’s because we layer data and insights that we’ve been able to deliver via [Xaxis’ proprietary data management platform] Turbine. That platform enables us to be very, very smart about what we buy for our clients, and what price points we buy for our clients. It’s about the data we leverage to get what our clients want. That is what has enabled us to get to the $1 billion mark. And it is what will enable us to get to the $3 billion and $5 billion marks.

We are continuing to develop on the platforms that we own proprietarily in order to drive results programmatically. There are a lot of companies that do programmatic, but the way to do programmatic well is to have proprietary insights better than any party around you. And that’s what we’ve been able to do.

Channel-agnostic is very important to us. As more channels open up programmatically, we are ready to deliver on the outcomes for our clients.

RTD: We just had an interview with Laura Desmond [CEO] of Starcom MediaVest Group for a profile on our selection of them as our Media Agency of the Year, and she says one of the things that make SMG different is their focus on the “modern ID,” or a persistent, cookie-less ID that can attribute a user regardless of what digital media they are using. That’s something Xaxis also takes pride in: amassing the best, most representative and persistent IDs of the user base you are trying to reach.

Pangis: That is definitely an important component of what we’re doing.

RTD: How representative is Turbine now of the universe you are trying to reach?

Pangis: It’s a global platform, so different markets have different levels of penetration. Some markets are very heavily penetrated, and some of them are a little less due to their market dynamics and the availability of data, but Turbine has a substantial global footprint.

RTD: What is the percentage of coverage of unique user IDs that is necessary to be representative of a market? Just as a rule of thumb? Is there a six sigma delta for what that number is?

Pangis: I would say the 50% mark is the right number.

RTD: What is the most important thing you think the market should understand about Xaxis that you don’t think most people understand?

Pangis: Xaxis is often called non-transparent. And in fact, we are very transparent. All of our clients have 100% clarity and transparency on the prices they pay for Xaxis media products and the outcomes they get for whatever media budgets they allocate to Xaxis. That is the biggest fallacy I hear from people in the market, "Oh, Xaxis is non-transparent." That’s not accurate at all.

RTD: Do they also have transparency about your margins?

Pangis: I guess the question should be, do they know the margins of any other company they do business with, and the answer to that is no. What they know is the outcome they get for the budgets they use on any media they buy, whether it’s Google, Facebook or any individual publisher property. And that, in the end, is what matters to advertisers.

RTD: What is the biggest thing that would surprise people on the outside about Xaxis?

Pangis: We’re fairly large. We’re an 1,100-person company. And what’s amazing is that despite our size, it feels like a small family. We’ve been able to keep a very specific type of environment as it has grown from a small nascent company just five years ago to a large global company five years later. It’s something we really pride ourselves on. And it’s something we strive to continue.

RTD: When you look at digital ads on screens and you see ads you know are targeting or retargeting you based on your behavioral data, what do you think?

Pangis: I think there are two components. One is targeting. The second aspect is the creative. As an industry, I think we’ve all acknowledged that the experience should get better with better targeting. If you target an ad to the right person it becomes content, because it is useful information to that user.

We haven’t gotten there yet. I think we’re getting better every year, but digital as an industry is still fairly nascent. It’s only a couple of decades old.

The second is creative, and from a digital perspective, we are improving on that as well. And at Xaxis, this is something we are focused on.

It will be the improvement of targeting, and the improvement of creative as it is targeted at individuals, that will change the experiences of the users online. We need to improve on it, and when I get targeted with ads, sometimes it’s not targeted correctly and very often, the creative is not something that would engage me.

RTD: Do you ever install ad blockers or cookie management software on your personal devices to actively filter digital advertising?

Pangis: I do not.
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