31. Steve Latham – taking an Encore at Flashtalking

Steve was the Global Head of Analytics at Flashtalking, which acquired his advanced ad measurement company Encore Media Metrics in 2016. Then last July 2021, Mediaocean acquired Flashtalking for a reported $500 million, and Steve decided to “pull the pin” on his army-of-one and leave ad tech after a 20-year tour of duty.

Today he devotes himself to DonateStock, a non-profit he founded that helps people donate appreciated equity to worthy causes while reaping some tax advantages. Steve lives and donates in the great state of Texas.

An affable and energetic fixture at ICOM and AdExchanger conferences over the years, Steve has long been a vocal advocate for the non-Google ad stack. Flashtalking itself started as a personalization platform in the U.K., and when John Nardone joined as CEO in 2015 after running the DMP [x+1] (sold to Rocket Fuel), he began to refashion the company as a Google alternative complete with self-contained ad server and dynamic creative products. Steve’s Encore added a key analytical component to the product story.

In this candid chat, Steve tells Marty and Jill that Google and Apple — while both being of course “great companies” — are “a menace to the free ad-supported internet.” And he recounts the progressive moves both players have made over the past 8-10 years to remove identifiers, data sources, search- and display-results data and more from the independent ad measurement industry, thereby advantaging their own businesses.

“What I don’t miss,” admits the newly-retired Latham, “is every time Google made an announcement or Apple made an announcement about ITP or ATT it was like a brush fire — and it’s like, okay, drop everything … put together a POV, try to calm everybody down.”

Steve’s ad-tech journey began in 2002 when he founded a digital media agency in Texas called Spur Interactive. There he learned on the job the skills needed to execute SEO and SEM strategies for clients like FedEx Kinkos, and how to measure the impact of ads. The 2008-09 recession caused Steve to revise his ambitions as Spur’s team shrank from 30 to 6 people, and he ultimately sold the Houston-based agency for an undisclosed sum and began to pitch an idea for a measurement platform.

Relocating to a WeWork space on 28th and Park Avenue in Manhattan, Steve founded Encore Media Metrics, a multi-touch attribution solution with an algorithm based on ensemble (combined) machine-learning models. Encore used a non-Google ad server named TruEffect (now apparently defunct, but once well-known), which had a patent on first-party ad serving.

TruEffect used redirects or installation behind the customer’s firewall to serve ads from the brand’s domain (actually a subdomain like ads.brand.com), enabling a first-party cookie that was more persistent and available than third-party approaches. Encore could then use this impression data and conversion events to build a picture of user-level paths for its attribution models.

MediaOcean’s acquisition of Flashtalking helped build out the former company’s programmatic execution story beyond its core media-buying platform dominance, and it also gave Steve the runway he needed to trot off into the Texan horizon to drive DonateStock. That non-profit company was inspired by a bad experience Steve had about ten years ago trying to — well — donate stock to an alma mater, and its mission is to take some of the painful manual steps out of equity donations, encouraging more people like himself who have made money on appreciating equities to give back, and save on taxes.

“It’s win-win,” he says. You can learn more about DonateStock here.

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