58. Jeff Hirsch – all the -Clicks in SoCal lead to AudienceScience

Jeff was founder and CRO of the FastClick ad network, acquired by ValueClick. He was later the CRO and then CEO at AudienceScience, which may have invented the DMP for clients WSJ and P&G.

He was also CMO at SundaySky and Chief Commercial Officer at Pubmatic. Today he is a strategic advisor with Pubmatic, based in NY.

Jeff spent the dawn of the internet and its frenetic aftermath in the luxe milieu of Santa Barbara, where a number of pragmatic ad tech players got their start (e.g., AdECN, Commission Junction, The Trade Desk). As he tells Marty in this fast-paced episode, his parents were entrepreneurial; his dad claims to have invented a punch-card driven dating service, which helped him meet his second wife.

In 1996, Jeff wrote a business plan for a company he called AdClick – in those days, a “-Click” was required to indicate both hipness and proximity to DoubleClick, as our previous guest (and InterClick founder) Michael Katz told us. To prep, Jeff “actually printed every page you could find on the web about online advertising.”

AdClick didn’t click, but Jeff was able to take the business plan into ValueClick’s original founder Brian Coryat, who signed him up to build publisher relationships. ValueClick was an ad network that sold excess (so-called “remnant”) inventory from publishers using a CPC model. CPC seemed more accountable than CPM, but it put a burden on the network to get the math right (buying CPM, paying CPC – it’s complicated). This is a formula Advertising.com later mastered.

ValueClick managed to go public in early 2000, just before the crash. (DoubleClick had invested $85 million in the company for 35% stake pre-IPO, interestingly.) Using the IPO cash, ValueClick then swept up a number of affiliate and other networks including Commission Junction and ClickAgents. (It later rebranded as Conversant, was acquired by Alliance Data, and lives on within Epsilon.)

Also in 2000, Jeff left ValueClick and started FastClick, another ad network. Originally a version of ValueClick that was designed to be faster (co-founded by aerospace engineers from UCSB), the dot-com meltdown required a retooling toward a CPA model. This model was even more mathematically demanding but did well during hard times; FastClick signed up Casale Media, Right Media, and others as customers.

By the time of its IPO in 2005 (5 years “to the day” after ValueClick’s), FastClick said it had 9,000 third-party web sites in its network reaching 112 million unique U.S. internet users. By this time, Jeff had made his way back to ValueClick as SVP of business development and helped in the acquisition of FastClick for $214 million.

In 2006, Jeff’s adventure with AudienceScience began when he was brought on as CRO, becoming CEO in 2008.

AudienceScience began life as digiMine, which merged with CoRelate to become Revenue Science. CoRelate was co-founded by our previous guest Omar Tawakol as a recommendation engine for ecommerce sites such as Barnes & Noble. Publishers installed the system on their websites and gained insights into groups of visitors, or audiences, and by 2002 or so publishers such as the Wall Street Journal were moving it toward segmentation and targeting, focusing on unsold inventory. This move is its claim to being the first publisher DMP.

After Jeff joined the company, it rebranded as AudienceScience and started an audience-based ad network, in time becoming one of the top 10 US networks with a true marketer-side DMP, which caught the eye of P&G.

P&G was turning against media agencies’ opacity and fees, and in 2008 signed with Right Media’s exchange. But P&G had issues with RM because it was both a tech and media partner (Yahoo owned RM at this point), and there were some limitations in the RM product. Herein enters previous guest Bill Wise, a Right Media/Yahoo mainstay who introduced P&G to AudienceScience.

“Yahoo didn’t really have the PMP chops to be able to support it,” Jeff recalls. “So Bill [Wise] and I talked and my goal was to get Yahoo to basically white-label us to P&G and create a contingency that would mean that Yahoo would eventually have to buy AudienceScience.”

P&G’s famous Project Hawkeye started as a three-way relationship between Yahoo/Right Media, AudienceScience and P&G. AS acquired a DMP from Germany called Wunderloop in 2010. That and other moves cemented AS’s relationship with the client, who became by far their biggest source of revenue.

It was a mixed blessing, as Jeff recalls. Around 2009-10 P&G shifted over to AS for technology and buying, and its ambitious Project Hawkeye aimed to build “a global system housing all of its data across all of its brands in multiple markets.” It made P&G likely the first big brand to in-house media, putting multiple regions on the same platform. AS became known as a strident in-housing advocate, and it moved out of media into the DMP technology business.

However, AS wasn’t allowed to talk about P&G. It was a poorly-kept secret, but it was a commercial handicap. Then P&G’s vocal CBO Marc Pritchard started to complain frequently and publicly about the digital ad ecosystem in aggregate (aka “crappy supply chain”) and eventually ditched AudienceScience in 2017.

“The first time that the relationship between P&G and AudienceScience was spoken about publicly was when we broke up,” Jeff recalls.

AudienceScience closed up shop within a month. During Jeff’s seven years there, it went from 80 to 220 employees and gained an estimated $300 million in fees from P&G.

After the AS adventure, Jeff joined SundaySky as CMO and in 2016 became CCO at Pubmatic, a leading SSP. Pubmatic IPO’d in 2020, and Jeff recently transitioned to a strategic advisory role with the company.

Leave a Reply