How Brian Lesser Built A Billion Dollar Digital Business Within WPP In Less Than Five Years

December 08, 2015
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by Peter High, published on Forbes


Brian Lesser is the CEO of Xaxis, a billion dollar division within $16 billion WPP, a British multinational advertising and public relations company. Lesser has reached this revenue hurdle in less than five years, which has positioned Xaxis among the largest global digital media platforms. The company programmatically connects advertisers and publishers to audiences across all addressable channels. The company’s mission is to “make advertising welcome.” As Lesser notes, this involves advertising reaching the right customer at the right point in a transaction through the right medium with a compelling message. This is easier said than done, but the key to successfully execute this involves better leveraging data and technology.

Lesser highlights the many advantages and the challenges of starting a business within a much larger enterprise as opposed to doing so as a more traditional, venture-backed organization. It has required some cultural changes, but he has been blessed with a CEO who is progressive enough to understand that digital transformation that is necessary. As a result of Lesser’s success, in January he will be promoted to become North American CEO of WPP’s advertising media company, GroupM. This appears to be an acknowledgement that the things Lesser has done well at Xaxis should be embedded more broadly in the company as a whole.

Peter High: Brian, Xaxis is the biggest programmatic media company representing the demand side of the advertising marketplace. Please provide an overview of the business.

Brian Lesser: We started Xaxis about five years ago and the mission was to use data and technology to help advertisers reach and engage with their audiences across all channels and devices. Xaxis is a company that helps advertisers effectively engage with their audiences through the programmatic buying of media. What that means is that we can collect anonymous information about a consumer’s browsing behaviors – what content they like to read, what products they are shopping for, what ads they typically engage with. We gather that information and we build up profiles of users. Once we have those profiles, it means we can go into a marketplace for advertising impressions and enact those profiles in real time. When we see a user in one of these marketplaces or within inventory that we have forward traded or inventory that we own, we can evaluate how valuable that user is to one of our clients and then serve them an advertising impression—whether that be a banner ad, or a video ad, or a social media ad—in real time.

What programmatic advertising allows us to do is disconnect the audience from the context. In traditional media buying, you would define an audience based on the context they are in. So if I am looking for sports fans, I am going to buy sports programming on television or sports websites. Now, because I know so much about the user, I can disconnect that and I can serve relevant advertising to an audience wherever they may be regardless of the context that they are in. Today it is almost a $1 billion revenue business. We have 1,100 people around the world and over 2,000 clients that we service.

High: I was fascinated to learn that a mission of the organization is to make advertising welcome. How does one accomplish that?

Lesser: We fundamentally believe that technology and data can, over time, improve advertising—not just how ads are targeted to a person, but we think that, in general, people do not like interruptive advertising. But in many cases they are very happy to watch a 30 second television commercial if it is a beautiful piece of film and it is engaging and it is for a brand they are interested in. We think that using data and technology we can actually make advertising better for consumers and make advertising welcome for consumers. Because good advertising ceases to become an interruptive message and, in fact, becomes a relevant piece of content.

To read the full article, please visit Forbes

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