Young Gun: AOL ANZ head of operations, Mark Serhan

By AdNews | 16 February 2017
Mark Serhan

Our Young Guns profile takes a weekly look at some of the buzzing young talent across the advertising, ad tech, marketing and media sector in Australia. It aims to shed light on the varying roles, people and companies across the buzzing industry. Last week we spoke to Vision Critical Sydney senior research manager, Maria Handberg.

This week we head to Sydney to meet AOL ANZ head of operations, Mark Serhan.

How long have you been in the industry?

Five years

Duration in current role/time at the company:

A total of 1.5 years

What were you doing before this job and how did you get this gig?

Head of ad operations, Mi9.

Part of my remit at Mi9 was looking after Mi9’s Video SSP with AOL. I loved the tech and had always wanted to move into ad tech so AOL was a great fit.

Define your job in one word:

Diverse.

What were your real and cliché expectations of working in the industry?

I didn’t find that doing an undergrad in business marketing and management necessarily did a good job at explaining the media industry, so I didn’t know what to expect other than what I’d heard about working for large ad tech companies. There is an expectation that you’ll be working with a lot of super smart, young and enthusiastic people surrounded by bean bags, pinball machines and vision boards.

How does the reality match up? 

I’ve had varied but great experiences across both publisher side and ad tech. I’m lucky to work for a company that values people and work life balance. So reality is pretty close. There are a lot of perks that come to those that work hard. It’s great to be rewarded whether it be through flexible lunch times where we go to the gym or for a run around the harbour, take part in boot camps or overseas conferences with Snoop Dogg DJ sets.

How would you describe what the company does and what does your role involve?

We simplify the ad tech landscape for consumers and creators by providing end-to-end intuitive premium media and technology solutions for our content owners, buyers and sellers. My role is to coordinate and execute those solutions for our customers.

Best thing about the industry you work in:

Definitely the people. For a relatively small market we punch well above our weight in terms of the way we’re thinking about programmatic and how technology is used. Australia produces a lot of world firsts, so I think we’re privileged to be surrounded by some of the local talent in the industry.

Any major hard learnings in the job so far?

Leadership is challenging! It’s important to be ok with not always having the answers.

If you had to switch over to another department, which would it be and why?

AOL’s new IOT and VR offerings which are based on some really cool tech and B2C experiences outside of traditional advertising.

What's exciting you about the industry right now?

We’re starting to see some really clever header bidding and dynamic price floor optimisation/publisher yield tools entering the market, which I think will start to challenge the traditional waterfall model and influence better results for advertisers through greater access to audiences at scale.

What concerns you about the industry and its future?

How quickly the industry will adapt to consumer concerns around how they want to be marketed to. Content will always be king, we just need to keep evolving ad experiences to ensure we have access to great, free content.

Who's your right hand person/who guides you day to day?

My very talented team as well as our head of demand Stephanie Famolaro who is one of the greatest sales people I’ve had a chance to work with.

And your almighty mentor that you hope to dethrone?

Louisa Lewis – operations director for NEC Digital is an exceptional people leader, so I’d be very content just getting to her level.

Career-wise, where do you see yourself in 2020 and how do you plan on getting there?

Not working with banners of any kind! Again probably working in the IOT space with cutting edge technology.

What is the elephant in the room? The thing that no one is talking about – but they should be.

Whilst we have exceptional talent in our industry there never seems to be enough to go around. I think as an industry we need to be doing a lot more to tie in to universities and schools to ensure that those starting out in media have a solid grasp on our landscape. Ultimately we want to make sure that a career in media is an exciting prospect to those trying to decide what they want to study.

Where do you turn for inspiration?

Exercise is always a good outlet to get the creative juices flowing.

Tell us one thing people at work don’t know about you?

I’ve never had a Chicken Parmi.

Favourite advert is:

It’s not a commercial ad but The Gruen Transfers’ The Pitch always amazes me at how creative agencies are able to use the power of advertising to turn ridiculous concepts into entertaining adverts. In this clip they try to convince Australians that we need to start a war with New Zealand. This is the second attempt that puts a cheeky spin on the 100% Pure New Zealand campaign.

What’s your personal motto?

Work hard, stay humble.

I got into advertising/ad tech/marketing etc because:

I really fell into it. I typed sports marketing into Seek and ended up working for a small sports publisher called Golf Link. It gave me a broad scope of experience across operations, marketing and sales and I’ve had a soft spot for media ever since.

If I wasn't doing this for a living, I'd be:

Snowboarding.

If you know a Young Gun, contact adnews@yaffa.com.au.

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