Google boss reflects on past decade and 'frenetic' two years in top job

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 3 July 2018
Jason Pellegrino

Ahead of his switch to Domain next month, AdNews caught up with Google ANZ MD Jason Pellegrino to look at his decade deep career at Google - including a “frenetic” two years into the job. This first appeared in-print in the July edition of AdNews magazine. 

When Jason Pellegrino joined Google in 2008, Android hadn't launched yet, YouTube wasn’t a monetised platform, Google was still predominantly doing search, and online advertising company DoubleClick was only a recent acquisition.

Fast–forward to 2018 and its rapidly growing YouTube offering is a force to be reckoned with. Android, the mobile operating system developed by Google, is now one of the biggest computing platforms in the world. And DoubleClick is used by countless agencies, publishers and brands globally.

Sydney–based Pellegrino said during the first eight years he witnessed more of a “consistent change” overall, but the last 24 months as MD Australia and New Zealand have gone at a “frenetic pace”.

Pellegrino indicated while the multinational tech giant has seen rapid progress on understanding the adoption of tools at its disposal, such as automation and the creative use of technology in marketing, as well as better understanding of consumers, the challenges keep coming.

“The industry has matured enormously in the last two years,” he said. “We're still coming to terms and catching up to how we're living our lives in a digital world, but we are catching up at pace and that's creating enormous opportunities, as well as challenges, that we're going to have to deal with.”

Whether it be issues like fake news or measurement, or other areas which gender debate across the industry, Pellegrino believes these are all natural progressions of the maturity of an industry.

Despite past metrics' discrepancies or criticisms about its so-called walled garden approach, Pellegrino said he doesn't shy away from Google’s problems and has increasingly been more open.

“We're getting really strong feedback from our partners, key stakeholders in the market, and government regulatory bodies in terms of what we're doing,” he revealed.

'We were apologetic'

Regarding past YouTube brand safety issues, Pellegrino openly admitted this had required a lot of work on the product, its policies and resourcing, to address a gap between its advertisers' expectations and what was actually being delivered.

“Over the course of a very, very short period of time, we were upfront, we were apologetic, we were transparent,” he said.
“I'm incredibly proud of that, but that was a tough process because fundamentally we let some of our partners down. Now, we're not infallible and that was an example where we did let our partners down and we needed to be open and transparent and honest with them in dealing with that.

Pellegrino went further, saying Google never tried to avoid the issue.

“We didn't try to hide from this, we didn't try to disengage and not talk about the problems. We didn't try to deflect," he said. "It was an issue we needed to deal with and it's something that we've actually made really, really rapid progress on.”

During his tenure, Pellegrino listed increased transparency, “significantly” around tax, as a highlight given it was the the first tech company in Australia to sign the Voluntary Tax Transparency Code.

The Google ANZ MD also said forming a partnership with Fairfax has been a highlight.

Inked in December, Google supports Fairfax to sell and market programmatic advertising across its assets. The move came as a surprise to some in the industry, with both Google and Facebook largely being blamed for the demise of media companies' ad revenue within traditional media companies.

“We have established, and have much deeper partnerships, with publishers and broadcasters in the market that are demonstrable,” he said. “Fairfax is probably the highlight for me because it's the most comprehensive and most public that we've been, but we have partnerships with all of the others at different levels.

“It’s a mutually beneficial partnership that is a first of its kind in the world and addresses a need for the continuing development and growth of quality journalism within Australia.”

Coupled with an increased range of third–party measurement solutions, and working with the industry on the future of standards around measurement, Pellegrino said there has been “a range of real demonstrated progress”.

“The feedback that we're getting from partners and clients has been really positive in our contribution to the biggest challenges that we face," he revealed. "We’ve really focused on being a lot more open, a lot more flexible, and a lot more humble in the way that we engage.

“Talking about my highlights, I have been very clear about my change in stance — that has been a clear change of strategy to be more responsive and receptive to acting as a partner within the market.”

On the question of if his more open approach is something filtered down from the Silicon Valley HQ and spread though Google’s markets, Pellegrino said no — it’s “absolutely been driven out of Australia”.

“I'm Australian. I've worked in this market for many, many years. The vast majority of people within this building are Australians and have a vested interest in the growth and success of Australia," he said.

“We are deeply passionate about Google's ability to help Australia prosper, help industries — including the marketing industry — prosper and grow. And to do that we needed to change the way that we engaged. We needed to very clearly stop talking at the industry and start working with the industry.”

Addressing what’s next

*UPDATE: Google MD Jason Pellegrino appointed Domain CEO

In terms of what is next on his agenda, Pellegrino revealed there will be a lot more progress on transparency and engagement and that he is deeply focused on third–party measurement and single–sourced measurement at an industry level. There is currently a lot of discussion on addressable TV and the progress, he said, adding that it is the topic of the moment “and we're all in”.

“There is substantial addressable inventory that's already out there. There are ways and means to move very, very quickly to addressable inventory on some of the premium TV networks, for example, and we would actively participate and be interested in helping and supporting that," he explained.

“We have the technology products that can deliver that, we have the measurement solutions that can help support that, but we really want to work on it at an industry level because the reality is if there are 17 different solutions for addressability platforms, it doesn't help anyone.

“That increases workload for agencies and clients and increases the questions around measurement, transparency, consistency and all these sorts of elements. So, our core focus would be to partner with the industry to get to a solution that makes sense.”

He admits he is pleased the industry is moving away from “ridiculous” discussions and debate of TV versus online, and defined by the size and location of a screen, and instead shifted to an area of which he is “deeply supportive”, video, irrespective of where it's delivered.

"While TV will continue to be a growth industry, it just won’t be the way that it has been defined it in the past," he said.

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