Programmatic past and present: Partnerships, progress and privacy with Limelight’s James Macdonald

5 mins

In our latest episode of Life in Digital, we spoke to James Macdonald, co-founder and Chief ...

By Eda Osman

Marketing Manager

In our latest episode of Life in Digital, we spoke to James Macdonald, co-founder and Chief Revenue Officer at Limelight Inc - about his career journey from advertising to adtech guru, the founding principles underlying Limelight and how marketers can overcome industry challenges as we move towards a reliance on zero-party data collation. Here, he shares just some of his many learnings.

The path to founding partner

In James’ case, being in the media industry at the advent of digital media influenced all that came after. “I’ve found myself deeply involved from the very beginning, as the world has evolved and the digital adtech market first began, and then flourished,” he says. 

As Head of Mobile at a digital sales house before the potential of the channel was fully realised, James was promoting a nascent medium that even he couldn't be sure would take off: “I found myself willing it to happen, yet not actually quite believing it was going to happen.”

His subsequent career in telcos and consulting roles, both in the UK and the US, highlighted the platform’s need for operational support, direction and strategy. “That was when the kernel of Limelight really kicked off. We had an opportunity to deliver something we felt was timely and added value to the market that we were dealing with. And that was six years ago.”

James has known his co-founder and CEO David Nelson for 25 years. “While you obviously need to like each other, the key thing is to find someone that can do what you can't,” he notes. Describing their different yet complementary strengths, he says: “I'm all about meeting people and driving business development; David's very much the technical product genius. So together, we can deliver the whole package.”

Technology with a heartbeat

So what is the result of this combined experience and collaboration? James says: “Limelight is essentially a technology business - a 360-degree Ad platform that specialises in the best supply-side and demand-side integrations.”

Networks, traders, agencies and publishers can often find themselves investing huge sums in internal systems and platforms. The alternative is to access a programmatic open RTB solution, but via a flexible partner that will “understand and surprise you, without competing for business”, according to James. 

To thrive in adtech as the industry evolves at pace, James advocates pairing up-to-date, often AI-driven technology with human oversight and second-to-none customer service: “Companies will need world-class technology and a world-class commercial approach, but they’ll also need the right people to drive it. Technology with a heartbeat.”

Companies also need to avoid falling into the trap of allowing customer service to fall by the wayside as they grow. For James, “it is an investment in our own growth and our own revenue to support our partners to win and to find the right routes through the adtech maze.”

Zero-party data and the future of the open web 

Of the many significant events impacting the adtech industry, the shift towards zero-party data is arguably the truly seismic one. The deprecation of cookies, although much delayed, is not in doubt. And while in 2023, many industry players were taking a ‘wait and see’ approach, James says this is no longer a sustainable strategy.

Despite acknowledging that walled gardens will not simply disappear overnight, James is nonetheless of the opinion that, as the open internet flourishes, “it will clearly hand back some control to publishers, when it comes to pricing and delivery. And also to advertisers, in terms of campaign planning - deciding where and what they want to do and how they want to do it.” 

Adjusting to the changing landscape in real time is an evolutionary process, and one which industry players have to be on board with. There are vast opportunities associated with changes to consumer privacy and data collation - context and curation foremost amongst them.

While regulatory shifts and world events repeatedly throw up new challenges for the advertising industry, “adtech is an ever-evolving, creative, solutions-based business,” explains James, “and adtech companies will always find a way of turning these challenges into opportunities”.

To find out more what the future holds for the adtech industry, listen to the full story here.

You can find the full episode and more on our Life in Digital podcast. To find out more about James and the Limelight offering, visit their website.

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