All Good Things: Change at IAB

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Outgoing IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg sent this letter on Tuesday to the IAB and IAB Tech Lab Boards of Directors

Dear IAB Board and Tech Lab Board,

With great excitement and anticipation–and yes, a wisp of nostalgia, too–I am pleased to announce that, after 14 years, I will be stepping down as Chief Executive Officer of the IAB and the IAB Tech Lab, and that David Cohen, who has served brilliantly as IAB’s “pandemic President,” will be my successor. The changes will become effective on September 15 – because, as the IAB Executive Committee said in extending the offer to David, why wait for a good thing?!

We’ll announce this publicly tomorrow, but I wanted to provide a bit of context for this important new chapter in the evolution of the IAB.

When I came to IAB 14 years ago, digital advertising was barely a blip on marketers’ radar screens. Today, it is the largest advertising segment. Our IAB family has been instrumental in that growth. From the Newfronts marketplace to our pioneering brand disruption research, from the VAST standard to the ads.txt anti-fraud protocol, we–and I include you and thousands of other civic contributors from our 750 member companies among the “we”–have made a very big difference.

By creating marketplaces, identifying best practices, shaping industry standards, and building applications, IAB and Tech Lab, together and independently, helped drive billions of dollars of revenue to the nascent streaming video and podcasting segments. Our self-regulatory and compliance programs – notably including such partnerships as the Digital Advertising Alliance – aided companies in adapting to GDPR in Europe, CCPA in California, and a U.S. regulatory environment increasingly more cognizant of the importance of consumer privacy. Through our TAG partnership and Tech Lab standards, we materially reduced publisher and brand losses due to fraudulent impressions. Our original research – among other things, on advertising and marketing spending, the economic value of Internet advertising, and the rise of direct-to-consumer brands – has helped contribute to ad agencies’ media buying plans, legislation in Washington, and our member companies’ revenues.

Our guiding principle has always been the growth and preservation of the Open Web–the most vibrant, dynamic, accessible mechanism in human history for the development of businesses and the pursuit of personal passions. In the second half of the 20th Century, only about 200 advertisers at a time could afford to advertise on network TV. Today, tens of millions of companies are finding customers and building businesses with Internet marketing – and supporting tens of millions more creative people who are teaching courses, making videos, doing podcasts, pursuing breakthrough journalism, and influencing the culture. These people have always been IAB’s North Star.

For the past several years, we have been building out a more aggressive strategy focused on market-making solutions, with a strong, energetic team of leaders able to execute it excellently. With people like Dennis Buchheim guiding the Tech Lab, Dave Grimaldi leading our Washington policy team, Michael Hahn building compliance solutions, Sheryl Goldstein overseeing our members’ needs, Orchid Richardson driving pioneering research on data-centric organizations, Brad Berens and Sue Hogan bringing our thought leadership to life, Craig Coleman crafting our virtual marketplaces, and Jeanie Carstensen keeping our operational house in order, we are positioned to help our companies and their customers find their next growth platforms.

David Cohen will be a superb leader for this team. He was an original digital ad agency pioneer, with a depth and breadth of relationships and knowledge I could only wish for. In just six months, he has advanced our position in digital video beyond anything we’d been able to do in the prior decade–just in time for the CTV tsunami that is cresting. His insights on developing our “News Saves Lives” campaign helped take a critically important but complicated subject–brand safety–and make it come to life in ways everyone could understand, successfully attracting into the same room publishers, brands, agencies, and ad tech companies to align their processes for the common good.

Now is the perfect time for David and this leadership team, with your guidance, to take ownership of IAB’s strategy and operations. The challenges ahead are immense–far more difficult than those days in the early 2000s when our biggest problem was getting digital advertising its “fair share” of ad spend. Nations and companies are building their own “walled gardens.” Public concerns about hate speech and harmful content are contributing to disaffection with the very notion of freedom of speech. News and opinion proliferate, but gaining attention and consensus in an ever-more-fragmented society is more difficult than ever. And even as capital remains available to start up companies, running sustainable, growing publishing, brand, retail, services, and technology businesses remains very hard. The circa-2007 IAB had to be about one important thing – ad growth for a nascent medium. But the circa 2021 IAB that David and this able team are inheriting has to be about one enormous thing: the vibrancy of our economy, and of civil society itself.

I will remain with IAB as Executive Chair full time through 2020, and half time in 2021 and 2022. For David, and for you on the IAB and Tech Lab Boards, I will concentrate my time on the intersection of public policy, compliance, and business operations, and on advanced thought leadership in brand disruption. I’ll also spend more time consulting, writing, diving, and birding.

It has been a pleasure to serve you. Thank you so much for your support over the years!



Randall Rothenberg
Executive Chair
at IAB