Green Tech: Frank Maguire of Sharethrough On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact On The Environment

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

Jilea Hemmings
Authority Magazine

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Since digital advertisements are a major contributor to the amount of the power required to load nearly every website, we realized this is a problem that our company Sharethrough can address since we help power the ads that are delivered across thousands upon thousands of websites. We built a solution called Green Media Products in conjunction with a couple other partners that allows advertisers to achieve net zero carbon emissions from the ads they deliver through Sharethrough.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Frank Maguire, VP of Strategy & Insight, Sharethrough.

Frank has spent over a decade at Sharethrough conducting research studies to better understand how humans respond to advertising and sharing strategies, insights and best practices that help brands and agencies adapt their unique advertising challenges to ever-evolving media consumption behaviors. He is a digital advertising industry veteran, beginning his career working for clients including Nestle, Pfizer and Wyndham on the agency side and then opening up and growing Sharethrough’s East Coast headquarters in NYC.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I moved around a lot growing up going from the suburbs of Boston to New York to Chicago and then back to NY when I started college in Boston. While it was very sad and stressful leaving my friends and having to start over, in hindsight I can see how living through so much change had a positive impact on my adult life. First of all, it gave me the confidence to embrace change instead of fearing it, which has helped me better adapt to new environments while increasing my aptitude to take risks in my work life. It also made me a more empathetic person since I realized at an early age that everyone is struggling with something that they may not be projecting externally. That in turn made me a better listener, which was key to having to start over and make new friends every five years or so.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I started my career in New York as a media buyer and planner at a couple ad agencies, which was an incredibly fulfilling way to learn about all the roles and responsibilities involved in advertising like creative, analytics, business, sales, brand marketing, research, innovation and beyond. I eventually was drawn to the startup lore of some of the Silicon Valley success stories but wasn’t necessarily interested in moving out there. After all, I had already moved enough in my life!

I was particularly inspired when I met a fresh-faced Silicon Valley Stanford dropout named Dan Greenberg who had recently co-founded Sharethrough. I was drawn towards his vision that advertising could be improved by making it less intrusive and more respectful of the user experience. As his vision started becoming the monetization strategy for Facebook and Twitter I decided I needed to join him. At this point, Sharethrough was just 5 to 10 people in San Francisco, and I was one of their biggest clients. So, I had to convince Dan that 1- although I had never worked in sales or run an office that I could help him grow his revenue in New York while opening and hiring a New York office, and 2- by leaving my ad agency that they wouldn’t lose out on one of their biggest clients.

Needless to say, it took almost a year to convince him but my lifelong experience of making new friends eventually paid off. I learned that Dan was very competitive and enthusiastic about casual games like ping pong, bowling, billiards, shuffleboard, etc. So, one night when he was visiting New York I suggested we meet at Fat Cat in Greenwich Village, an eclectic bar with ping pong, billiards, shuffleboard tables and live jazz. We played shuffleboard for hours while I talked about how I planned to open doors for Sharethrough in NY. He still won more games than me, but I was just competitive enough that by the end of the night he was ready to hire me.

I was terrified to join such a tiny company, but I approached it with optimism and hard work that paid off for both of us. I was a much better seller than even I expected and helped hire some very smart and inspiring people to help grow our east coast presence. Twelve years later we’ve grown by 20–100x in terms of people and revenue, we inspired and evangelized Dan’s original vision of respectful ads into what we ended up coining “native advertising,” and have since built a profitable business with an award-winning culture built around the mantra of making all of advertising (not just native) better for consumers and, in turn, better for advertisers and publishers.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Besides Dan Greenberg, I’ve had a number of great mentors who pushed me to do my best work and inspired me to learn all I could about the broad reaches of the advertising industry. Particularly, three of my early bosses from my agency days come to mind: Christine Peterson, Jason Acker and Helen Lin. Each of them provided me with opportunities early in my career to take responsibility on important projects and presentations that significantly helped grow my confidence. They also encouraged me to broaden my scope of advertising beyond just media buying by spending more time with our partners, creative agencies and brand clients as well as broadening the types of media I read and consumed about the digital world.

I remember one specific time when Christine Peterson was shocked that I was only reading very granular media buying industry trades and literally told me to stop my work to subscribe to RSS feeds (remember those) for various publications and start listening to these new things called podcasts. I specifically remember her getting me hooked on Digg co-founder Kevin Rose’s early podcast Diggnation which really opened my eyes to Internet and tech subcultures I never knew about.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Dan Greenberg used to often quote one of his mentors (I’m not sure which one) to “focus on the solution not the problem.” I think about that quote a lot both in my professional and personal life. It was especially useful in our earliest startup days where seemingly every day would have a different challenge to tackle that, with the wrong mindset, could drive you crazy. But because we ended up building our company culture around focusing on the solution over the problem, it not only allowed us to build and iterate solutions faster but also created a much more positive and optimistic work environment.

The same rings true in how I approach the mayhem of fathering a 5- and 2-year-old. They are a lot harder to reason with than my co-workers, but I still find that (once they’re done tantruming) encouraging them to figure out how to arrive at a solution instead of focusing on the problem often helps calm them down and build some much needed problem solving skills.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I would say the three traits that have helped me the most are being empathetic, solution oriented and proactive. Empathy is so important for building trust in both internal and external relationships. Whether managing a team or working to build a company culture, I’ve always found the best leaders show genuine empathy for their team and co-workers. When they feel heard as a person and not just a worker, they are usually more inspired to do better work. The same is true for working with clients. When you can listen and empathize with the challenges they face on a daily basis you are more equipped to collaborate on solutions that can solve their problems, while also building trust.

Solution-oriented gets back to focusing on the solution not the problem. As I mentioned before, this is also crucial to building a positive work culture and, over time, builds optimism that we can figure out a solution to any problem.

Proactivity is a trait I’ve noticed in every star employee that quickly moves through the ranks at any company I’ve worked at. I’m lucky enough to have worked at companies that encourage everyone at all levels to share ideas and are rewarded for going above and beyond their daily responsibilities.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on the planet and the environment. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?

The problem we’ve been trying to solve is how to decrease the surprisingly high amount of carbon emissions generated by internet usage, particularly from the delivery of digital ads. This is a problem that I didn’t even realize was as big an issue as it is until very recently. What really opened my eyes to the problem was a stat that the total emissions generated by Internet usage is about 2–4% of global emissions, which puts it on par with the civil aviation industry!

How do you think your technology can address this?

Since digital advertisements are a major contributor to the amount of the power required to load nearly every website, we realized this is a problem that our company Sharethrough can address since we help power the ads that are delivered across thousands upon thousands of websites. We built a solution called Green Media Products in conjunction with a couple other partners that allows advertisers to achieve net zero carbon emissions from the ads they deliver through Sharethrough.

To create Green Media Products we partnered with Scope3, a company that can measure the amount of carbon required to load nearly every ad-supported site on the Internet. Their data tells us how much carbon was required to load every impression that an advertiser runs across our platform. They then help us calculate the amount of carbon we would need to remove from the environment to achieve net zero carbon emission for all the ad impressions that an advertiser delivered. We then work with Carbon Direct, who has a science-based approach to investing in carbon removal projects such as direct air capture, carbon soil capture and reforestation. They can calculate exactly how much carbon removal projects to invest in from each ad campaign to remove the exact amount of carbon it took to run those ads.

An important aspect of this process was to make it as seamless as possible for advertisers to run their ads through our Green Media Products. All they have to do is essentially check a box that they want their ads to run with net zero carbon emissions and our technology and partnerships take care of the rest. This ease of use is what will help catalyze all advertisers to run on solutions like Green Media Products to eventually achieve net zero carbon emissions for the full digital advertising industry.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I still remember learning about the concept of how humans are destroying the environment as early as Kindergarten in the 1980’s. So ever since then my sisters and I were the ones that policed the environmental impact of our family on everything from recycling to water waste. More recently, that passion has only grown due to the exceedingly dire path our earth is on and manifested itself into finding solutions with more broad impact than say individual recycling.

Luckily, this desire to save our planet is universally shared across our company. So, in late 2021 once we started learning about the surprising environmental impact of digital advertising, we knew we couldn’t just sit idle and wait to see what solutions other companies might make. We knew we had a responsibility to act and then share our solutions with the full advertising ecosystem so that every advertiser and ad tech company can focus on solutions like Green Media Products.

How do you think this might change the world?

The tide is already shifting in the digital advertising space and more and more advertisers and ad tech companies are not just talking about the environmental impact of digital advertising but they’re starting to make commitments to reach net zero carbon emissions. In 2020, the UK Advertising Association launched Ad Net Zero, acknowledging the global advertising industry’s need to become more environmentally sustainable. Since then, numerous agencies and brands like WPP, Havas, Dentsu, Disney, Unilever and Dell have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2030 or later.

By creating the first Green Media solution in the digital advertising space and openly sharing how to develop and use such products, our hope is to catalyze solutions across the full digital advertising industry so that the entire industry can reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030. Doing so could impact as much as 2–4% of global carbon emissions, which could have an enormous impact on saving the world from heating beyond the 1–2 degrees that is predicted to have a cataclysmic impact on our world.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Our main concern with solutions like Green Media Products is that companies also realize they contribute to carbon emissions in other ways outside of the delivery of digital ads. They still have to consider how they will reduce or offset the rest of the carbon footprint such as the power they use to run their offices, the flights they take for business travel or the waste they produce from manufacturing. Green Media Products is a huge step towards solving one part of the advertising ecosystem but each company has to also consider their full scope of environmental impact.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

1. First, identify the problem you’re trying to solve. For us, our eureka moment was when we realized the enormous impact digital advertising had on carbon emissions.

2. Then, study all the details of that problem. For us, we studied the full supply chain of how an advertisement moves from an advertiser to an ad agency, to a demand side platform where they set up their ad campaigns, then to ad exchanges like us who connect advertisers with thousands of websites on which to deliver their ads to reach their consumer. We uncovered how in each step of this process there are multiple servers, cloud computing solutions, user devices and more that each contribute to carbon emissions.

3. Next, we started focusing on the solution. First and foremost, were there already solutions that could help fix the problem? If not, what tech needed to be built to solve it? It was in this process that we discovered that Scope3 at least had a solution to measure carbon emissions, but we would need to build technology to allow advertisers to track emissions for their campaigns and connect that investment with carbon removal projects through Carbon Direct.

4. Education is the next important step. For us, this includes contributing to articles like this that educate both the advertising ecosystem and consumers that browsing the internet impacts the environment, that there are already solutions to help decrease that impact and that we need everyone’s help to maximize the global impact.

5. Lastly, is finding the influencers that are going to help evangelize such solutions to a scale that will have a greater impact on the world. For us, that is working with the largest buyers of digital ads and both working with them to fine tune a solution that works for their unique challenges but also to use their media buying influence to pressure the industry to move faster to create and adopt similar solutions.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

The concept of how global warming could impact our daily life used to feel more hypothetical, but we are very quickly starting to feel the very tangible impact that global warming has on everything from severe weather patterns and natural disasters to food and water shortages that threaten the existence of every socioeconomic class in the world. So, there is no longer time to wait. Now is the time to think big, act fast and pressure companies, governments and individuals to reduce our carbon footprint.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I’ve been very inspired by the scope of Greta Thunberg’s influence on creating environmental change and action. I would love to meet her and understand more about her communication strategy and how we can inspire even faster action to decarbonize not just the advertising supply chain but the thousands of companies and brands that make up that ecosystem.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My team and I write a lot on our Sharethrough blog about not just our Green Media Products but also the research that goes into both understanding all the ways digital advertising contributes to carbon emissions (including this useful infographic), consumer research on their understanding of carbon emissions (also in infographic form) and more research to come.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

About the Interviewer: Jilea Hemmings is a staunch believer in the power of entrepreneurship. A successful career revamping Fortune 500 companies was not enough for her entrepreneurial spirit, so Jilea began focusing her passion in startups. She has successfully built 6 startups to date. Her passion for entrepreneurship continues to flourish with the development of Stretchy Hair Care, focusing on relieving the pain associated with detangling and styling natural black hair. For far too long, people with tender heads have suffered in pain. Until now.

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Jilea Hemmings
Authority Magazine

Founder Nourish + Bloom Market | Stretchy Hair Care I Author I Speaker I Eshe Consulting I Advocate For Diversity In Beauty