Episode 4 – Mark Proulx from Johnson & Johnson

Mark Proulx from J&J walks us through his approach to brand safety and how brands can quickly yet thoughtfully respond to viral moments.

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Welcome to Episode 004 of the Breaking Through the Mayhem podcast, where we explore marketing and advertising in a time of constantly shifting risk and opportunity.

Brought to you by Sightly, our goal is to share the insights of industry leaders from brands, agencies, publishers, and partners as they discuss the challenges and possibilities emerging from the ever-shifting media landscape, such as real-time marketing, brand safety and purpose, influencers, cancel culture, data privacy, technology and more.

Our guest for this episode is Mark Proulx, Senior Manager, Brand Safety & Marketing Data Compliance at Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health.

J&J Consumer Health comprises several iconic brands rooted in science and the passion of 19,000+ dreamers and doers, it helps more than 1.2 billion people live healthier, happier lives. Some of its well-known brands are: Aveeno, Band-Aid, Listerine, Carefree, Neutrogena and Tylenol.

Mark is a versatile media professional with over ten years of experience in media and advertising technology. He has a diverse background, having held roles in sales, ad operations, and marketing. Mark is adept at taking complex technical concepts and identifying key aspects that assist different stakeholders in moving towards shared goals. His passion for media is fueled by the desire to help in the creation of a more sustainable and responsible digital environment that serves both the industry and society.

In the episode, which was recorded live at the Brand Safety Summit NY on November 3, 2022, Mark discusses:

  • His career and current role as Senior Manager, Brand Safety & Marketing Data Compliance
  • How he creates policies and guidance that local markets can access globally
  • The importance of an always-on approach to brand safety and working with verification partners to monitor content categories through the lens of J&J corporate and brand values
  • Ways in which J&J Consumer Health brands can quickly yet thoughtfully respond to viral moments
  • Working closely with his brand marketers to not just avoid risky content and moments, but also align with those that reflect their values
  • The need he sees for more real-time sentiment analysis that could inform brand safety management.

To find out more about all the great work Mark and J&J Consumer Health do, visit the company’s website at https://www.jnjconsumerhealth.com/homepage or follow the company on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/johnson-johnson-consumer-health/) and Twitter @JNJNews. You can also connect with Mark directly on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/proulxmark/).

GuestMark Proulx

Johnson & Johnson

The Breaking Through the Mayhem Podcast - Episode 04

Host:  Adam Katz, Chief Revenue Officer & GM, Sightly
Guest: Mark Proulx, Global Senior Manager for Brand Safety Data Compliance, Johnson & Johnson
Recorded live at the Brand Safety Summit NY, November 3, 2022

 

Adam Katz
And we're back to Sightly’s Breaking Through the Mayhem podcast with Mark Proulx. So, Mark, before I talk about anything that we're going to talk about today, why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself and your role?

Mark Proulx
Yeah. First of all, thanks for having me on the show. And I've been at J&J for about four years now, completely dedicated to brand safety. I am the global senior manager for Brand Safety Marketing Data Compliance. So work really closely with verification partners, set brand safety strategy for our local market leads, our regional teams, generally just providing global direction in that sense.

Before J&J, I had a short stint at IAS that definitely gave me a crash course in fraud, brand safety and viewability measurement, gave me that expertise. And prior to that was at the Washington Post for a number of years and held several different roles. Started out in ad trafficking. By the time I left there, I was a liaison between the newsroom and our digital advertising team trying to launch innovative media executions without compromising editorial standards.

Adam Katz
So when you were growing up, did you think this would be your role? Brand safety? How did this thought process become something that you cared about?

Mark Proulx
No, actually, you know, I don't think anyone, especially younger, plan to go into brand safety. I guess in college I was a marketing major and advertising seemed like a good route. And The Washington Post was great. It was a really prestigious publisher. It was great to be there and feel all of that history and sense of purpose and to be doing advertising at a publisher like that was great.

I thought I would get more into creative and media executions and really pushing it there. And so to go to IAS suddenly I was tempted and thought, all right, this isn't quite what I thought I would do, but this will be interesting. This is a space that's blown up. And it was, you know, the best move for me.

I'm really passionate about what I do obviously being in a role that's 100% dedicated to brand safety. It's a lot of fun because it's so challenging and it's changing all the time. So you're certainly never going to get bored in this line of work.

Adam Katz
And what's it like for you because you're in a very specific role inside of a big organization to help educate everyone else. What's that like for you?

Mark Proulx
It's a challenge. You know, J&J is a massive organization that was honestly intimidating coming from a smaller company like IAS. And when you're dealing with global, you know, you can't be everywhere all the time. So how do you create policies and documentation and guidance that you don't necessarily need to speak to all the time, but your local markets can access? And then they're always going to have like small deviations or changes based on the market and the requirements and just the culture, like, you know, what is considered brand safe in Thailand is not the same as what's considered brand safe in the U.S.. 

Adam Katz
It’s a great point.

Mark Proulx
Yeah. So how do we develop that guidance there?

Adam Katz
And how do you, when you think about that point, actually, you know, that kind of dives into some of the things that our audience is listening to hear from you today. How do you want brands to navigate the speed of culture and the tendency actually that people have now to align with their own bias? Obviously, J&J has got their opinion and individuals have their own opinion…

Mark Proulx
Sure. 

Adam Katz
…How do you guys focus on that within the organization?

Mark Proulx
I mean, first off, the always-on approach is working with our verification partners to make sure that, you know, we have our content categories that we feel reflect our values as an organization. This is generally the content that we want to stay away from. From a targeting perspective, this is the content that we want to align to, because we know our brands best. We would like to think we know our audience best and where they expect us to appear. 

But then there's the other side of that coin of I think, like you said, viral moments and quick reactions. You can't always predict what's going to happen — especially in today's news cycle. So we worked really hard to develop a process at J&J to make sure that we can quickly yet thoughtfully respond to those moments where everyone feels that they have input, they know what our direction is and that we're making a decision quickly and issuing that guidance.

Because in viral moments, you might only have a couple of hours to make a decision. And those decisions are: Do we pause? Do we stay away from a certain channel and optimize out of it? Do we add certain keywords to our list for a while, which is always kind of a blunt instrument, but sometimes it's necessary. And those kinds of decisions, we want to make sure everyone knows what we're doing, that everyone's on the same page.

Adam Katz
Because obviously if the decision does not go perfectly, you want to be protected. That you guys all, all believed in what you guys were doing. I think that brings up a really important point, right? So you guys are having a lot more conversation, it sounds like, around your go to market strategy with these topics. When you enter the conversation yourself, you're obviously coming at it from one vantage point.

But everyone else in the organization is looking at different goals and different KPIs. Do you find that now the organizations are coming together better to discuss this as a group, or do you find that it's still a challenge?

Mark Proulx
Yeah, I don't think a challenge is the right word. I think it's kind of a convergence out of necessity. I think in a brand safety role, you're sort of tuned in to think only about what do I want to stay away from. And I can really feel the ground starting to shift of not thinking solely in my role about what to stay away from, but how do I work more closely with our brand marketers about what do we align to and how aligning to that content are we living in to our content guidelines and what we say our values are, which is exciting. 

My manager, when I first joined J&J, used to say that nobody should know what I'm doing and that means I'm doing a good job. It's only when the bad stuff happens that I come to the forefront, and that's really changing it and it's great. It's great to work much more closely with our brand marketers.

 

Adam Katz
It's more fun when you're not only the bad guy. In terms of like if you had a utopia, what other information do you feel like you're missing that would make your job even better?

Mark Proulx
You know, it is helpful. And on the one hand, you want to make sure that you're taking your own stance as a company and doing what you think it's right. But it's helpful to know what other advertisers in the space are doing. And I think that's what's great about brand safety, is you don't have to be so competitive with each other, especially with news events.

It's helpful to understand other brands and how they view the issue and how they're approaching it. So all the forums that exist today, GARM and ANA meetings, where you can talk about how do you react to these events. I mean, that's really helpful to understand how other brands are feeling about this, what actions are they taking? And as quickly as we can get that information, that's just great food for thought to inform our own approach.

Adam Katz
It's very interesting. But do you think ultimately, you know, you're saying it's not competitive, right? But don't you think speed creates competitiveness today, though, like when you think about culture, how fast does it move? So if every brand knows how to move as fast as the other ones, don't you think that's a negative at times? Right. So I think one of the things I think about a lot, you know, I just throw in one of my thoughts here is that I feel like you want to know what other brands are doing because it's obviously cool to be aligned.

But I think what's happening is we're getting too aligned and it's taking out some of the values that each individual brand really feels about themselves. Right. And I think what ends up happening sometimes is then you're all running at the same speed. So I think when you're a brand like J&J obviously you guys are huge you want to win, right?

So, how do you think about — and I'm not talking about media buying, I'm talking about how do you think about winning in today's culture if we're all going to run after the same exact thing? So I think it's a pretty critical thing that I've been thinking about. So what data do you think would help with that?

Right? Like ultimately, if you had Utopia, you were an entrepreneur, you were creating your own data source. What kind of data do you think's missing? Do you think we're missing bias data? Are we missing? Right, looking at information correctly, are we missing the ability to focus on different news sources in different ways? Like what would you say is a challenge out there?

Mark Proulx
Well, I think, first of all, to kind of address your point on competitiveness, I mean, it's a great point. And maybe I'm being a little too kumbaya when I talk about, you know, it's good for everybody. As I mentioned, there's two sides of the coin. One, you’ve got to do what's right for your brand and reflect your values.

But it's just helpful to have that context of what other brands are doing. But it might not be possible to really have it all. I guess

And second, in terms of tools, you know, I guess I mentioned that always-on approach of ad verification in setting our content categories. What I would like to see develop more in the space is sentiment and understanding, like how does this content reflect our values. And more in real time, like, I think often we’re looking post-bid and looking at the reporting seeing what was this content about? Does this reflect our settings? Does this reflect our values? And it's almost impossible sometimes to, you know, really make sure that those settings are tuned to like a real time event, like something as huge as like the January sixth riots. I mean - 

Adam Katz
Of course.

Mark Proulx
Something that was unpredictable and I don't think anyone had their brand safety settings tuned to that.

So how could technology be that much better so that in real time you already know that you're going to be aligned to the content that reflects that

Adam Katz
I think there's a way to do it, obviously. Selfishly, I think we're working hard on that at our company. But it's hard, right? But you bring up a couple of points that I keep going out here, right? Like because when you think about it, the size of a moment obviously creates more scale, creates more inventory as we all discuss.

But ultimately it also creates more risk, but then it also creates potentially better ROI. So I feel like everyone's always faced with a very difficult conversation. So your job is very hard so I don't envy everything that you have to do every day. Right? Like one of the things that I believe can help with the topics that we're talking about is just figuring out how to humanize brands again, right?

Like we all sit down in our lives. And so we're calling this Breaking Through The Mayhem. And we make decisions every day right off of things we do, things we see people that we care about. Right. So in your own personal life, Mark, outside of J&J, you know, what kind of brands are you really impressed with right now?

What kind of influencers impress you? And how do you typically make your decisions in your personal purchase history?

Mark Proulx
Yeah, you know, I think as much scrutiny as on social media when it comes to advertising and personalization. I mean, those are the messages that break through to me the most. I'm more likely to engage with that type of advertising, more so than like programmatic display, which a huge amount of effort goes into. But personally, you know, that's what really drives for me.

I think in terms of certain brands and how they speak to me, smaller brands like I think really break through like and they understand like…

Adam Katz
Because they can move faster...

Mark Proulx
…Exactly. I think they really embrace like that personalization and understanding, like here's what you're looking at, what you've engaged with before, smaller, like clothing brands. I think, you know, not the big name brands like that really speaks to me. 

In terms of like big brand personalities that I think are just fun. Like, I think Nike does a great job with their social media efforts, content they create about a fitness lifestyle and, you know, really living into that, I mean, that's exciting and interesting to see.

I think, you know, the NFL, MLB, they're having a lot more fun with social media and, you know, making it a more engaging environment, not just about you're sitting down on Sunday watching the game. 

In terms of influencers. I selfishly I’ll, you know, promote some of our influencers that we work with. I think Jennifer Aniston has been a great partner for you know, I think she comes through very authentic, like and as should

And, you know, we're just having a session now where Meta was talking about how younger users especially can sniff out that when you're not being authentic, when you're not being genuine. So to work with influencers like that for our brand, I think we're living into that.

Adam Katz
I think you bring up an interesting point, like with the Jennifer Aniston, if we want to touch on that for a second, you may not know, but I pay attention to a lot of these people and Jennifer Aniston posts all the time about her love for Ellen DeGeneres, who's also had some workplace issues over time. Right.

Mark Proulx
Sure. 

Adam Katz
But the perception of Jennifer Aniston to the general population is she's pristine.

Mark Proulx
Yeah.

Adam Katz
Right. So I think it's pretty critical in my eyes that we can if we wanted to just take that Ellen DeGeneres moment out of the mix, but keep Jennifer Aniston 99.9% in our mix now that we have that capability. And I think the challenges publishers obviously don't have the scale at times to do that or the technology built yet.

So I think it's an interesting point. I mean, also like Jennifer Aniston, I mean, she's awesome, right? So like, you know, when you think about awesome people, it just kind of gets you also going. 

In terms of like the last question, I'll leave you with Mark and I'm sorry, this is a challenging one, right?

I mean, how do you feel personally about brands committing to things? And then they don't want to stick to the course because it's not driving ROI.  

Mark Proulx
Yeah, you know, it depends and it depends what lens we're coming at it from. I think with what I I'll stick with what I know and brand safety, I think there are a lot of things that I want to do to make sure that we're supporting positive engagement, good content, staying away from misinformation as much as possible. And some of those tools, some of those actions, the question is how do you demonstrate ROI? And that's a tough question to answer. And it's not so much that I feel, oh, this will definitely, you know, increase our ROI by X percent. It just feels like the right thing to do. And that's something, you know, if you have the answer for it, I'd love to know. 

Adam Katz
Happy to.

Mark Proulx
How do you quantify doing the right thing like that? I think -

Adam Katz
So. You answered. You left me with a leading question here to close me. 

I mean, ultimately, I think consistency and authenticity is what people look for, right? So if we can get to a world which you know, selfishly, I think we can measure that. But if we get to a world where those become metrics that people focus on, I think you'd actually sell that up the chain in a company because over time, kind of like brand safety or anything suitability, the more you establish yourself a certain way, it's funny how you're allowed to make a mistake more often if somebody understands who you are. 

Mark Proulx
Right.

Adam Katz
So it seems to me right when I think about that concept, it should be centered around authenticity and consistency because like knowing myself, right?

Like someone may say I'm a character if they meet me, right? So if I say something that's not perfect, I get a pass more because I'm a character that I'm already right. Or if you're already a good person to somebody, you make a mistake, you get a pass. I think over time, consistency and authenticity are the right metrics.

That I think will prove the course. Right. And then when you look at ROI, how can we say that that's not going to come from those two metrics? When you look at all the, you look at what you just said with Jennifer Aniston because of the way she is, that's who you partner with -

Mark Proulx
Right.

Adam Katz
What do you like about her?

She's consistent and she's authentic. So I think ultimately we need to get to a place where we can prove those things. Thank you so much for joining me here on Breaking Through the Mayhem. I hope to have you back. 

Mark Proulx
Yeah.

Adam Katz
As we become cooler. And now that I had you on I think we're going to go viral.

Mark Proulx
Yeah, there you go.

Adam Katz
So I feel pretty good about this

Mark Proulx
This was fun. Thanks for having me.

Adam Katz
Thank you.

Sightly
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