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A Click Fraud Solution?


After representatives from Google and Yahoo! sat down to discuss click fraud at the Search Engine Strategies New York conference this March, the issue seemed squarely back on the front stage. Maybe it never left, but it's clear that an increasing number of online marketers are expressing concern about the money they've spent on search ads.

But no matter how concerned these marketers are, it's principally a business problem, right? What in the world, you might be asking yourself, is a privacy guy doing talking about click fraud? Bear with me-- I'll get to that in a moment…

I think most people probably have a general understanding of what click fraud is, and Michael Caruso of ClickFacts does a good job of explaining what it is and how it manifests itself. I'll try not to repeat what others have already said on the issue.

We might need a little bit of background, though. As many of you may know, Google recently settled a class action suit with online retailers over click fraud for $90 million. That $90 million is meant to cover all U.S. claims, which makes it -- at least according to Danny Sullivan -- an "especially cheap" deal for Google. Given Google's revenues, click fraud would have to constitute somewhere below 1 percent of all search ad clicks for the settlement to be strictly equivalent. Most credible sources, however, estimate that click fraud is over 15 percent for tier 1 search engines (i.e., Yahoo, Google) and even higher for tier 2 and tier 3 search engines.

So at some point -- and some might argue that we're already there -- click fraud is going to so significantly eat away at the market cap for search engines, that they are going to be forced to address it in a meaningful way. Of course it's easy to say that something should be done. The real question is figuring out what that something should be. We can start, though, by outlining some of the current strategies for dealing with click fraud. 

Who -- or what -- is clicking on your ad?
One suggested approach involves filtering out any and all clicks made by non-humans or "bots." It's anyone's guess how many automated bots are out there -- some researchers estimate 75 to 100 million -- but it's clear that many are used to fraudulently click on ads. So if the search engines could figure out how to count only the clicks that come from actual people -- thereby weeding out the fraudulent bot clicks -- they'd be on their way to a solution.

Unfortunately, this won't affect the growing-- and harder to detect alternative: click farms. By hiring individuals in India, China or former Soviet satellites to click on ads for $2 an hour, these farms can provide a lucrative source of income for those running them. In fact -- and if I can put on my Oliver Stone hat for a moment -- click farms could have an even larger impact. If one were to set up a big enough network of farms, they could start to manipulate the stock prices of the large search engines. It's well known that certain online companies like to click on the links of their competitors in order to drive up their marketing costs, so I'd be surprised if this hasn't crossed the minds of those running the click farms.

Customers don't grow on farms
Bot clicks follow patterns-- but human clicks often don't. So the relatively simpler fraud detection processes often used by search engines can have harder time figuring out which people are clicking fraudulently are which are not. 

A number of analytics firms (such as ClickTracks or Zedo) have started offering more in depth analyses of click-stream data. By using information such as the IP address and geographic location of the clicker, these firms can begin to provide marketers with some amount of transparency. And this additional transparency might help weed out some of the fraudulent clicks. The assumption seems to be that if you're buying search terms for a U.S. search portal, most of your customers will be based in the U.S. When there's a surge in clicks from, say, Belarus (all bounced through a set of proxy servers) something is probably amiss.

It must be said, though, that this sort of traffic analysis is relatively new and would seem to be a partial solution at best, since click-stream analysis occurs after the fact. So a marketer would presumably have to weed through all this data and make their case to the search engine after the clicks have been paid for.

The elephant in the room
Which leaves me with one thought-- it would seem that the best answer (perhaps, ultimately, the only answer) lies in authenticating clicks. As I've just mentioned, some analytics firms are providing a basic level of authentication by looking at IP addresses and geographic data. If we're really going to get at the root of the click fraud problem, however, we're going to need to understand more about who's clicking.

In theory, this would be similar to some of the strategies being implemented to address spam. Simply put, many of the anti-spam initiatives out there are designed to provide a level of transparency-- both to email recipients and those, such as ISPs, whose responsibility it is to prevent spam from entering recipients' inboxes. In other words, once email senders can be identified as real and legitimate entities, this helps to weed out senders who use fraudulent means of identifying themselves. It allows for the enforcement of standards for email senders as a whole.

Authentication applied to click fraud might work in much of the same way. For example, let's say that before a search engine could count a click as "real" it would have to authenticate that it came from a "legitimate" web surfer. Instead of marketers having to go in after the fact and ask, "Hey, is this really a potential customer?" the search engine would only receive payment for authenticated clicks. Seems reasonable enough, right?

Yet here's where privacy issues can start to arise. To "authenticate" a click implies having to look closely at consumer data. To make this work, the search engine would need to collect a good deal of information about the click -- and clicker -- that is being authenticated. It might even require that the engines reference a profile of past searches and clicks as a sort of reputation score. After all, this is part of how email senders are authenticated, too.

And that, my friends, is the elephant in the room.

One way or another, dealing with click fraud is going to mean weeding out the legitimate from the illegitimate clicks. And at its heart, this probably means knowing something about what or who is doing the clicking. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that there will be some privacy implications in the process. If we're going to be in the business of collecting consumer data to authenticate clicks, we're going to need to take the necessary precautions to ensure that this data is used properly and responsibly. 

If you have any thoughts on the matter, please shoot them my way

XLNTads posted the assignment, which included a creative brief, release forms and all the necessary assets, such as the Bud Light animated logo and the "Dude" music track on its website. Anyone interested in submitting an entry could download these materials after reading and agreeing to the assignment's terms and conditions. Creators then had until March 31 to submit their masterpieces. The videos selected by Anheuser-Busch (a hockey-themed spot and an animated spot featuring ants) were posted on Bud Light's March Madness website and can still be seen, along with the four agency-produced spots, on their Dude Madness site.  

Dude. (Extend your brand)
So why would an advertising behemoth like Anheuser-Busch want to offer up a slick, successful campaign from a heavy-hitting agency like DDB of Chicago to the general public? According to Bud Light Director Rick Leininger, the decision was all about extending the brand.

"The XLNTads initiative was a great way for us to extend our Bud Light Dude campaign while staying in tune with pop culture," Leininger said. "Working with XLNTads, we were able to tap into their network of video contributors to generate a bigger take on the Bud Light Dude concept."

Staying in tune with pop culture and actively seeking input from end users appears to be part of a concerted effort by brands to appease younger consumers, a lesson Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times claims advertisers are quickly learning. In his April 27 piece on the campaign, titled "Dude! Like Those Ads Live Forever," Itzkoff writes, "For their creators and the brewery behind them, the spots have provided a different lesson: that young consumers are using the internet and other technologies to express the ways they want to receive (and even control) advertising, and it's up to advertisers to hear this message."

Dude. (It was, like, a perfect match)
If the "Dude" concept seemed to Anheuser-Busch like a good candidate for consumer-generated takes, it may be because the concept itself was developed in a less traditional manner. "Dude" originated not from an agency but from two outside writers, Clay Weiner and Kenny Herzog, who made a short film of the concept, mainly for their own amusement. Then, as Itzkoff explains in his Times article, through a contact at DDB Chicago, the primary advertising agency that handles Budweiser and Bud Light, Herzog and Weiner were able to get their film seen by executives at Anheuser-Busch.

The executives obviously liked what they saw. And so did the public. According to Itzkoff, the original "Dude" spot has been viewed over two million times on YouTube alone, and all four agency-produced "Dude" ads have been viewed a total of more than 13.5 million times on YouTube, MSN.com and other online sites featuring video. Throw in television viewership, and it's a wonder the word "dude" has not yet supplanted "the" as the most used word in the English language.


Clearly the "Dude" ads possess something that appeals to people -- a quality XLNTads' Neil Perry equates to transcendence. "When you look at the Bud Light campaign, people are waiting for the next Bud Light commercial to come out because the population, in general, has been very much enamored with the fun-ness of this guy, the humor of the writing and the way it transcends all sorts of occasions and opportunities,” Perry said.

It's the concept's wide appeal, according to Bud Light's Rick Leininger, that made consumer-generated takes such a natural next step. "The concept behind Bud Light's 'Dude' has such universal appeal that extending the campaign with a user-generated initiative was a natural evolution," he said. "We felt the XLNTads project provided an organic way to generate fresh takes and expand on the already successful 'Dude' message while tying it back to Bud Light.” 

Dude? (Any concerns?)
Fresh takes are great, but what about the possibility that consumer-generated content could go too far, or not adequately represent the brand, or even water it down? Having control over which ads would ultimately be seen by the public helped alleviate any trepidation Bud Light may have had.
"We provided the creative elements, including the music and logos for consistency, and ultimately, we had final approval on all submissions," Leininger said.

As for any concerns Bud Light may have had regarding the quality of consumer-generated content, Perry explained that those concerns were quickly overcome as submissions rolled in.

"If you look at the current four Bud Light 'Dude' commercials that were produced by their agency, and compare them to our top 10 versions, I think you'll be remarkably surprised at how competitive ours are from a professionalism, acting, editing and sound point of view," Perry said.

Perry attributes the high quality of the "Dude" submissions to the fact that, unlike destination websites like YouTube, which are outlets for virtually any video produced, XLNTads.com is visited primarily by professional and semi-professional videographers actively seeking assignments. Which begs the question, are brands truly getting consumer-generated takes, or just more professionally produced content, albeit from smaller production houses?

"The assignments are open to anyone who wants to submit," Perry said. "Typically, what happens is someone who happens to like beer, or thinks Bud Light commercials are really cool -- they're the ones who would choose to work on that program. So it's very similar to consumer-generated content, which is to let the consumer do the ad. But we have a higher level of consumer, if you will. The quality of what we get is quite a bit different than what you'd see posted on YouTube."

However, a lack of production value does not appear to be preventing YouTubers from creating and posting their own "Dude" takes. Entering "Bud Light" and "Dude" into YouTube's search engine yields 172 results as of the writing of this article. Some of these are the agency-produced spots and XLNTads submissions, but there are also a lot of unofficial parodies, many with themes clearly not endorsed by Anheuser-Busch.

One of the racier videos -- for a different kind of "bud"-- features a cast of African-American males who substitute the word "dude" with the N-word. It ends with the message: "Smoke Responsibly." Not exactly messaging approved by Anheuser-Busch, but consumer generated nonetheless. But for a parody to work, no matter how racy or off-message it is, there needs to be some brand awareness, so even these unofficial takes are, in theory, promoting the brand.   

Dude? (What’s next?)
So will Bud Light, based on its experience with "Dude," look to use consumer-generated content on future campaigns?

"We're certainly open to incorporating user-generated content when and where it fits the goals of a particular campaign," Leininger said. "Though there are no concrete plans for the next user-generated initiative, we're constantly exploring opportunities as our Bud Light consumers turn to the web for an increasing amount of news and entertainment."

One place on the web Anheuser-Busch hopes its consumers turn for entertainment is BudTV, a destination site for beer drinkers. It features original comedy, sports, and web video entertainment, including, you guessed it, user-generated content. Currently, the only user-generated show on the website is called "Have Some Fun With It," a series of short films in which snarky hosts Stan and Phil take a video camera, a Bud Light bottle, and unsuspecting strangers, "combining them with hilarious results." The hilarity of the results may be up for debate, but the direction the series is taking seems to be the future of user-generated content, according to Perry.

"I think the next big thing is going to be short, entertaining video content," Perry said. "Short pieces of film, say two to five minutes, that have interesting characters, crisp writing and fun story lines. And brands are going to sponsor it.... I think that's where a lot of these video producers that we work with are going to evolve. They're going to become almost short film makers."

Considering all of the possibilities and future applications of consumer-generated video, one word comes to mind. (Hint: it starts with a D and rhymes with food.) Feel free to say it with the inflection that most appropriately summarizes the way you feel it will affect you. 

Sean P. Egen has been a senior writer for EarthLink, Experian, and SureFire, LLC. He currently works as a freelance writer and filmmaker in Orange County, California.

Similarly, when Google started indentifying site speed as something that could affect a user's experience, many proactive SEOs saw that as a fairly definitive signal that site speed would become a ranking factor. Google even began including page load times in its webmaster tools.

And again, Google formally made it a part of its algorithm just a half year later.

The reality is that site speed being part of the formula has been something old-school SEOs have been saying for years. I know several in-house SEOs who have said they changed only one thing -- site speed -- and saw an improvement in both rankings and traffic. In this case, the reality was there before predictions on page speed became widespread, and many years before Google's confirmation of it being part of its formula.

The page speed situation is likely the result of an indirect effect of page speed, rather than it being a directly evaluated element. There is a lot of overlap in how the search engines design their formulas; one aspect of the formula drives another, so it is likely for there to be many indirect factors. For example, though site speed was not an official element of Google's algorithm, if site A had better site speed than its competitors, then people on site A would likely stay longer. This would improve the user experience for search engine users and result in an increase in one or more areas of the search engines' formula. Meaning, if someone clicks on a link and the site loads slowly, they will quickly return to a search engine (poor user experience). If someone clicks on a link and the site loads fast, they will likely stay on the site longer (good user experience).

Most likely, this indicates that site speed, even if not examined directly, could have an indirect impact on the equation that determined what it took to rank first in search engines prior to 2010. While bounce rate was not a confirmed factor, several studies indicate it was a factor. One critical driver to bounce rate is page load times, thus making page speed an indirect factor.

As a side note, the amount of time a user spends on a page before returning to the search engine is an official element in today's search engine ranking formulas. In fact, time is now so important that Google wrote a formula to determine whether or not a site is a good fit for the user based upon that person's behavior: The formula recognizes when users click a link and quickly return to the research results. However, this is not easy to trigger. It took about five minutes for me to generate one of these links:

This means that website SEO usability and SEO user experience need to be a top priority and a major initiative on your three to nine month SEO roadmap.

Misinformation and exaggerations. As in all industries, there is a lot of SEO misinformation or exaggerations on the internet, so due diligence is required. For example, an article written earlier this year had this to say about site speed, which is far from the truth:

"There are reports that many businesses suffered a major decline in rankings because they took site speed for granted."

Seasoned SEO experts can look at the statement above and understand that it does not mean a large percentage of the internet, but to someone outside of the SEO industry, this may be interpreted, when taken by itself, as a large segment of websites. They would have a "the sky is falling" moment because their company's page load times are slow. Slow sites still rank well; however, this will be changing over time, and improved site speed needs to be on every organization's 12-18 month SEO roadmap (unless your site loads in three seconds or less).

How to evaluate the quality of an SEO prediction

Put on a Google engineer hat. When I train developers, writers, and SEOs, there are certain points when I tell the attendees to take off their corporate hat and put on a Google engineer hat and think, "If it was your job to determine who ranks No.1, what would you do?" Interesting predictions are identified by people who just started learning about SEO -- all of which are in line with the search engines' goal of providing an optimal user experience and weeding out spam. Use this same technique when evaluating SEO predictions.

Look for the path to fruition. Many good predictions consider what search engines are doing beyond the search results page that support the hypothesis of the prediction. For example, consider the companies or technology Google is acquiring or developing in-house and how the company may offer new signals for the algorithm, or a change to the user interface.

Think about how it makes the search engine money. In the end, search engines are businesses and have stakeholders that expect a very handsome profit. Without compromising the user experience, does a prediction support a means to add to the search engines' bottom line?

Think from a searcher's perspective. How has searcher behavior changed? Does a prediction take into account how people have adapted their behavior if it is changing?

Consider the boldness of the prediction. Does the prediction seem to come from left field? Many of the best predictions follow a shorter time frame, and clear progressions have already been made in a certain direction.

Look at commenter's sentiment. Do people bring up issues with the predictions and have good reasons for devaluing them? Are people offering examples or evidence that support some of the assumptions made in the prediction? 

How to react to SEO predictions

As someone driving the marketing direction, you need to stay on top of predictions. When evaluating a prediction, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. If this comes to fruition, how do I ensure we score high in this factor of the ranking formula, or capitalize on this change in the user interface?

  2. If this comes to fruition, how do I hedge the risks that we will score low? (This is important to think about if there is nothing you can do to score high.)

  3. How can we exploit this positively? What in-house talent can we employ to leverage or create a competitive advantage? Where in the organization can we coordinate long-term efforts?

  4. How is this in or out of alignment of our business strategy? Are we moving in this direction already, or is this something new? If it's something new, is it something that would give our users a better experience?

  5. Does this prediction align with our business strategy? Does this prediction align with the objectives of search engines?

The sky is not falling. Do not over-react to SEO predictions. Think of them as whispers of warning that you need to start seriously thinking about.

What next?

Stay on top of SEO predictions, but do not react to them as though the sky were falling. SEO predictions are whispers of warning and aspects of SEO that you need to seriously consider; treat them as such. If you have not been reading recent predictions, give the following articles a read:

Jessica Bowman is CEO of SEOinhouse.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Michael Awdish

General Manager, Digital Marketing, VW

Michael Awdish knows a little something about digital marketing in the auto industry. After nearly a decade and a half of climbing the marketing ranks at Ford and Nissan, Awdish joined Volkswagen of America in October of last year as its general manager of digital marketing. The timing couldn't have been better.

Awdish joined Volkswagen shortly after the launch of the new VW.com. "I was extremely lucky to work on a website platform that had quickly garnered many accolades for its design and user experience," he says. "However, we always know there is room to improve and optimize."

Since joining Volkswagen of America, the brand has launched two major enhancements to its online experience. The first was the launch of the Build Your Own tool. Awdish notes that, although car configurators are common to automotive websites, the VW.com tool simplifies the experience.

As a follow-up, Awdish and his team launched an all-new VW.com mobile site earlier this summer. "Rather than simply port our desktop design to mobile using responsive design, we took care to prioritize the features customers were more likely to complete on their phones," he says. "As a result, tools like Find A Dealer are front and center in the experience."

Looking ahead, Awdish is excited to work with agency partners, Deutsch LA and iStrategy Labs, to evolve Volkswagen's digital content strategy. "Digital plays a huge role along every part of the customer journey -- from awareness to purchase and even repurchase" Awdish says. "Delivering magical experiences that engage, educate, and inspire are going to be critical to connect with customers."

Prior to Volkswagen, Awdish's time at Nissan North America spanned a variety of roles on both the Infiniti and Nissan brands. Most notably, he led the campaign development for the launches of the Altima, Rogue, and Pathfinder nameplates. He also developed the Infiniti brand's initial social media strategy as sites like Facebook and Twitter were still emerging. Prior to his roles at Nissan, Awdish worked at both Young & Rubicam Advertising in Detroit and at Ford Motor Company.

Chris Bigda

Director, Connections Planning and Investments, The Coca-Cola Company

Chris Bigda heads up the biggest marketing programs for one of the world's most iconic brands in the company's largest and arguably most important market. As connections planner at The Coca-Cola Company, Bigda is responsible for leading the development of traditional, interactive, social, and mobile marketing for Coca-Cola. His work, focusing on teens and moms, has spanned from the Super Bowl to the most recent Share-a-Coke campaign.

If you're wondering whether Bigda truly lives and breathes his work, just check out his Twitter stream, where he walks the walk when it comes to brand pride. A six-year brand veteran, Bigda is also a member of Coca-Cola's Mobile Center of Excellence and Social Marketing Council.

With more than 15 years of experience in marketing and advertising, Bigda has a proven record of driving sales and brand preference by developing innovative strategies grounded in consumer behavior, backed by measurement and data. Prior to joining The Coca-Cola Company, Bigda was the director of multi-channel marketing at The Home Depot, responsible for strategic direction and all advertising, marketing, research, and in-store environment for the do-it-for-me (DIFM) consumer and commercial shopper segments.

Bigda began his career on the agency side working for several worldwide and local Atlanta shops including Bozell Worldwide, Draftfcb, 22squared, and Fletcher Martin. An active industry advocate, he also served on the board of directors for two terms with the Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association.

Dan Bishop

Director, Digital Marketing and Strategy, Experian Consumer Services, North America

Companies and marketing teams of all sizes are constantly asking how they test, learn about, and somehow hook into new channels and emerging technologies to drive growth and innovation. Such testing often makes for fun one-off experiments, but many are stumped when it comes to the question of, "Yes, but can it scale?" But not Dan Bishop. As director of digital marketing and strategy for Experian Consumer Services (ECS), North America, Bishop has made a career of successfully scaling emerging channels and evolving the thinking within large, matrixed organizations. His successes over just the past year have landed him on panels at events including TUNE's #Postback15 and evolved into case studies in success with partners like Facebook and Kenshoo.

In his role at ECS, Bishop focuses on data and people-driven marketing to deliver efficient and sensible growth for the business. He is also tasked with developing the strategy and architecture for scaling emerging channels like mobile and social, while also leading internal transformation and thinking around what mobile means to the future growth and retention aspects of the business.

Prior to ECS, Bishop spent three years with Intuit, where he managed social, mobile, and emerging media strategy and acquisition for its largest revenue division, Consumer Group (TurboTax). In this role, he was responsible for mapping out and optimizing Intuit's growth channels while continuously testing and scaling new technology platforms that laddered to the business. At the time of his departure from Intuit, Bishop had helped grow the company's mobile business more than 400 percent. He scaled Facebook to not only one of the more strategic Intuit relationships, but also one of the top-performing digital acquisition partners.

"The reason I came into digital marketing within these large organizations is I saw an opportunity to educate internally on these cutting-edge technologies and platforms that were emerging," Bishop says. "That then led to architecting how to leverage them for their marketing initiatives. So that's what I've been doing for the past five years at both Intuit and Experian. To do it means you successfully and collaboratively work across the organization with many people to achieve collective buy-in, and I think that's been the most fulfilling aspect for me -- because that piece is always the hardest." 

Prior to Intuit, Bishop held strategy and business development roles for startups Ustream, Mahalo, and JumpTV. As employee No. 11 and the first business development hire at Ustream, he architected a content and social platform strategy that would take Ustream from a "live puppy cam channel" with 200,000 monthly uniques to a premier content network with more than 10 million monthly uniques.

Bishop was born in Toronto, Canada but grew up in San Diego. He credits his passion for digital and technology to his mother and father, who are both award-winning chief information officers at Harvard University and City of San Diego, respectively. He has a younger sister who is a doctor, completing her residency at Harvard Medical School and a younger brother who leads business development for a California-based startup.

Ryan Bonifacino

Advisor and Former CMO, Alex and Ani

When the CMO of one of the fastest growing retailers in North America announces his departure, people take note. Especially if that CMO is Ryan Bonifacino of Alex and Ani, whose tenure with the company has seen it grow from a $20 million business in 2011 to a $350 million business this year. But in the case of Bonifacino, his formal departure hardly means "good-bye."

Bonifacino, who remains with the company as an advisor, not to mention active member of the marketing industry, is stepping back to complete his MBA. It's a pursuit that he paused a few years ago to manage the growth of Alex and Ani, particularly the digital program, which has demonstrated one of the largest five-year growth rates in all of retail. With more than 1,200 employees, Alex and Ani operates a multi-channel business model that includes more than 40 retail stores, thousands of global retail partners, and multiple e-commerce and digital properties.

"Alex and Ani's rapid growth...has in no small part been based on our ongoing digital commitment, and Ryan has been an important part of that," said Harlan Kent, president of Alex and Ani, in announcing Bonifacino's departure. "Digital platforms allow our customers to connect with us and each other wherever they are, and we're already seeing the result of our $7 million investment in these strategies over the last two years. Digital revenues now account for 25 percent of our business."

In his role as CMO and SVP of digital, Bonifacino oversaw e-commerce, marketing, advertising, and digital customer experience at Alex and Ani. He began his tenure with the company in 2010 as VP of digital strategy, director, and strategic advisor. For Bonifacino, success has been deeply tied to the team dynamic, not a single individual.

"My definition of professional achievement is deeply rooted in the idea that success is based on the underlying achievements of the tribe one leads and the humility that comes with each member developing and embracing confident subject matter expertise -- not only within the company, but across the industry," Bonifacino says. "My proudest moments over the past year have been observing these individuals contributing to a compelling and transformative digital vision allowing both the customer and company to thrive well beyond dollars and cents."

Prior to Alex and Ani, Bonifacino was a principal at Hedgeforce, a hedge fund and marketing firm that provided agency and consulting services to alternative investment managers for marketing to both private and institutional investors. He lives in New York City and is an active investor and advisor in early and growth-stage technology ventures and alternative investment funds.

In addition to being an active and accomplished industry speaker, Bonifacino has been named to Direct Marketing News' "40 Under 40" and Brand Innovators' "40 Under 40" in the Eastern U.S. He is also a member of the advisory boards at the Global Retail Marketing Association, Total Retail Magazine, University of Rhode Island's Harrington School of Communication and Media, EKN Research, and Brand Innovators. He is a member of the customer advisory boards at Adobe, eBay Enterprise, AdRoll, and Salesforce. In addition, Bonifacino serves as a mentor with New York Fashion Tech Lab, of which Alex and Ani is a founding member.

Hamilton Brown

Senior Brand and Managing Director, Taco Bell Foundation

"At Taco Bell, teens are the heart and soul of our brand. They are our customers, friends, families, employees, and our next generation of leaders," says Hamilton Brown. "It makes sense not only for the business, but also Taco Bell's corporate social and philanthropic purpose to touch the lives of tens of thousands of teens. Taco Bell and its franchisees have been doing this work for over 20 years."

As senior marketing director at Taco Bell since 2013, Brown was named managing director of the Taco Bell Foundation this past year. Under his guidance, the foundation launched its first-ever holistic marketing initiative with the "Potential" campaign, an initiative aimed to curate a social movement to empower teens to recognize their potential and graduate high school.

Taco Bell was also a founding partner in the newly launched 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, which aims to engage at least 100,000 "opportunity youth" -- 16- to 24-year olds who face systemic barriers to jobs and education -- by the end of 2018 through apprenticeships, internships, training programs, and part- and full-time jobs. Taco Bell itself is also committed to hiring 1.5 million young adults for jobs by 2022.

"The 'Potential' campaign was a first for the foundation in touching all parts of the brand," Brown says. "It was launched during the 2015 graduation season on the brand's social and digital platforms, featured in merchandising in over 6,000 Taco Bell restaurants, and brought to life in graduation celebrations in over 250 markets across the U.S. with our teen serving partners.

"We also executed the first-ever national high school graduation day in all Taco Bell restaurants, giving away free Doritos Locos Tacos to all graduating seniors," Brown adds. "As our culmination to graduation season, we took to New York Times Square where we rang NASDAQ opening bell, featured teens in the largest-ever live billboard yearbook, and surprised over 200 teens with $1,000 scholarships at an intimate event with our CEO Brian Niccol, Sway, and Omarion. We could not have pulled this off without great partners like Deutsch advertising agency and Daniel J. Edelman (DJE) public relations agency."

Brown has more than a decade of experience in creating avid fans of experiential brands. He is an experienced business leader and brand builder who served as part of the Procter & Gamble team (with Wieden+Kennedy) that reinvented Old Spice. He was recently named to Brand Innovators' "40 under 40 West" class of 2015.

Brown's mantra is to have just as much fun at work as you do at play. He has been a keynote speaker at national marketing and brand building conferences and is willing to share lessons learned from his professional experiences, personal brand building philosophy, and "pay it forward" leadership development approach.

Jennifer Cisney

Chief Blogger and Social Media Manager, Kodak Alaris

Few marketers can testify to the power of photos in social media the way Jennifer Cisney can. But as chief blogger and social media manager at Kodak Alaris, Cisney also knows that people would like their personal photos to live beyond their moments of prominence on a Facebook timeline.

Taking pictures is something everyone can relate to, but the new dynamic of taking them with phones means photos can be trapped in a digital format. This past year, Cisney managed the social media launch of the new Kodak Moments app, which enables users to print the pictures on their phone and have them shipped to home or a retail location for pickup.

"During the back-to-school season, everyone was snapping pictures of their kid's first day of school and sharing them on Facebook," Cisney says. "We remind parents they can easily print those pictures on their phone so they can have them on display in the house like they did when they were kids."

But the brand doesn't stop there. It provides fun project ideas, such as making picture frames out of pencils, to help display those treasured family photos. Those ideas are shared across Instagram, Pinterest, in Twitter chats, and with bloggers who love taking photos. "Luckily, I like taking lots of pictures, and I keep a glue gun in my desk drawer -- so we are continuously coming up with new content year round," Cisney says.

Cisney started at Eastman Kodak in 1998 and, in 2013, joined the spinoff company Kodak Alaris. Her 15 years with the company, in varying roles, has given her a broad knowledge of multiple Kodak Alaris businesses. Her contributions to the company's marketing efforts span inspirational photography, design, creative content marketing, social media strategy, and community management. She has developed and launched social media initiatives on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, and corporate blogs.

A speaker at such social media conferences as BlogWorld, BlogHer, Evo Conference, Marketing to Women, 140 Characters Conference, and The Inbound Marketing Summit, Cisney has been recognized with myriad industry honors and awards from organizations including Ad Age and the Content Marketing Institute.

Erin Clift

Vice President, Global Partnership Marketing, Spotify

As vice president of global partner marketing, Erin Clift is responsible for accelerating revenue growth and maximizing the value of partnerships that affect both the Spotify brand and broader business goals. Her team is charged with activating best-in-class global partnerships that deliver products, solutions, and experiences that allow Spotify to deliver amazing results for partners around the world.

This past year, Clift was at the helm of Spotify's partnership with Nike+ Running to develop an experience that united the tracking of the Nike+ Running app with the music streaming service. Nike+ Running's app update built upon the success of the Nike+ Run Club playlists already on Spotify by enhancing runners' overall in-run music experience. Notably, the update introduced Nike-exclusive Pace Stations, which invite users to input their pace goal and musical preference.

Clift came to Spotify from AOL, where she was SVP of global sales development responsible for advertising revenue growth and creating the company's branded entertainment platform. Before joining AOL, she held various leadership positions for Google, including director of North American agency relations, a role in which she was responsible for Google's business strategy and overall revenue management from advertising agencies.

Prior to Google, Clift spent 10 years working in various marketing and media consulting roles, including director of marketing at Oprah.com. A frequent speaker on topics related to media, marketing, and industry advertising trends, she also serves on the board of DMG Media Board of Governors, the Advertising Educational Foundation, as well as several local charities.

In 2012, Clift was inducted into the American Advertising Federation's Advertising Hall of Achievement, the industry's premier award for outstanding advertising professionals age 40 and under.

Kristen Fox

Director, Social Media and Digital Analytics, CP+B

If you ordered a pizza this year by simply tweeting a pizza emoji, one of the people you can thank Kristen Fox, and her social team at CP+B. The simple yet groundbreaking concept for client Domino's took home a Titanium Grand Prix at Cannes in 2015. More importantly, it efficiently put pizza into people's mouths.

But for Fox and her team, that's really just one example of how they're leading the evolution of social media marketing, particularly in the realm of agencies. "I am proud of the progress we have made together to champion social thinking within the agency," Fox says. "We've successfully transitioned from creating social content for brands to creating social ideas that make brands famous."

In her role as director of social media and digital analytics, Fox has developed an integrated approach to delivering social media strategy, planning, implementation, and insights across clients, leveraging the agency's cross-functional expertise. In addition to reviewing new social trends, technologies, and platform providers, she maintains relationships with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and YouTube on behalf of the agency.

In addition to the Cannes win for the Domino's #Emoji campaign, CP+B has earned several awards for social campaigns under her leadership, including a Shorty Award for Best in Retail and E-Commerce in 2015 for the Best Buy #HintingSeason campaign and the Media Plan of the Year Award from Adweek for best use of social spending ($1 million to $5 million) in 2014 for the JELL-O #FML campaign. Fox's clients include Domino's, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, and Hotels.com (Captain Obvious).

In addition to social media, Fox also has extensive mobile expertise. She previously served as associate director of product at ESPN, where she was responsible for directing the brand's personality across its licensed mobile products. She also served on the board of the Mobile Marketing Association, where she helped shape industry standards and best practices for mobile marketing and advertising in the U.S.

Fox's passion for innovative and contextual marketing began while serving as director of sponsorships and integrated marketing at Sony Digital Entertainment. While there, she built one of the industry's most successful online sponsorship businesses, using vast content assets from across Sony Music, Sony Pictures, and Columbia TriStar Television to match consumer interests with advertiser objectives.

Lauren Friedman

Head of Global Social Business Enablement, Adobe Systems


Lauren Friedman's fifth grade teacher once told her, "Whatever you do, you must write." She took that to heart and, since then, has followed the path of a writer. And that's the path that has led her to her role as head of global social business enablement at Adobe Systems.

Seem like a leap? Not really. "Majoring in journalism/media studies was my dream come true," Friedman says. "This is where my love for social media developed as I moved up the ranks on my college newspaper (the CU Independent) and was editor-in-chief during the most transformative year in the paper's existence -- the year we want from print to digital."

Friedman became further ingrained in social media and digital when she moved to San Francisco to join start-up social marketing company Context Optional in 2009. In May 2011, Context Optional was acquired by Efficient Frontier, and eight months later, it was acquired by Adobe.

For her first two years at Adobe, Friedman managed consulting services for Adobe Social (formerly Context Optional's social marketing platform). In December 2013, she took on a new challenge when she joined Adobe's Social Business Center of Excellence as the head of social business enablement. In this role, she runs Adobe's enablement infrastructure programs and partners cross-functionally to establish integrated social media strategies that empower business functions to meet their respective objectives -- ultimately elevating Adobe as a social business.

"I infuse social media in to every aspect of the way Adobe does business," Friedman says. "I enable our employees to be active on social media personally and professionally and am a strategic consultant for all of our individual business unit social media teams."

Friedman has developed Adobe's global social media training program, complete with several courses geared toward helping employees in different roles use social media to achieve their business objectives. This includes various objective-specific courses, such as Social Selling, Social for Product Management, Social for Talent Acquisition, and more. The Social Selling program, specifically, teaches the sales organization how to use social media to build relationships with customers and prospects, generate leads, discover new business, and influence deals and renewals.

Her team also leads Adobe's recently launched employee advocacy program. "In the same vein as Social Selling, we enable and empower our employees to be active on social media personally and on behalf of the brand," Friedman says. "Our program is just as much about personal branding as it is about becoming Adobe advocates."

Andrew Goldberg

GM, Chief Creative Officer, GE

As the lead creative at GE, Andrew Goldberg is responsible for pushing one of the world's most storied corporations to restlessly reinvent its world-famous brand. "What I am most proud of is the ability to constantly transform and evolve how GE goes to market," Goldberg says. "What's really noteworthy is what most people don't see -- crafting the overall narrative for a brand as big and important as GE and how each individual business ladders up to the larger company message."

What people do see -- in other words, all those elements that join together to tell the story of GE as a whole -- are exceptionally vivid and compelling executions. Take, for example, GE's Emmy-nominated "Childlike Imagination."

Or the company's two-minute film about a boy who beeps:

But it's so much more than breathtaking video. Thanks in no small part to Goldberg, GE goes further to connect with consumers in a meaningful -- and entertaining -- way via initiatives like its "Fallonventions" partnership, in which parents can submit their children's inventions for possible inclusion in segments on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." Goldberg was also the creative driver behind "Terry Quattro," an over-the-top infomercial featuring Jeff Goldblum that launched GE's transformational connected light bulb.

Named as one of Advertising Age's "Creativity 50" for 2014, Goldberg has also been instrumental in shaping the narrative around the Industrial Internet, GE's leading initiative to invent and connect the next industrial technology. He started his career at GE in 2010 as the director of creative content for GE brand marketing before becoming global creative director in 2012. He also heads GE's Creative Lab, which leads breakthrough storytelling, global advertising, and content creation. He joined GE after working at creative and advertising agencies including Margeotes Fertitta+Partners, BBH, and Wieden+Kennedy, where he ran Nike's Jordan Brand.

Christopher Lorn

Digital Marketing and Analytics Lead, Philip Morris International

Christopher Lorn made a big move this year -- both figuratively and literally. The former director of analytics at Big Spaceship, Lorn relocated to Switzerland in September to assume the role of digital marketing and analytics lead at Philip Morris International.

Not long before his move, in 2014, Lorn was named as "Mentor of the Year" by the 4A's Multicultural Advertising Intern Program (MAIP) for helping to kick off the first data and analytics partnership between Big Spaceship and MAIP. "The partnership comprised a series of workshops and seminars advocating and teaching data literacy to MAIP fellows to promote the awareness of the field and to help elevate their current skill sets," Lorn says. Sessions were taught by a series of analytics team members at Big Spaceship and continued for a second year in 2015.

Lorn has spent his career overseeing data and analytics development across brands such as Pizza Hut, Marriott Hotels, GE Capital, Pepsi, and Google. Functioning both as data evangelist and self-described "general nerd," Lorn works to push the understanding of data beyond basic measurement and into the realm of innovation for his clients.

Prior to Big Spaceship, Lorn conducted executions across a gamut of data projects including social, digital, paid media, TVC, and market research, among many others. Outside of the office, he co-founded the U.S. chapter of the international non-profit, Table for Two, aimed at alleviating obesity and malnutrition in partnership with the United Nations Development Project. He currently sits on the executive board of the 4A's multicultural council.

Paul Marcum

President, Truffle Pig

Ever since its unveiling at Cannes in June, Truffle Pig has been making industry headlines. An unprecedented alliance among WPP, DailyMail, and Snapchat, this new breed of agency promises to revolutionize content planning, development, and creation as well as amplification across digital media sites and platforms. For those paying attention, perhaps the biggest Truffle Pig headline came in September, when Paul Marcum was announced as the content marketing agency's new president.

"The agency is the perfect integration of what I've been focused on: driving digital expansion for both iconic publishers and brands," says Marcum, who certainly has the resume to back up this claim. Marcum recently led digital marketing and programming for GE corporate as it pushed its content strategy into Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and beyond. He then grew Bloomberg's digital video reach by 350 percent to lead the business news category. Earlier in his career, he brought "Star Wars" to Yahoo, "Sesame Street" to mobile, and Subway to the web.

"I've come to understand quite clearly the digital opportunity from all sides of the media table, and Truffle Pig represents the intersection of those tracks," Marcum says. "We'll build exceptional content programs as the heart of what we do, but we'll deliver the most value to our clients and partners when we're finding the unique distribution opportunities in today's media landscape."

A three-time iTV Emmy finalist, Marcum was named to Ad Age's Creativity 50 in 2012 and has also been honored with a Cannes Lions Bronze and a Silver Pencil from The One Club.

Shaden Mohamed

Senior Director and Head of Online Marketing, Expedia Inc. (Wotif Group Brands)


Shaden Mohamed knows a little something about consumers. She also knows that marketers don't know as much about consumers as they might think they do. In a presentation at this year's Digital Marketing Innovation Summit, the senior director and head of online marketing for Expedia's Wotif Group brands, noted that developing a long-term relationship with customers is becoming increasingly difficult in this multi-platform, multichannel environment. Marketers must make a commitment to earn consumer loyalty these days.

"We are vastly more complex than our perceived stereotypes, and that identity, lifestyle, and purchase patterns are not always aligned," Mohamed told CMO.com in 2013. That reality rings truer today than ever.

"How I behave in my personal life is also very different to how I behave in my professional life," she added. "As a customer, I might have more in common with a demographic that's completely opposite."

As a marketer, Mohamed crafts her strategies to account for these consumer inconsistencies and unknowns. She has been instrumental in developing Wotif Group's global digital marketing strategy and implementation process for its travel brands, including Wotif.com, lastMinute.com.au, travel.com.au, and AsiaWebDirect.com. She leads a team of 25 experts in search engine marketing and optimization, social media, partnerships, and product reviews based in Australia and South East Asia. Prior to joining Wotif Group in 2012, Mohamed spent six years as an account strategist and manager at Google.

Kevin Platshon

Director, Social Media and Content Marketing, GoFundMe

It's been a "Go, Go" kind of year for Kevin Platshon. Former senior marketing manager at GoPro, Platshon recently joined crowdfunding platform GoFundMe as its director of social media and content marketing.

Platshon's job is to help fuel and accelerate the company's cycle through social, content, brand, influencer, and other digital marketing strategies. GoFundMe, whose revenue is derived as a percentage of donations given, is unique to the currently hot crowdfunding space in that it is not an incentive-based crowdfunding website. Although it does allow projects that are meant to fund other projects for musicians, inventors, and others, the business model is set up to allow for donations to personal causes and life events such as medical bills.

Platshon is used to working with brands in the spotlight. While at GoPro, which he joined in 2012, Platshon helped the brand scale social, digital, and content marketing. He and his team earned 11 Webbies, four Shorties, and the top position of the YouTube brand leaderboard for the last two years.

Prior to GoPro, Platshon was on the global social media and digital marketing teams for the Levi's brand at Levi Strauss & Co. "We were the first to build a social shopping experience based on the 'like' button -- the Friends Store," says Platshon. During his tenure there, the brand's best-in-class social presence evolved into a global digital marketing team focused on much more than just social and e-commerce.

Alander Pulliam

Marketing, Urban Division, Universal Music Group


Alander Pulliam doesn't have your typical resume when it comes the marketing industry. Rather, he represents just the type of fascinating hybrid finding success in today's entertainment -- and particularly music -- marketing realm.

Pulliam more closely identifies with entertainment moguls than he does with marketers. He started his career a decade ago as a teen actor with roles on TV shows such as "Unfabulous" and "Zoey 101" and remains heavily involved in TV and film production to this day. During college, his passions steered him toward the music industry, and he landed an internship at Universal Music Group as a marketing assistant. He was later promoted to assistant marketing director in the Urban Department, where he has since managed and established campaigns for artists such as Nelly, Kelly Rowland, Ciara, Kiesha Babi, Petey Pablo, Alicia Keys, Jayo Felony, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and many more. He also consults with artists signed to other major labels concerning contracts, counseling, distribution, and royalties.

A speaker at this year's Digital Strategy Innovation Summit, Pulliam addressed the topic of digital immigrants and digital natives as it relates to how Universal Music Group manages its internal teams for digital growth.

Pulliam has made it a priority to help youths in need by raising money for essentials and launching a youth foundation to help high schoolers afford college.

Raja Rajamannar

Global Chief Marketing Officer, MasterCard

A lot of brands aspire to be "lifestyle brands." And while it's easy to say that you want your products and messages to inspire, guide, motivate, and help define people's ways of life, it's hard to make good on the aspiration. Under the marketing leadership of Raja Rajamannar, however, MasterCard is one of the brands truly walking the walk.

"Over the past year, we've transformed the marketing function at MasterCard from one of pure brand-building to creating a competitive advantage and driving the business in a quantifiable and measurable manner," says Rajamannar, global chief marketing officer at MasterCard. A lot of that has to do with engaging customers in new, meaningful ways.

In repositioning the MasterCard brand to be more compelling, Rajamannar has conceived and launched powerful platforms that have gained tremendous acceptance and recognition globally, including Priceless Cities and Priceless Surprises. Reinvigorating MasterCard's nearly universally recognized "Priceless" messaging, both platforms are geared toward engaging consumers around their passion points, including sports, music, and others. Priceless Cities provides MasterCard cardholders access to city-specific special experiences, from behind-the-scenes tours to front-of-the-line access at local hot spots. Meanwhile, Surprises rewards cardholders with spontaneous gifts, from the small (e.g., free song downloads) to the extravagant (e.g., backstage passes to meet Justin Timberlake). As you can imagine, some of the surprises have been pretty compelling:


In his role, Rajamannar has global responsibility for advertising, sponsorships, promotions, research, insights, and digital and consumer marketing initiatives at MasterCard. Prior to joining MasterCard, Rajamannar did two stints within the healthcare industry. He served as the chief transformation officer of Anthem (formerly WellPoint), a Fortune 500 health insurance company, where he helped craft the company's new business direction and strategy. He also managed its multibillion-dollar Medicare Advantage business. Prior to joining WellPoint, Rajamannar served as chief executive, international, and chief innovation and marketing officer at Humana.
Rajamannar spent 15 years at Citigroup, where he criss-crossed the world in various capacities. His roles have included chairman and CEO of Diners Club North America; executive vice president of Citi Cards; and head of Europe, Middle East, and Africa for all consumer asset products. Rajamannar also spent seven years with Unilever in different roles and started his career with Asian Paints in India.
Rajamannar serves on the board of directors of PPL Corporation, a Fortune 500 power generation and utilities company, and on the board of the Ad Council.

Aimee Reker

Principal, Leveret Marketing

Aimee Reker knows a lot about reinvention. She's part strategist, part technology leader, part media director, and part teacher -- exactly the mix that's needed to advise today's C-suite executives as they bridge what's possible with technology with what's needed in marketing. She's spent the past year doing just that at Leveret Marketing, a new digital marketing consultancy in Minneapolis. And if you take a peek at Reker's experience and track record, you know that her involvement alone makes Leveret Marketing an emerging player to watch.

Over her 15-plus years, Reker has repeatedly harnessed change to create capability, new processes and services, and adaptive team cultures. Most recently, Reker led start-up agency FRWD, a 60-person shop in Minneapolis and Los Angeles providing media services, analytics, and systems implementation for clients such as General Mills, 3M, Deluxe, L'Oreal, Mars, and Columbia Business School.

Previously, developed a global digital strategy consultancy within the IPG Emerging Media Lab, infused SEO smarts within McCann's creative teams, and helped transition Universal McCann from a traditional agency into a search and real-time display powerhouse. She also grew a Boston start-up team of two into an award-winning 200-plus person global media capability for Euro RSCG's Circle.com

Reker believes that inspired people are the key to building digital power. She has invested heavily in emerging talent as an executive board member of the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA), CoderDojo, WomenInWireless, mentoring and public speaking.

Sosti Ropaitis

Global Director, Digital Marketing and Music, McDonald's

Not many brand marketing departments include the title of "global director of digital marketing and music." But after watching Sosti Ropaitis rock this role for McDonald's over the past two years, and witnessing the emotional connections forged with consumers as a result, many brands might want to consider adding it.

Ropaitis' perpetual passion for creativity and innovation is focused on advancing the McDonald's digital marketing and influencer content ecosystem, creating genuine connections with consumers around the world, and elevating the McDonald's brand reputation. As part of this, he manages the development of digital platforms that include in-restaurant experiences, integrated campaigns, strategy, and partnerships. He is also responsible for developing the overall digital marketing and music content strategy for McDonald's internationally. After all, can anything really drive emotional responses the way that music can?

During his time with McDonald's, Ropaitis has been the global digital and social media lead for the London 2012 Summer Olympics, the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, and the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014, where he was responsible for the YouTube content creation and overall global digital strategy for the #FryFutbol campaign, which included Twitter's first globally promoted trend across 57 countries.

Earlier this year, Ropaitis set the overall digital strategy and led the engagement team that launched "I'm Lovin' It 24," an integrated marketing campaign that ran 24 branded "stunts" in 24 countries in 24 hours. It was the largest real-time marketing initiative in the history of McDonald's, and one that certainly incorporated the power of music and fans in content.

In addition, Ropaitis led negotiations of the McDonald's SXSW 2015 sponsorship, as well as the teams that developed and deployed all activation spaces and McDonald's overall brand presence in Austin. The on-site brand presence served more than 60,000 people and engaged with more than 80,000 attendees in two weeks.

Beyond such engagements, Ropaitis leads the creation of original branded and brand content. He manages partnerships with YouTube content creators, multi-channel networks, and online influencers to drive awareness on key brand initiatives.

Prior to his current role, Ropaitis spent nearly four years as director of digital and social media for McDonald's. Prior to joining McDonald's in 2010, he held various marketing roles with Hilton Chicago and Kraft Foods.

John Rospenda

VP of Marketing, Just Fabulous Inc.

Within two weeks of Instagram opening up its ad platform, Just Fabulous Inc. was trending to a multi-million dollar annual spend on the platform. "As I like to tell my teams, as a direct marketer, your words to live by are fail fast and scale fast!" says John Rospenda. As vice president of marketing at Just Fabulous Inc., he is responsible for all customer outreach strategies in North America and Australia across online, TV, print, and mobile for all the company's brands: JustFab, ShoeDazzle, Fabletics, and FabKids.

"As a hard-core direct response company, we track every dollar spent back to aggressive KPIs of cost per registrant and paying customer," Rospenda says. "We don't spend specifically on branding, but based on the scale of effective media we have run, we have rapidly built our brands into well-known names with our target consumers. And especially in the fashion industry, you not only need to remain 'cool' in the minds of the customer, but have to embrace new marketing avenues and technologies, to continue rapid growth."
Rospenda knows something about rapid growth. With the help of his talented team of channel managers, Rospenda has helped scale the business to the point of being named a "unicorn" company, valued at $1.1 billion. "Within the past couple years, my media team's responsibilities have increased from just managing the JustFab brand in North America to a consolidated internal agency approach that manages the full slate of North American and Australian media for all the brands, now comprised of eight different 'campaigns' based on the combination of brands and countries served," Rospenda says.

"I am proud not only of being able to have the opportunity to guide a growing, talented team of marketers, but also to have the trust of the company and our investors to always be pushing the acquisition envelope," he adds. "Our recent pillars of future media success we have been aggressively attacking and scaling fall into areas like content and native, emerging social platforms, online video, shopping, podcasts, and mobile. To succeed, we have needed to jump on opportunities as quickly as possible."

Rospenda has 20 years of online and offline marketing experience for both startups and large brands. Prior to joining Just Fabulous, Rospenda spent almost four years at eHarmony, managing the online channels of display, affiliates, email, partnership integration, and search, helping build it into the premier brand in online dating.

Rospenda also has managed key acquisition and CRM marketing programs at LowerMyBills.com/Experian Interactive, IAC, Realtor.com, and Yesmail.com.

Evin Shutt

Partner and COO, 72andSunny

It's not hard to get ahead in marketing. You just have to disregard your personal life, work obsessive hours, and be willing to step on others -- including colleagues -- to come out on top.

Fortunately, there are people in marketing like 72andSunny's Evin Shutt, who believe the above requirements are nonsense.

"I'm most proud of how 72andSunny has continued to scale while staying true to our values and making impactful work," Shutt says. "Globally, in 2015, we've grown by 30 percent, a real test for any organization. We've continued to stay grounded in who we are, while embracing and welcoming the new ideas and energy that every new member of the team brings and the opportunities that come with change and growth."

Over the past year, 72andSunny has started and scaled its in-house production studio, HECHO EN 72, and worked with brands like Tillamook to launch the first-ever dairy community co-op. "I'm proud of how we've continued to charge forward in how we approach our work, doing what's best for the brands we work with and everyone at 72andSunny," Shutt says.

As the first employee and only female partner at 72andSunny, Shutt has led its evolution since day 1. Equal parts creative business leader, strategic thinker, and project manager, Shutt created the prototype for a new species of "account person" -- a role that has helped 72andSunny navigate the intersection of brands, culture, and technology.

During Shutt's time at 72andSunny, the company has been a leader in innovation and driving success for brands -- from introducing Google's Talking Shoe to re-defining the music distribution model with Samsung and Jay Z, to generating a high-end baby market for Bugaboo, and, year after year, shattering records for the Call of Duty franchise. She also knows how to build a winning team, as showcased in marquee new business wins such as adidas, AXE, Activision's Guitar Hero, and General Mills' Totino's.

Shutt represents a significant piece of the agency's foundation, and has managed to keep 72andSunny grounded and conserve its optimistic culture while scaling the business exponentially. During her 11 years at the agency, it has ballooned from five employees to over 500, and opened offices in New York City and Amsterdam. She has led the charge in constructing 72andSunny's production studio HECHO EN 72 where she is now also acting managing director; been a key role in launching 72U, 72andSunny's unique in-house training program; and helped develop a long-term partnership with Da Vinci Schools, a Los Angeles-based network of charter schools.

Shutt is an educator-nurturer at her core. Not only is she a mom to twins, but she also taught in South Los Angeles as a member of the Teach For America corps. Originator of the agency's internal catchphrase, "culture people, culture," she's the first to rally everyone outside for much-needed beer after a tense situation.

Leah Thelen

Assistant Vice President, E-Commerce and Customer Insights, L'Oreal USA Luxury Division

Leah Thelen has worn many hats at L'Oreal USA. And one might argue that she's never taken any of them off. Rather, each role she's held at the company has built upon the last, setting her up as a uniquely and deeply qualified person to be leading the brand in its e-commerce strategy going forward.

In her current role as assistant vice president of e-commerce and customer insights, Thelen focuses on developing brand e-commerce roadmaps to drive sales growth, innovation, and site optimization. She also oversees management of the e-commerce vendor relationships including personalization, multivariate testing, and UGC agencies. Thelen partners closely with digital IT to deliver best-in-class on-site customer experiences across the luxury division.

In her previous role with Lancôme-usa.com, Thelen managed sales planning and forecasting, including capital investments, physical distribution, and digital media, as well as overseeing SEM, SEO, and affiliate marketing.

As a 10-year L'Oreal USA veteran with extensive experience -- including interactive marketing, national account management, and an analytical expertise in the luxury market -- Thelen's most recent proficiency is focused on building direct-to-consumer e-commerce strategies and experiences from content planning, content creation to user experience, product launches, as well as digital marketing initiatives with P&L responsibility.

Gabriella Weiser

VP of Marketing, Steve Madden


Gabriella Weiser is VP of marketing for Steven Madden Ltd., where she oversees company-wide marketing, advertising, PR, and partnerships for brands such as Steve Madden, Steven by Steve Madden, Betsey Johnson, Superga North America, Dolce Vita, Report, Big Buddha, Mad Love, Freebird by Steven, and -- most recently -- Brian Atwood.

This past year, Weiser has been focused on working with the Steve Madden executive team to spearhead, develop, and execute successful omni-channel strategies for more engaging and personalized customer experiences. That's no small task when you take into consideration the breadth of Steve Madden brand empire and its ever-expanding nature -- not to mention the larger-than-life celebrities and fashion names behind many of the brands. Pair that with the fast-evolving consumer path to purchase, particularly for high-end fashion, and you find that the concept of "omni-channel" is a formidable marketing gauntlet.

Weiser is up to the task, however. With more than 12 years of experience with renowned retail brands, well-known personalities, and thought leaders, Weiser's expertise spans brand strategy, campaign development, retail and digital marketing, social media, and PR for both domestic and international markets spanning more than 60 countries.

Notable campaigns and brand partnerships spearheaded by Gabriella include Steve Madden Music, The Man Repeller for Superga, The Blonde Salad for Steve Madden, Garance Doré, The Sartorialist and Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen campaign for Superga "If These Shoes Could Talk," and Kendall and Kylie Jenner for Madden Girl.

Morley Winograd

Consultant, Author, Speaker

Eight years ago, Morley Winograd started a professional exploration of the Millennial Generation. It started with his lifelong fascination with political change and eventually expanded to the publication of three books (with co-author Mike Hais) on the generation and its overall impact on America's future. "This year, I was able to witness the core of our predictions come alive and affirm almost a decade of research and writing," Winograd says.

Winograd says it all began in June 2015, with the horrific shooting of nine innocent African-American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, and culminated in an eloquent eulogy given by President Barack Obama extolling the grace of those worshipers. "What took place within that remarkably short time span made it clear that America had shifted, mysteriously and without advanced warning to most, toward increased tolerance, inclusivity, and confidence, embodying three key traits of the increasingly omnipresent Millennial generation," Winograd says. "The cohort's demographic dominance is an inexorable force increasing the chances that the startling changes the country witnessed in the span of less than two weeks are just a foretaste of what America will be like for decades to come."

Winograd knows well that history is best seen in a rear view mirror. "Consequently, it can't be said with certainty that the events of those remarkable two weeks, during which the conservative Supreme Court also confirmed the future of the Affordable Care Act and the Republican leadership in Congress gave the President the authority to negotiate sweeping new trade agreements, will turn out to be as propitious as it appeared at the time," he says. "But for me, it affirmed my confidence and faith in the power and wisdom of America's next great generation."

Winograd says that having been one of the first to predict the Millennial Generation's disruptive influence -- and then to see that future come to pass in such a powerful and historical way -- was one of the most satisfying accomplishments of his professional career. As a consultant, author, speaker, and on-air pundit, his predictions and analyses have appeared in or on The New York Times, The Today Show, CNN, USA Today, PBS NewsHour, NPR, Barron's, Forbes, Reuters, and Univision.

Co-author with Michael Hais of three highly acclaimed books -- "Millennial Majority," "Millennial Momentum," and "Millennial Makeover" -- Winograd is a senior fellow at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School's Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. He also served as senior policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore in the second term of the Clinton administration.

Based in Los Angeles, he is a researcher for The Brookings Institution ("How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America"); president and CEO of the non-profit Campaign for Free College Tuition; and a contributor to several digital outlets, including The Christian Science Monitor, The National Journal, New Geography, and PolicyMic.

Patrick Yee

EVP, Marketing and Strategy, Refinery29


Patrick Yee has a flair for numbers. And in his nearly three years at Refinery29, this former equity research analyst has run up some impressive ones. In the past year alone, Yee has helped drive audience reach across platforms by 160 percent, from 53 million a year ago to more than 137 million today. Overall, as executive vice president of marketing and strategy at Refinery29, Yee has led the company through 1,000 percent audience growth, helping the company to secure a spot as the fasting-growing media company in the U.S., according to Inc. 500.

"In addition to our audience growth, we've recently secured high-profile partnerships with new channels, including a coveted spot on Snapchat Discover," Yee says. Announced in October, each Refinery29 edition on Snapchat Discover features 14 pieces, ranging across women's lifestyle and fashion topics.

Refinery29's audience has doubled each year for the past five years -- no easy streak to maintain. Today, Refinery29 represents an indispensable brand that is leading in engagement, loyalty, and return-visitor frequency. Its first book, "Style Stalking," was a New York Times best seller.

Prior to Refinery29, Yee was founder and president of Shopflick, a venture-capital backed shopping site sold to Sugar Publishing in 2009. Before Shopflick, he co-founded RocketXL, a digital marketing agency, which was sold in 2008 to Cossette Communications Group. Prior to that, Yee was an equity research analyst at Soros Fund Management and began his career in mergers acquisitions banking at Wasserstein Perella.  

Thomais Zaremba

Director, U.S. Digital Marketing and Media Manager, Ford Motor Company

Thomais Zaremba was named Ford Motor Company's U.S. digital marketing and media manager in December 2014. In this position, Zaremba has overall responsibility for all aspects of Ford's digital content efforts, as well as social marketing, mobile, and emerging platforms. Additionally, she oversees all of Ford's U.S. media and communications planning and manages Ford's marketing platforms, technology initiatives, and digital shopper activities.

Zaremba and her team are helping Ford's marketing adapt to the reality of a world in which traditional TV is playing less and less of a role. The brand made headlines this fall with its Ford Focus campaign featuring Kate McKinnon. But these weren't the standard "Celebrity Makes a Commercial" headlines. Rather, the spots featuring McKinnon -- along with outtakes and snippets -- were developed specifically with digital distribution in mind via YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, and Instagram. And the industry took note of this shift away from TV as the end-all-be-all in auto marketing.

Zaremba and Ford have been together a long time. She's held a variety of positions in her 18 years with Ford, including assignments as both Ford and Lincoln's digital marketing manager. Prior to that, she spent seven years as Ford's tier I communications manager responsible for handling national advertising. She also has held positions with the sales organization in Texas and the Southwest, and served as the Lincoln marketing manager before she joined the Lincoln communications team.

Chapell & Associates is headed by Alan Chapell. In 1997, Chapell founded the privacy program at Jupiter Research, an internet research firm focusing on the consumer internet economy. During his four and a half years at Jupiter, Chapell also...

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