Picking the brain of Outbrain #CompanySpotlight

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Outbrain is a leading advertising platform for the open web, giving marketers a single access point to one-third of the world’s online population, across thousands of diverse publisher topics. Outbrain predicts moments of engagement to drive measurable outcomes for advertisers and publishers using AI and machine learning across more than 7,000 online properties globally.

With it’s game-changing offering Onyx and partnership with Adelaide, Outbrain can use Environment, Technology, and Ad Experiences to maximise user attention from every campaign, giving brands a way to measure their return on investment in awareness campaigns by tracking whether people are actually paying attention to their ads.

And they can prove it through post-campaign measurement and optimization. They also have a range of exciting clients including Toyota, Lancôme Paris, The Evening Standard and Audi to name a few.

James Milne is the Managing Director of Northern Europe for Outbrain, a world leading prediction technology platform for the open web. A seasoned industry veteran, James brings 15+ years of knowledge and hands-on experience driving sales growth and tapping into new market segments.

He oversees the strategic direction of the region's advertising revenues. In 2018, James was named one of PerformanceIn's Top 50 Industry Players for his exceptional work pushing forward the performance marketing industry on a global scale.


We caught up with James this week to discuss everything Outbrain.

How was the company born and where are you based?

Outbrain is an open internet technology platform founded in 2006 by Yaron Galai and Ori Lahav, who recognised a big problem publishers were facing. Newspapers and magazines offer the seamless experience of flipping through pages to discover new stories or products to try but this wasn’t easily replicable on the open internet.

A more engaging experience was needed. And so they set out to provide publishers with a tool to create the “what’s next?” moment for online readers. We developed a recommendation technology that allows us to predict what readers would like to read next, based on what they’re currently reading and in turn improve how content is discovered across devices and in all formats.

We’re responsible for not just delivering revenue for publishers, but also commercial outcomes by driving customers from one article to another, from one property to another, increasing the total value of the site.

Outbrain set out to help publishers and since 2006, we’ve expanded to connect brands with safer advertising environments and engaged audiences, to create custom creative for brands, designed with data in mind via our Brand Studios and to maximise attention for advertising via our branded video platform Onyx.

I joined the team in 2018, I’m based in the London office, but we’re headquartered in New York and have offices all over the world.

What was the biggest challenge to the growth of the company?

The biggest challenge wasn’t necessarily Outbrain’s. It belonged to the publishers.

The shift to taking news online and popularity of social media stripped a lot of advertising revenue away from news publishers, and we wanted to make sure that we could support publishers in every way we can, both commercially and technologically.

What was the first huge success that you can remember?

As I joined in 2018, I would say a massive milestone for Outbrain was our IPO in 2021.


In Q1, 2021, while so many companies were still struggling from the impact of Covid, Outbrain grew at a rate of 29%.

Becoming a public company at that time was testimony to the team staying true to the vision for 15 years, some incredibly hard work and an encouraging culture where we knew we were going to make a difference.

What’s the biggest opportunity for you and the company in the next year?

I would say our evolution into the only truly cross funnel ad platform on the open internet, creating a frictionless journey for consumers from awareness to loyalty via our products.

Some people will know us as a content recommendation tool, but Outbrain’s new service - Onyx - is the evolution of the Outbrain offering, bringing our expertise in prediction and engagement up the marketing funnel.

It brings our unrivalled consumer insights and predictive buying technology to an environment of exclusive in-article placements across our premium publisher partners. Onyx enables marketers to predict the moments that will drive the greatest audience attention, and serve rich video and display experiences at those moments.

Our suite of highly viewable, engaging experiences help marketers do more with their branding budgets — delivering higher attention that correlates to better brand results.

Can you explain your team’s creative process? What makes it unique?

It’s incredibly important for every member of the team to feel comfortable and encouraged to contribute, no matter the topic. We have a diverse team, and I think that diversity is the key to great creativity.

Bringing together a team of individuals with different backgrounds, cultures, experiences and ways of thinking brings a variety of perspectives to the table, making for a better process.

How does your team remain inspired and motivated?

Much like how we became an IPO, it’s all about understanding our mission and origins of how Outbrain came to be. We set out to solve a problem, and our team plays a very important role in this.


In our day-to-day work, no day is the same. The challenge for publishers and brands is constantly evolving and we’re motivated by our goal to do more.

How did COVID-19 affect the company?

The pandemic created a lot of uncertainty for everyone around the world, and in turn people relied on the news for their information as the virus grew. The world depended on journalists to keep us updated throughout the chaos, to keep the government and private sector accountable but to also lift our spirits and focus on the feel-good stories that reminded us that there was still hope in the world.

It was a time in our lives when people were truly reminded of the importance of quality journalism. A huge part of Outbrain’s value is that we work with quality publishers, founded on quality journalism. In a world of disinformation there is an ever-greater need for brand safe spaces within an ecosystem of quality.

Which agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

I would say our very own Stephanie Himoff, Executive Vice President of Global Publishers. Not only did she give me a job ;-) but I have been lucky to learn so much from her. The way she operates, thinks about problems and negotiates, has been enormous learning for me.

How do you go about finding new clients/business? (Pitching, work with retainers, etc.)

For us it's a classic sales craft. We have an excellent sales and account management team that are experts in bringing in new clients and brilliant products that turn them into long-term partners.

What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?

I hope that the power and control can become more evenly distributed and that the real value and critical importance that open internet publishers have will be recognised (and funded) accordingly!

Do you have any websites, books or resources that you would recommend?

I’m a big advocate of developing personal and professional resilience, and my friend James Elliott is an expert in the field.


He’s a psychotherapist, resilience coach and British Army veteran and I can’t recommend his book Think Yourself Resilient enough!


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