Black History Month Spotlight: 8 Industry Shapers in Ad Tech & Digital Media

Our Black History Month Listicle celebrates a host of Black ad tech and digital media professionals who are impacting the industry and the larger community of diverse professionals who are following them. 

If we can learn anything from our list of honorees, it is that Black people are not monolithic, and neither are their professional goals and achievements. While they all have lengthy and established careers in ad tech and digital media, they are all at different points in their career journey, striving to better the industry and the people around them. 

In honor of Black History Month, we spoke with eight Black digital media and advertising professionals to learn from their accomplishments and get a deeper look into the Black experience in the industry. We also asked them what advice they would give themselves in retrospect on their impressive careers. From privacy lawyers to ad and rev ops legends, we have assembled a list of groundbreaking professionals who deserve year-round accolades. 

8 Black Industry Shapers in Ad Tech & Digital Media

Sharon Goldsmith, Manager, Digital Systems for JAMA Network

Sharon Goldsmith has many years of advertising experience and is a trusted source in the industry. Her extensive knowledge of direct sales plays a crucial role in managing vendor relationships, platform migrations, and incremental revenue streams. Goldsmith is passionate about collaborating with the internal sales team to strategize revenue growth and streamline workflow processes and site change initiatives. Before her role at JAMA Network, Goldsmith was a Digital Operations Manager for Tribune Publishing’s direct sales portfolio for 19 years. 

She has now taken her knowledge to the American Medical Association and Jama Network as a Digital Systems Manager to help create innovative products to keep the organization competitive in the industry. 

What advice would you give to your younger self in retrospect of your career growth?

Trust your gut, bet on yourself, and have confidence in your knowledge. Find your niche and build on that knowledge to become an expert. You can’t be an expert at everything, but you can create a network around all facets of the industry. 

Therran Oliphant, Head of Data & Technology, EssenceMediacom

After an early career in wholesale car buying, Oliphant began his advertising journey by building audiences from vehicle purchase data at Polk Automotive (now HIS Markit). After realizing Ad Tech’s potential, he joined data startups like PlaceIQ and Tapad in Product and Marketing roles. 

Oliphant then led a Solutions Team at IBM’s Watson Advertising division, utilizing Weather Company assets and IBM tech to help create and scale products like the AI-based Watson ad unit and real-time weather-enabled ad targeting inside Facebook.

He eventually went agency-side at Omnicom’s PHD Media, where he initiated change management by developing a MarTech Consulting group, which is now driving agency futureproofing and innovation. For the last year, Oliphant has led the Data & Technology Discipline for EssenceMediacom, bringing fresh approaches to leveraging, sourcing, and harmonizing client data for improved ad efficacy. 

What advice would you give to your younger self in retrospect of your career growth? 

Relationships can help you get an opportunity; knowledge and skill will help you do the job, but selling your ideas will bring success. 

Jessica B. Lee, Partner, Co-Chair, Privacy, Security & Data Innovations at Loeb & Loeb LLP

Jessica B. Lee is a Partner, Co-Chair, Privacy, Security & Data Innovations at Loeb & Loeb LLP. She helps companies in the U.S. and worldwide launch, market, and monetize their digital products and content. She advises on everything from interest-based and addressable advertising, data analytics, location-based tracking, smart devices, and wearables to emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, VR and AR, and facial recognition. 

Jessica has assisted dozens of organizations in designing their privacy programs and operationalizing U.S. and international privacy and data security requirements, including GDPR, HIPAA, the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, and, more recently, CCPA. 

She recently testified before the California Senate Judiciary Committee on the impacts of privacy regulation on the business community. 

What comes to mind when you think about being Black and working in advertising and digital media? 

As a lawyer, I think about the importance of authenticity and visibility. While I see a lot of gender diversity, I don’t always see much racial diversity. I am hopeful that that is changing. I think it is essential to show up in these spaces as myself and be visible to others who may need to see someone who looks like them to understand there is a space here for them as well. 

Often, I show up in corporate spaces with braids streaked with blond highlights, wearing brightly colored clothes. That mix of authenticity and visibility is essential to demonstrate that we don’t have to mute ourselves or shrink ourselves to fit into spaces that aren’t made for us. We can create our own space. 

Chris Kenna, Chief Executive Officer (North America & LATAM), BA Diversity Media Inc

Christopher Kenna is the Founder of Brand Advance Group and CEO (North America & LATAM), which encompasses Brand Advance Group EUROPE & BA Diversity Media USA, a top 100 company for three consecutive years (2019, 2020,2021). He connects brands with diverse audiences globally through Insights, Media, and Creative.

Christopher is a director at UK Conscious Advertising Network (CAN) and US country lead for (CAN). As a mixed-race, out gay father – he is a strong advocate for diversity and representation within media and advertising. He is also on the advisory boards for WFA, London Met Police, and the V&A Museums.

What advice would you give to your younger self in retrospect of your career growth?

As a Black entrepreneur who has tried to give as much time and effort as possible to help others on their journey, I sometimes have to listen to my advice and learn from it. Unfortunately, after getting through COVID-19 and many other UK-related economic downturns and the significant pullback in Europe of ad spend against underrepresented communities, Brand Advance — the original company I founded in the UK around six years ago — closed down. It’s solely the Ad Tech company with the group, although this will allow our sister UK company — Cultural Intelligence, to flourish. 

Alongside the continued growth of our Media and Content company in the US, it’s still hard to see the end of something that means so much to me and hopefully others. It was hard in 2023 to be a part of two contrasting companies going through two different experiences. Something in business that I wish I had known earlier and have recently learned is the requirement to be able to let things go. See what works and what doesn’t work. Ultimately, I would tell young me to ‘Go for it!’ sooner. To myself, six and a half months ago, I would say, ‘It’s not failure – It’s growth. Let go of what’s not working and focus on what is, even if that choice will be hard personally and professionally.’

Sylvester Phifer, Vice President, Self-Service Platform, Disney Advertising

With a career spanning two decades, Phifer has devoted himself to launching and scaling high-performing teams and business units, leaving an indelible mark at The Weather Channel, National Football League, ESPN, and presently Disney.

As the Vice President of the Self Service Platform at Disney Advertising, Phifer is responsible for leading and amplifying Disney’s rapidly growing self-service business across a varied spectrum of agencies and brands. His purview extends to small-to-mid-size brands, independent agencies, performance marketers, local agencies, and major holding companies. He is leading the charge of propelling Disney Campaign Manager, the Disney-owned and operated automated buying platform formerly known as Hulu Ad Manager, into the market.

What’s one goal you accomplished recently in your field that you are proud of? Give yourself some flowers.  

In 2023, our team largely flew under the radar, diligently focused on enhancing Disney Campaign Manager’s product features and fostering marketplace adoption. Despite our low profile, I take immense pride in the remarkable achievement we have attained. 

We expedited our roadmap and broadened our range of features, striking a chord with the market. Remarkably, in 2023, Disney Campaign Manager has been embraced by over 4,200 advertisers and 1,000 agencies, making it their preferred choice to tell their brand story and connect with new audiences. Notably, most of these advertisers and agencies were newcomers to Disney and the streaming landscape.

Shalonda Lewis, Director of Operations, Tribune Publishing

Shalonda Lewis is a seasoned operations leader with over 20 years of experience in traditional and digital media. As a Director of Print & Digital Advertising Operations at Tribune Publishing, she oversees print and digital operations teams and an enterprise-wide systems and projects team. She spends most of her time solving problems and creating solutions for internal and external customers. 

A part-time job at the Los Angeles Times while in college developed into a love affair with advertising and media. Progression through various departments, including sales, sales operations, project management, and advertising operations, created a diverse skill set and a more comprehensive understanding of the industry. This cross-functional experience contributes to her ability to take a holistic view of the business, envisioning its potential growth and development.

What comes to mind when you think about being Black and working in advertising and digital media? 

Diversity of thought is sometimes highly overlooked. People are typically drawn to sameness, which leaves limited space for diversity. When I think of being Black and working in our industry, I know there is a tremendous pool of untapped talent, ideas, and skills. We see the world through an exceptionally unique lens, which should be celebrated and encouraged in season and out.

Ken Gibbs Jr., Executive Vice President, Digital, EBONY Media

Ken Gibbs Jr. is one of the foremost digital executives in the content space. He has held leadership roles at EBONY Media (EVP, Digital), Money20/20 (as an Editor in Chief), Spotify (first Global Head of Social Media Marketing), BET Networks (first Vice President of Digital Video & Social Media Marketing Strategy) and Amazon Prime Video (Head of Social for the Action/Thriller vertical) throughout his more than two decades working in the industry. Gibbs Jr is passionate about marketing, entertainment, technology, and the Black audience.

What’s one goal you accomplished recently in your field that you are proud of? Give yourself some flowers.  

This month, I’ll serve as a judge for the Black Tech Awards US. Not only am I passionate about their mission to celebrate Black innovators in the sector, but one of my long-standing goals has been to continue building bridges around the globe with Black innovators like its founder, Raphael Sofoluke. I’m glad he’s brought the show here from the UK, and I’m excited to play a part in exposing the world to the talented nominees and their work. It’s all about giving back. 

Justin Barton, Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy and Partnerships, BLACK ENTERPRISE 

Justin Barton is Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy and Partnerships at BLACK ENTERPRISE. Barton is responsible for digital content, production, ad operations, social media, programmatic, and partnerships. Before Black Enterprise, Barton worked for SJR, the digital content consultancy of WPP, as Head of Analytics. He has also held executive roles at iHeartMedia as VP of Audience Development and ViacomCBS, as Sr. Director of Digital Insights. Barton holds a bachelor’s degree in Finance from Hofstra University and an MBA from Long Island University.

What’s one goal you accomplished recently in your field that you are proud of? Give yourself some flowers.

I’m most proud of turning a legacy magazine business into a digital media business and increasing revenue 10x within two years. I was able to use the knowledge I gained at publications like The Daily Mail and apply it to minority media for the historic brand of Black Enterprise to really excel in the digital space.