NYC Native Rowena Lam’s Journey from Digital Marketing Maven to Privacy Powerhouse

IAB Tech Lab’s Senior Director, Privacy & Data Rowena Lam has worn many hats throughout her time in ad tech. Now she’s at the forefront of helping industry professionals understand the many recent changes in privacy laws and what to expect in a cookieless world.

Rowena Lam’s journey in ad tech has not followed a direct path. She began her career in digital marketing and eventually found herself in the world of privacy. Now, she is Senior Director, Privacy & Data for IAB Tech Lab and is a 2024 Top Women in Media Honoree in the “Privacy Powerhouse” category. 

As she’s progressed in her career, Lam has gone from thinking her AAPI heritage was something to overcome to understanding the power of bringing a unique perspective to the table. It is precisely because of her upbringing and her unconventional journey through the ad tech space that she has the knowledge she does and can share it with others. 

You’ll find her at next month’s AdMonsters Ops speaking at a session titled “Cookieless Conundrum: Crafting the Interoperable Identity Puzzle.” Read on for a bit about how Lam got to where she is today and a teaser of what she’ll be speaking about at the conference.

Growing Up a Child of Immigrants in NYC

Lam was born and raised in NYC to two immigrant parents who came to the United States from China. Her parents believed in the American Dream and worked hard for it – her mother was a seamstress, and her father was a factory worker. “We were not well off but always had everything we needed, and my parents were able to purchase a home. Watching them work as hard as they did to achieve their American Dream instilled in me the importance of working hard for the things that I want,” Lam shares. 

Also driving her was the tenacity and grit ingrained in her from a young age as a resident of NYC. Lam partially credits New York for developing her work ethic and giving her the belief that she could do anything as long as she worked hard to accomplish it. It also helped her see the power of diversity. 

“Growing up in NYC also meant that I was exposed to diverse communities, which has informed a core value of empathy that I carry with me personally and professionally. Personally, I feel like it’s helped me be a better friend, a better partner, a better human. Professionally, I feel like it’s helped me be more effective as a teammate and leader,” she says. 

Fully Embracing Her AAPI Heritage 

Though she was surrounded by diversity in NYC, for a while, Lam resisted the urge to embrace her heritage as part of her professional identity, opting instead to identify first as a New Yorker and a member of the AAPI community second. 

“I wasn’t exposed to many AAPI, and even more specifically, AAPI women in leadership positions early in my career. I felt like I needed to set aside my AAPI heritage in the workplace. I often felt that I needed to prove myself, and my heritage felt like something I had to overcome to succeed,” she shares. 

With time and the help of mentors, she began to show up as her full self, but it did not happen overnight. Lam believes mentors are crucial for bringing more diverse candidates to the ad tech industry. 

She asserts, “You will often hear about giving people of diverse backgrounds a seat at the table or allowing them to be in the room. That’s a start, but in my opinion, it’s not enough.” The complexity of our industry makes it difficult to simply throw someone in and hope they succeed. Mentors can help you navigate the industry and build relationships. They can also instill confidence. 

"You will often hear about giving people of diverse backgrounds a seat at the table or allowing them to be in the room. That’s a start, but in my opinion, it’s not enough."

Lam notes that diverse upbringings can lead to cultural differences in how we learn and thrive, but celebrating these unique perspectives is vital to building an environment where everyone feels included. 

From Digital Marketing to Privacy Powerhouse

The journey from digital marketing to working in privacy for IAB Tech Lab was not linear. Lam started her career in email marketing for Publisher’s Clearing House’s Play & Win properties. She quips, “Fun fact, I have actually participated in delivering one of those giant checks to a winner!” She then began working with content on the company’s sites. 

She left PCH to work for a startup company developing free-to-play, advertising-supported casual games. She worked in marketing there but also wore other hats, as often happens when working for a startup. One of those hats involved helping to build the product itself. 

“That’s really where I found my love for building products – both consumer-facing and advertising-related. From there, I leaned into the product and haven’t looked back,” Lam shares. 

She “stumbled into” working in privacy, which Lam notes is common in the field. For her, it was thanks to new privacy regulations and platform changes affecting the product roadmaps she was working on. When she saw how privacy changes affected her company, she felt it was a microcosm for what would happen throughout the ad tech industry. 

“I joined Tech Lab to focus on privacy because after having been fairly in the weeds on addressing privacy changes in products at an individual organization, I realized that addressing privacy issues would fundamentally affect how digital advertising and digital products work. I wanted to help the broader industry navigate these complexities,” she explains. 

Receiving Recognition for Hard Work 

Lam’s status as a “Privacy Powerhouse” has earned her a spot in the 2024 Top Women in Media Awards as an Honoree, an accolade that she does not take lightly. “I think it’s so important to celebrate and empower the women who are impacting the industry. Being included on this year’s list of Top Women in Media is humbling. I’m very proud of the work that I’ve done and feel so honored to be recognized for it,” she shares. 

Does she have any advice for other women in the industry on how to stand out and make a difference? “Something that I would say to other women in the industry is that our perspective and our voices are important. Show up authentically, and don’t be afraid to have an opinion,” she states. 

In addition to being a Top Women in Media Honoree, Lam will be speaking at AdMonsters Ops in the “Cookieless Conundrum: Crafting the Interoperable Identity Puzzle” session. This session will tackle many questions about the cookieless landscape, including how to craft your own plan for maintaining compliance without losing revenue. 

Lam previews what she’ll be speaking about, noting, “I’m excited to be speaking at this year’s Ops event talking about addressability sans cookies. I’ll be covering what options are available today, including ID solutions, ID-less solutions, challenges and benefits of the various options, and the role PETs and other emerging technologies play in all of this.”