PubForum Keynote Alyson Williams: Revolutionizing Forbes’ First-Party Data Platform

Alyson Williams, SVP, Digital Operations & Strategy, Forbes will keynote day 1 of AdMonsters Publisher Forum New Orleans Nov. 5-8. She’ll dive into how ForbesOne, the publisher’s first-party data platform is revolutionizing how they use AI and machine learning to provide personalized, community-oriented experiences for their audiences while delivering astonishing results for advertisers. 

Alyson Williams’s career in advertising started long before she became the Senior Vice President, Digital Operations & Strategy at Forbes. Growing up, Williams’s father founded and ran an advertising and marketing company, and she worked there starting in her early teenage years. 

Williams would manage the company’s basic admin functions and, as she got older, write promotional copy. Williams got a front-row seat to watching an ad CEO in his day-to-day, and the lessons she learned have stayed with her throughout her career. 

“My father taught me to lead with compassion and that personal relationships are critical to a successful career,” said Williams. “He taught me that no task is too small, even for the highest-level employee, and that picking up the phone and having a real conversation will almost always be the most effective way to get what you want.”

The industry has changed since Williams’s first job in advertising, but much of her father’s advice about connecting with people still holds. Williams will bring insights about how Forbes connects with 140 million+ people with ForbesOne, Forbes’ first-party data platform, during her keynote, “One Publisher, One Brand: United By First-Party Data,” at the upcoming AdMonsters Publisher Forum. Williams will share how ForbesOne is revolutionizing how the publisher uses AI and machine learning to provide unique, personalized, and community-oriented experiences.

An Ad Ops Career Evolves with the Industry

Williams was drawn to a career in media and publishing because she has always loved language, reading, and writing, which attracted her to magazines at a very young age.  

“I would have piles and piles of magazines in my room growing up. I was in school at a time when the media was romanticizing careers in publishing – think Devil Wears Prada, Thirteen Going on Thirty, Sex and the City – and that drew me even more into the world of media,” reminisced Williams.

Williams’s first few media jobs were in editorial, but she found herself more drawn to the business side. For 16 years, Williams’s tenure with Forbes has played out in various digital advertising positions. Her roles have grown and evolved with the changes in the advertising industry and advertising operations.

When I started at Forbes, the way the world consumed media was completely different. To put it into context, the first-ever iPhone had just been released. That’s obviously had an enormous impact on the industry as a whole as well as the ad operations function,” said Williams. “Ad ops isn’t just back-end anymore. We’re diving into the data, developing products, recommending targeting, presenting to sales and clients, and more. There is way more strategy in the role now, and I’ve loved growing my team with that in mind.” 

In her current role as Senior Vice President, Digital Operations & Strategy, Williams leads Forbes’ advertising operations, ad product, pricing and inventory management, and sales operations and analytics teams. Her team is working on much more than what the traditional ad ops role encompassed when she first started. 

“We’re data-driven storytellers. I don’t think anyone would have associated storytelling with ad ops back then, but now using data to tell a compelling story is such a crucial piece of our day-to-day,” she explained.

ForbesOne Takes First-party Data to the Next Level

ForbesOne fuels audience insights into every facet of the business, including revenue, editorial, product, marketing, and more, to connect marketing partners with the right segments and help them achieve their business objectives.

During her keynote, Williams will discuss how ForbesOne enables the B2B publisher to leverage first-party to build a stronger, cohesive brand. Williams often hears about the goals of one team being up against the goals of another, such as ad ops versus sales or business versus edit.  

“When you build a product like ForbesOne that is truly cross-functional across an organization, it breaks down the barriers that may seem to exist between teams. Thinking in silos will rarely move the full business forward, and cross-team collaboration and thinking outside of your own roles and responsibilities will drive real results,” she shared. 

Williams says she loves that ForbesOne is built not just as a targeting platform but with a full suite of analytics tied to it as well. The platform allows Forbes to understand how to reach audiences, gain insights about them, and feed those back to its marketing partners, editorial partners, and readers. 

“We can provide a robust, first-party powered story about specific audiences to understand how to better serve our readers with the most engaging and relevant content and to allow our editorial team to understand who’s consuming their content and why,” explained Williams.

Publishers Should Find Their Unique First-party Solution

Forbes started thinking about first-party solutions in 2018, long before the impending cookiepocalypse was even a buzzword, because of the unique audiences and communities it was organically building.

“It was more basic back then and primarily based on simple contextual targets, but it gave us an early idea of what may work and what we needed to rethink,” said Williams. “Part of that rethinking is to look at our business as a whole, not the ad business as a silo.”

Williams says that diversifying Forbes’ revenue has been top-of-mind for years, and the global publisher is prioritizing making its ad business work in tandem with the other platforms or revenue streams being offered. This approach has led to enormous growth for Forbes in other sectors, including events and subscription/membership, while continuing to grow its media business. 

Williams points out that a first-party solution is not going to be one-size-fits-all. Publishers should consider what differentiates them and how they can utilize that differentiation to create a first-party product that stands out from the pack. 

“It’s key to hone in on what makes you as a publisher unique, what makes your audience unique, and how that comes to life on your properties,” said Williams. “Think beyond targeting; is it a specific product or ad unit, is it a complementary event, newsletter, or subscription? Spend your time focused on creating something that truly represents your brand.”