Publisher Forum Keynote Maria Breza: Transforming Brand Safety and Suitability for Podcasting

Looking at Maria Breza’s LinkedIn profile, one exciting detail may get a bit lost among her many accomplishments in the ad tech space. Breza received her BA in Dance from St. Olaf College.

Breza has been dancing since she was eight years old, and the art form has taught her about accepting criticism, attention to detail, problem-solving, and collaboration – all lessons she carried over to her ad operations career and current role as VP, Ad Quality Measurement and Audience Data Operations, at SXM Media. 

“Dance has given me the confidence to know there is always a way out of the thorniest problem the industry can throw at you. When you hit a roadblock, you just need to start again and try a different approach. Eventually, you’ll work it out, and then you can continue iterating to improve it,” said Breza.

Breza will build on those dance insights for tackling problems at the Miami Publisher Forum. During her keynote, “How Podcasting Is Transforming Brand Safety For Everyone,” she will share learnings for building brand safety and brand suitability solutions for the emerging world of podcast advertising.

Breza’s Career Evolves With the Growth of Brand Safety

Over the last few years, the context, environment, and tools for brand safety have led to morphing into brand suitability. Breza witnessed this growth starting when she began her career over 20 years ago. At that time, brand safety existed, but there was no name for it or technology to support it. 

“Looking back on the progress we’ve made as an industry is impressive, and that empty space has been a great place to build a career iterating on new ideas and technology and pushing forward a bit more every year,” said Breza. 

When Breza worked at BusinessWeek Magazine during the 2000s, the concept of brand safety was primarily about ensuring that display ads would not appear alongside negative news coverage, within stories, or next to the story links on the site’s homepage. In what now seems like an antiquated approach, the process required human recognition of negative content and real-time anti-targeting of URLs. 

“Across the industry, we are making enormous strides each and every day. Like with dance, you need to have the mindset of a forever student. There is always more to learn from your colleagues, your partners, and the industry at large,” said Breza.

 Podcasting Emerges As the Next Phase for Brand Safety

Brands have traditionally bought podcast advertising on a sponsorship basis.

During planning, the buyer selects a specific adjacency to the podcast and host while considering brand safety and suitability upfront. But as podcasts are rapidly scaling (SiriusXM alone has over 34.5 million subscribers) and buyers are looking for reach in this medium, the handpicking methodology isn’t keeping up with the extensive amount of podcast content available. 

Breza suggests that advertisers must use different strategies to reach their full target audience while ensuring their ads only appear in suitable environments. And that starts with having a brand-level strategy for brand safety and suitability. 

The strategy should include a plan for aligning against the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) brand safety and suitability framework. Launched in 2019, GARM is a cross-industry initiative by the World Federation of Advertisers that addresses the challenge of harmful content on digital media platforms and its monetization via advertising. 

“But simultaneously, it shouldn’t be a rigid policy,” cautions Breza. “Buyers should consider applying the GARM standards to each new medium or environment each time.”

With podcasting, some advertisers set up programmatic podcast deals with theirstandardized GARM selections and then struggle to scale. Take profanity, for example. 

“Podcasting is an intimate audio experience, and part of its power is creating a one-to-one human connection, almost as if you are talking with your friend,” said Breza. “Because of this environment, we often see an increase in profanity compared to what is expected for written or scripted media.” 

While Breza wouldn’t encourage advertisers to throw caution to the wind and remove all filters, she suggests that in many cases, it may make sense to loosen the level of protection and carefully think about how the brand wants to show up in this conversational medium. This approach could increase campaign reach and could be a better choice for brands looking to align with podcasts where listeners have come to expect a more authentic experience with their hosts.

 The Future of Brand Safety and Beyond

Breza thinks brand safety and suitability should be a consideration for every dollar spent on advertising. Across all mediums, advertisers need to balance transparency, control, and reach. 

“As ad technologists, our job is to make it easier to spend at scale,” said Breza. “I’m eager for the industry to get better at defining and managing adjacency in all streaming environments, tightening definitions of standards and infractions, and getting better at the context and tone words appear in – not just words themselves.”