Sara Madison, Global Head of Product Marketing at Outbrain, an advertising platform, sat down with Mike to talk all things advertising. She discusses the industry’s current challenges, why she believes audience attention will become an increasingly important metric and offers her thoughts on whether LinkedIn is a good use of a B2B advertising budget.

She also discusses her passion for product marketing and how her experience in both large enterprises and start-ups has influenced her career.

Listen to the podcast now via the links below:

About Outbrain

Outbrain is a leading technology platform that drives business results by engaging people across the open internet. 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. Founded in 2006, Outbrain is headquartered in New York with offices in Israel and across the United States, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and South America.

About Sara

Sara, who is the Global Head of Product Marketing Outbrain, is a digital media specialist with experience designing and leading strategic initiatives in startups and large organizations. She has a track record helping organizations solve issues, create value, maximize growth and improve business performance with a highly analytical approach.

 Time Stamps

[00:46.1] – Sara discusses her career journey in marketing.

[03:47.7] – Sara talks about Outbrain, what it is and its capabilities.

[06:48.8] – Sara discusses challenges in the advertising industry.

[13:19.2] – Sara shares how Microsoft successfully used Outbrain to support a campaign.

[17:52.4] – Is LinkedIn a good use of B2B advertising budget? Sara shares her opinions.

[26:11.9] – Sara’s contact details.


“Approach marketing with an open mind, it’s important to be curious and to be open to learning things before committing on a specific path.” Sara Madison, Global Head of Product Marketing at Outbrain.

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Transcript: Interview with Sara Madison – Outbrain

Speakers: Mike Maynard, Sara Madison

Mike: Thanks for listening to Marketing B2B Tech, the podcast from Napier, where you can find out what really works in B2B marketing today. Welcome to Marketing B2B Technology, the podcast from Napier. Today, I’m joined by Sara Madison. Sara is the Global Head of Product Marketing at Outbrain. Welcome to the podcast, Sara.

Sara: Hi, thank you. Thank you for having me here.

Mike: It’s great to have you on. And I think we’re gonna have an interesting discussion about what Outbrain does, and some of the things people are doing to increase engagement. But before we start, can you just tell us a little bit about you know, your history and how you’ve got to the point where you’re running marketing at Outbrain? Yeah,

Sara: perfect. I’ve been working in advertising and marketing for almost 15 years now. I started working in Spain, that’s where he did my studies. And now I’m working in in the UK. And in those 15 years, I’ve really done many different roles within the space. So I worked with brands, creating visuals, and creating good looking collateral. I’ve worked as sales really working with agencies and pitching to clients. And I’ve also had more technical positions where I’ve been working closely with engineers, and actually seeing how they were building the products and really needing to understand the underlying technology that my clients were using. And so all of this experience in different companies, you know, small companies, large companies, really brought me into product marketing, that, you know, having a view of sales, marketing, and how product works, really is that key piece of Product Marketing, it’s an extremely cross functional area within marketing. And I really love the strategic aspect of it. So really, on a day to day, I’m using all of my past experiences in product marketing. So that’s, that’s what brought me into Product Marketing. And today, I am heading up the global product marketing team at Outbrain. I’ve been here for about a year now. And and yeah, I’m really loving it.

Mike: It works with some interesting brands, I mean, both consumer and also B2B, haven’t you? Yes,

Sara: the first role that I had was that Coca Cola and the communications teams are really seeing how you build a brand across traditional media and digital media. I’ve also worked at Yahoo, and seeing how how they did like branded content selling. My most recent role was at Spotify, where I was working in the product marketing team, and I was the first person in the advertising product marketing team based outside of the US. And so there, I was really establishing and landing the product marketing function for the rest of the world. So also working out what international market strategy looks like. So yeah, I mean, I’ve definitely worked at many different companies, I’ve also worked for a few startups that aren’t as well known. And so I think it was really great to see how, you know, larger companies that have a larger name or a more established name, work, and also working at startups that aren’t as well known in the industry.

Mike: It sounds like you’ve had, like this incredible range of experience. And you’ve now chosen to come to Outbrain. So maybe a good place to move on to explain what Outbrain has done. And I’m sure you know, people listening probably will have seen Outbrain out there on the web, or if not, you know, if they don’t recognise it would have certainly encountered what you do. So can you explain a little bit about what Outbrain does?

Sara: Yeah, of course. So Outbrain is an ad platform. And what we do is we connect to advertisers with over 1.3 billion users across the open web every day. And so the way that the business work is that on the one hand, we partner with 1000s, of publishers, to help them drive audience development, help them monetize their audience. And we also provide them with tools to be able to diversify their own revenue streams. And so this is an extremely hot topic for publishers today. And on the flip side, we work with advertisers and we connect them with audiences, through ads that really coexist with the content that users are consuming on publisher sites. So that’s, you know, our ad platform is really connecting the two. And the differentiation or the strength of the Outbrain ad platform is that we’re able to understand and predict what audiences are going to be interested in and what content or ads they’re most likely to engage with, and then click on ads. And the way that we do this is with our prediction engine. So for, I think it’s like 17 years now Outbrain has been, you know, creating its own proprietary Prediction Engine. And it’s something that is extremely powerful. And it allows us to connect with, you know, with users with the most relevant ads and content. And the Outbrain ad platform really does do that combination of things. It helps publishers drive revenues, it helps advertisers reach audiences. And at the same time, it allows users or it really brings relevant content to users. And

Mike: you do this with a slightly different approach to sort of, you know, classic banner advertising, you’re kind of recommending content on your both organic content and also paid. Can you talk a little bit about what you’re doing there and why you mix the two? Yeah,

Sara: that’s a really key part of our offering, it’s it’s extremely important for us to balance content or editorial content and ads and finding that that right mix to be able to drive the revenues that we need to drive for publishers and the outcomes that we need to drive for advertisers. But at the same time, we need to make sure that we are engaging the users. And we know that engagement is really driven by content that users are, you know, want to interact with and that they’re interested in. So we do really provide that balance between ads and content.

Mike: So it’s great that let’s look back. I mean, last year wasn’t the best year for the advertising industry, a lot of people struggled. But I think also at the same time, you had some high. So do you want to tell me about, you know, what happened last year? And what Outbrain is doing going into 2024? Yeah, definitely.

Sara: 2023 was a tough year for advertising in general, we saw widespread budget cuts. And the cost of living crisis really meant that everyone was really squeezed in the space. So I think that 2023 was one of those years where it just really highlighted the importance of having a strong strategy and really focusing on efficiency. And right now, that’s something that Outbrain has really been laser focused on. So, you know, we’ve seen that in the last year. Roi is, you know, just more important than ever, and advertisers, we want to see real, measurable results. And not just for conversions, but really in every stage of the user journey. And so, while 2023 was a rough year, we also saw it as an opportunity to continue to build on our strengths and start to develop products that are going to continue to address these evolving advertiser needs. And so that’s why, you know, in 2023, we launched onyx, which is a new offering that really helps us deliver attention and engagement for brands and agencies. So for enterprise, advertisers. And so with this incorporation of onyx, now, we are able to continue to answer to that growing need for ROI throughout the funnel, delivering cross funnel outcomes with our ad suite.

Mike: And can you just unpack I mean, you talk a lot about attention and engagement. So, you know, what are you doing there? Is it driving people to content through paid? Just explain a little bit about what advertisers get when you talk about those two things?

Sara: Yeah, definitely. Attention, I think is something that that we’re really focusing on, especially with our Onyx offering, I can give you more detail into what Onyx is and how we’re using attention to drive results for brands. Onyx is really an attention centric offering. As I mentioned, our key segment or the key segment that we’re going after is enterprise brands and agencies. With onyx, we’re able to allow these advertisers to deliver rich video and display creatives in highly viewable placements with 100% Share of Voice. So Onyx is being delivered in highly viewable placements with experiences that drive great user engagement. And what makes Onyx exciting is our ability to predict audience attention. And so this is where the intention piece comes in. Onyx is powered by our prediction engine or the Outbrain Prediction Engine. So we’re using that strength in our ability to look at different data points from across our network and use that to power our prediction engine to be able to deliver outcomes for brands. So what makes Onyx really exciting is that we’re able to predict audience attention. And the way that we do this is the backbone or what is powering Onyx is really our prediction engine. It’s our ability to look at different data points from across our network to be able to predict certain engagement. And now we are using attention as a data point that we are leveraging to really drive results for brands and agencies. So attention is actually turning into something that we are optimising for, we are measuring and we’re optimising attention, the way that we’re optimising attention is working with industry providers. So with partners that are measuring attention throughout the open web, and and they are really providing us with these data points that then we can then use to, to drive these, these outcomes. And

Mike: that’s interesting, you’ve got this engine effectively, that is working out what people want to see and trying to feed it the right content, are you building those models, you know, on a per client basis, on a company by company basis, or is it much more about, you know, industries and sectors, the way

Sara: that we that we power our prediction engine is by really collecting all of those data points from across our network. And using that to power, different campaigns that different advertisers are, are setting up. So we will really adapt that prediction based on what the advertisers goals are or what type of content or audience they they want to engage with. So the Prediction Engine will adapt to the needs of the different advertisers and whatever campaign outcomes they they want to achieve.

Mike: That sounds great. I mean, it feels to me a little bit that maybe it’s built around very large campaigns, you know, the sort of consumer advertisers, but I think you do work with B2B. So can you talk a little bit about how you can work with B2B and maybe deal with, you know, the fact that some of those budgets aren’t quite as big as coke?

Sara: Yeah, definitely. So our brains ad platform doesn’t only cater to B2C advertisers, we also are able to deliver solutions for B2B. As I mentioned before, the platform is really able to adapt to different types of advertisers needs. So you know, to give you an example, some B2B advertisers will really prioritise branded content, and this can be very crucial for them. And we can create personalised user journeys that will help attract audiences to that content, and help them you know, using our prediction engine to generate leads, and continue to build brand awareness. And when it comes to the budgets, as you mentioned, we are quite flexible. So it really is, is a platform that can adapt to different needs.

Mike: But I’m really pleased, Sara, you said that you do a lot of B2B because we’d have been trouble if you didn’t. But, you know, I think one of the things I’d be interested in is, you know, do you have some examples of maybe how B2B companies have used the platform successfully?

Sara: Yeah, definitely. We ran a very successful Microsoft campaign, Microsoft wanted to to drive leads for their field, one solution. So field one is a service management software that they offer to enterprise. And when they came to us, they were asking to, again, drive leads from their high value audiences. And so for this, they had created a site that was promoting a webinar, where they would provide audiences with information about field one services. So when they came to us, we set up a campaign for them, where we were able to connect relevant audiences to their site and increase their site conversion by 75%. So this was a very effective campaign for for Microsoft. One of the solutions that we use for this was conversion bid strategy. So this is one of our offerings, that does dynamic bidding, to be able to optimise campaigns towards higher performing inventory and audiences so that really was able to drive that growth that Microsoft saw on their sites. One of the most exciting things about this campaign was that Microsoft was running on social media as well. And Outbrain was able to deliver 180% more leads than social and 50% lower cost per acquisition compared to social so we really saw that we were extremely impactful for Microsoft in in that this B2B campaign and also we performs better than their social campaigns.

Mike: That’s amazing that that’s impressive. And it’s good that you’re not just talking about driving traffic, you’re really looking at conversions. I think that’s, that’s important for a lot of B2B companies. And I think some people looking at Outbrain see it as being a traffic driver? And obviously a lot more than that. Exactly.

Sara: Definitely, we’re not only driving traffic, we’re for advertisers, we’re generating value for the brands as well. And really looking at that funnel. So what can we do for brands, from awareness to consideration and all the way down to conversion?

Mike: That’s brilliant. I’m going to ask you about a potential challenge. Now, it seems like Google, you know, at the time we’re talking, is finally starting to block third party cookies on Chrome, having talked about it forever. I know you use a mix of different cookies for tracking. So what sort of impact do you think that’s going to have on Outbrain? And I don’t know, Sara, maybe do you want to comment on how it’s going to impact online advertising as a whole? Yeah,

Sara: I mean, we’ve been talking about cookie deprecation for a while now, I do have to say that I think that Outbrain is well positioned to navigate this change, we have a data collection system that is coming from our own integrations with publishers, as I mentioned before, we work with 1000s of publishers across the open web. And through those integrations, we are able to collect our own data around the contexts, the interest, the user, even the campaign performance, these are all data points that we are using to be able to drive that prediction engine. So we are able to deliver effective advertising without relying or without having a huge reliance on third party cookies. And so as I mentioned, like, I do think that that’s going to be something that is going to help us navigate and continue to deliver true results for advertisers. That said, we are actively exploring additional ways that we can meet advertisers needs and develop strategic partnerships with industry leaders in the targeting space. And we’re also looking into developing more first party data solutions. So we are definitely looking into more things that we can do when it comes to targeting. But I would say that, that we we don’t have that much of a reliance on third party cookies.

Mike: So that’s really interesting. I mean, you’re obviously delivering results, as you talked about when you talked about the Microsoft example. Yet we’re still seeing in the B2B sector, LinkedIn taking a larger and larger share of display advertising. I mean, why do you think that is? Do you think that’s really delivering the results that people want? Or do you think it’s just an easy way to spend those advertising dollars?

Sara: I think that many B2B companies are looking at LinkedIn as a space where they could advertise, amongst other things, because it is a social platform. And because a lot of advertising in general is just starting to become very concentrated on the socials. I think that part of this is because a lot of time spent with users is happening on social platforms. And so the market is becoming very concentrated here. And that’s not necessarily an ideal scenario for advertisers. I think that it’s important to remember that users are consuming different types of content throughout the day, on socials and including on publisher sites on the open web. And the behaviour that users have in each environment is extremely different. I don’t think that we can compare the way that users are scrolling through social. And you know, I don’t even include LinkedIn, I am definitely scrolling through my LinkedIn feed to the behaviour that a user has when they’re on a publisher site. And they are reading through an article, I think that there’s an intentionality there, that’s not necessarily what you will find on the social platforms. So I think that marketers should think about engaging with consumers in different ways throughout the day. So it’s not necessarily choosing one environment over another. It’s how can you close the gaps in that user journey and connect with users in in different ways? And, you know, really thinking about the attention that you’re able to drive on the open web on publisher sites. And I think that marketers that are able to incorporate that attention from the open web into their media plans, are we going to be able to enhance their overall performance?

Mike: I think that’s a great point, Sara, I’m intrigued that she I mean, how the publishers see Outbrain and put particularly interested in the B2B sector because obviously, in B2B, typically those publishers are generating much higher CPMs than maybe some of the consumer sites.

Sara: Yeah, we have great relationships with publishers, and some of our founders are coming from the publishing industry. So it’s really part of our DNA. And our success is very tied to theirs. So I wouldn’t say that we have issues with integrating with B2B publishers. The reason that I say this is because we have multiple ways that we can work with publishers, as I mentioned before, we work with publishers to drive audience development, monetization, and also revenue diversification. So it’s a very flexible suite of solutions that we offer publishers, and so we really adapt to their individual needs.

Mike: That sounds great. I mean, you know, I can understand certainly today publishers being very keen to find additional sources of income. If our listeners are looking to run campaigns, and they want to test something on Outbrain. I mean, how easy is it to run a test campaign on outbound, you have to, you know, spend a lot of time learning and understanding the platform because it’s different, or is it fairly straightforward,

Sara: it’s, it’s extremely straightforward, you can just go to And choose if you’re a publisher, and advertiser and fill in a form where someone will get in touch with you and help you get set up. And for example, for an advertiser, once you have access to our advertiser dashboard, you can go in and set up your own campaign goals, set up different formats, launch test campaigns, our solution is a fully self serve platform. So it’s extremely easy to get started, we also have a help centre, and onboarding documents to make sure that the process is a lot easier.

Mike: And presumably, once you’re set up, you can run small test campaigns before you start running out major ones, there’s not minimum ad spends on those campaigns. Exactly. That sounds great. I mean, you’ve obviously done a lot of Outbrain to change the way people do digital advertising. I’m interested to know, you know, what’s your view as to how advertising on the web is gonna change over the next few years?

Sara: Well, I think that we’re all really seeing that the media landscape is fully shifting towards video first, consumption. And a lot of that consumption is happening on social platforms. So I think that open web players really need to adapt to this new reality. And we need to focus on attracting and engaging both audiences and advertisers through video first experiences. So that’s definitely something that I think is going to is going to be top of mind for many players in the space. I think that there are also a few trends that we’re starting to see that are really landing. We’ve talked about attention metrics before. But I think that attention metrics are going to evolve from nice to haves to potentially becoming currency. And another thing that hopefully we’ll start seeing more of is how we are all starting to reimagine targeting, I think that we’ll start seeing more creative targeting solutions that are more focused on things like outcomes, instead of demographics.

Mike: That’s great. It sounds like you know, publishers need to pay attention to some of these trends as well as advertisers, I think particularly video is important. Yes. It’s been really interesting talking to you, Sara, just like to ask a couple of more personal questions we’d like to ask people well, the first is, you know, what’s the best bit of marketing advice you’ve ever been given?

Sara: I’ve had a lot of great advice. But one thing that I always go back to is that I remind myself to be data driven, and give myself the time for strategic thinking before taking action. I think it’s easy to fall into a trap of simply doing things to go with the flow, especially when workloads are high. And we’re really focusing on delivering, but taking time to actively use data to guide your decisions and then take really purposeful actions really does make a world of difference. So I definitely say that giving yourself the necessary time to stop, look at the data review, plan. And then act is is key.

Mike: I love adding as great advice. You seem really excited about the future of marketing. So I think the answer the next question would be quite positive. I mean, what would you tell a young person who was maybe considering marketing as a career, would you recommend it?

Sara: Of course, definitely. I mean, I really love marketing, I would say to that person to approach marketing with an open mind. Marketing is a massive field, and it has tonnes of areas of expertise. And I think that when you’re coming into it, it’s important to be curious and to be open to learning things before committing on a specific path. You know, to give you an example, when I started, I saw myself brainstorming at a creative agency. And now I’m in product marketing, and I’m loving it. And it’s, it’s a role that can be very technical at times. So really, my point is, don’t limit yourself based on your initial thoughts of what you think marketing is. Spend some time to explore, try things out, and then who knows where you might find your passion within marketing. That’s

Mike: great advice. I love that. Obviously, you know, if people want to try Outbrain, you’ve already said go to But if people are particularly interested by something you’ve said or want to follow up, is there a way that the listeners could contact you after the episode?

Sara: Yeah, you can find me on LinkedIn, and you just have to search for Sara Madison. Brilliant.

Mike: Sara, this this has been fascinating. It’s great to hear how much innovation that there is in advertising. So I think you know, this is a particularly interesting episode. I really appreciate your time. Thank you.

Sara: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Mike: Thanks so much for listening to marketing B2B Tech. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you did, please make sure you subscribe on iTunes, or on your favourite podcast application. If you’d like to know more, please visit our website at Napier B2B dot com or contact me directly on LinkedIn.