Is This the Most Important Person in Advertising?

Hint: she runs a $43.7 billion ad business

In many respects, Susan Wojcicki is Google’s most important patron. Her garage served as the original Google headquarters, and over the last decade the svp of advertising has grown the company’s advertising business into a $43.7 billion revenue stream as of last year. EMarketer projects that Google accounts for better than 41 percent of total digital ad revenue in the U.S. As more advertising dollars transition to digital, Google becomes ever more a proxy for the entire ad business. That shift positions Wojcicki alongside WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell and CBS’ Les Moonves in the traditionally male-dominated echelon of advertising’s elite. Earlier this month, Adweek sat down with Wojcicki at the company’s Mountain View, Calif., campus to pick her brain on Google’s past, present and future. After all, as goes Google, so goes advertising.

I’d say you’re the most powerful woman at Google. What does that mean to you?

First there’s my role just as an executive being responsible for advertising, regardless of gender. I think that’s a position that I take seriously. That’s the first role. But I think for my role as a woman at Google, you try to set a good example and be a role model for the other women in the organization. And you also try to mentor women in the organization because you have been able to achieve something that a lot of other women want to understand how you [achieved] that to the extent that you can help them and give them advice. I’ve tried both to be a role model as well as a mentor.>

Who were your mentors?

Actually one thing I should mention, just back to me as an executive at Google. I’ve managed [Google’s third-party display ad network] AdSense since the very beginning. It’s turned out to be a bigger and more complicated business than we ever could have imagined on day one. But having managed it since the very beginning, that continuity gives you a lot of ownership over the business. And you also understand the whole history.

It was your idea, right?

That’s controversial. Many people contributed to the idea. There were certainly lots of people who contributed technology. There was a project at Google that they weren’t really sure what the application put-out was going to be, and it turned out that AdSense was that application for it. They were trying to create some kind of [artificial intelligence] systems 10 years ago, but they weren’t really sure how it’d be used. It turned out to be very, very effective for AdSense.

AdSense has grown a lot, but so has Google’s overall advertising footprint. You guys have been extremely active in acquiring companies like DoubleClick, Admeld and AdMob in building out this end-to-end ad tech stack.

The way I see it, we started in this business of serving ads on other people’s Web pages. Then we developed contextual technology but realized it wasn’t quite enough and started to go into brand [advertising] and display ads. Then we realized we needed an ad server, an exchange, a [demand-side platform]—so one thing led to another. Today our goal is to have an end-to-end solution for advertisers and publishers.

Why is that important?

Buying advertising right now is way too hard. In order to get more advertising [dollars to shift to digital], you need to make it be easier. People don’t understand the logistics of advertising. To have the ads purchased and run, you need to have a series of products that work together.

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