Criteo’s Megan Clarken on Post-Cookie Preparations and Crisis Leadership

New CEO says ‘diversity brings strength’ to an organization

criteo logo on the left and a woman smiling on the right
Criteo CEO Megan Clarken was formerly part of the C-suite at Nielsen. PRNewsfoto/Criteo S.A.
Headshot of Ronan Shields

Key insight:

Criteo raised its Q2 revenue forecast to the $175 million range, up from earlier guidance of $147 million, thanks to “better than expected business performance” since the publicly traded company last briefed investors.

The company’s stock price rose by more than 20% within minutes of issuing the update Monday, which also noted that its recently revamped retail media offering has proven popular with ad buyers. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic decimating the global economy, the imminent demise of third-party cookies led some to question the future of independent ad-tech companies, with Criteo’s stock price suffering as a result.

Speaking with Adweek ahead of today’s update, CEO Megan Clarken discussed crisis leadership, preparations for a post-cookie world and diversity in the industry. Criteo is due to make its Q2 earnings disclosure later this month.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What has been your approach to leadership during these difficult times?
Clarken: I came in to do a transformation [in late 2019], and I continue to have that as a major objective. But clearly the last three months have made me use another muscle, which is one of making sure the company remains stable during these times.

That’s a tricky one, as we had to move all our people to working from home and focus on safety first. We also have to focus on our clients, as it’s not just about us. And we have to look after our shareholders and keep our financials in good shape.

Then we have all the logistics around running the company, which, prior to Covid, would have been par for the course … while sticking to the strategy that we’ve laid out to move ourselves from just a retargeting company to a full-stack DSP [demand-side platform]. So, we need to make sure the teams are productive and have enough to execute against that strategy.

As a leader, it’s a whole new experience, and I’m sure not one that any leader in the sector has been through before. And for me that experience is gold.

How do you go about breaking bad news while maintaining motivation and hope of better times?
I always ask myself how I would like to be led through a time like this, and I’ve always believed in being open and transparent.  

They might sound like catchy phrases that everybody knows and says, but for me, that’s the obvious starting point. What I try to do is overcommunicate and be very pragmatic with people about what’s going on. People are not dumb; they can work these things out for themselves. So, if you’re being fair and transparent, all the way through the process, then they understand.

I’ve had to break bad news my entire career. … As long as you know the outcomes of whatever it is you’re trying to communicate in a respectful way, and you show that you help all the way through the process, then that’s the best you can do.

You mentioned Criteo’s need for transformation. Can you explain your plans for the post-cookie world?
Our identity graph is what we call a Shopper Graph, and it’s based on data that comes from retailers that allow us to use a massive amount of data from about 2.5 billion shoppers.

It’s [based on] deterministic data in terms of what’s passed back to us. So, things like hashed email addresses that can actually be linked back [to ad exposure]—and, of course, this is built with privacy in mind.

Shopper Graph carries about 35 billion consumer actions per day. It’s got insights into the transactions that people do across their ecommerce journey, plus things like SKU [or stock keeping] and purchase data. We use it for what we call our retail media business, which is about placing CPG ads on retail sites.

The other piece we have is our first-party data, which comes from our traditional retargeting business.

"This is not just the domain of men; it’s the domain of women and anyone of a diverse background."
—Megan Clarken, CEO, Criteo

@ronan_shields Ronan Shields is a programmatic reporter at Adweek, focusing on ad-tech.