Partner Perspectives

Steering Committee Spotlight: Insights from Lila Hunt

Sovrn Publisher Advocate // April 16, 2024

In 2023, Sovrn announced the creation of a new steering committee composed of leaders and innovators throughout the publishing industry. Steering committee members represent companies like Ziff Davis, Publishers Clearing House, LoveToKnow Media, and more.  Their mission: to collaboratively tackle the biggest challenges facing publishers today and assist in developing the products publishers truly need from their ad tech partners. 

We recently sat down with Lila Hunt, Vice President of Display at System1, to get her thoughts on the state of digital media. 

Q: In your role with System1, what are your top priorities and where will your team focus its energy over the next 12-18 months?

A: At System1, our content strategy has always been data driven. We’re focused on harnessing our data in a way that can drive insights across our portfolio. For example, Mapquest has such broad topic diversity; including, location, intent, brand affinity, and more. Its breadth and reach helps us study how advertisers are valuing different contextual and behavioral signals in already cookieless environments. We use these insights to plan publishing and advertising exercises across our portfolio. 

Marketing is all about aligning the right message with the right user, in the right format, at the right time. Now that the deprecation of third-party cookies is well underway, it’s critical we focus on first-party signal collection, inventory strategy and data solutions that drive performance and help advertisers accomplish their goals any way they prefer to spend. 

Q: From your perspective, what are the top challenges facing publishers today? 

A: I’m very passionate about the language we use for communicating signals to advertisers, which may stem from studying linguistics and communications in school. Most of the industry is adopting the IAB’s content taxonomy to standardize contextual signals, but that taxonomy wasn’t developed with today’s breadth of ad-supported content in mind. As a result, it’s not representative of many publishers’ needs. 

To drive campaign performance across all advertiser verticals, we need more consistency and specificity from the words we use to describe digital content. If we don’t have the right words to talk about our businesses, we could see misclassification informing algorithmic decisions and driving poor advertiser performance — not because contextual can’t work but because our technologies learn from and model against weak data.   

The health and viability of mid-market publishers is a hot topic that is also very important to me. Although System1 is a premium publisher, we are essentially a collection of mid-market sites that combine to give us a larger voice. In my opinion, mid-market publishers are foundational to the open web and have legitimate subject matter authority. They fill niches with exceptional passion that differs from large, commoditized content producers. Smaller mid-market publishers often have excellent monetization expertise but need tools to help them execute. There’s a huge opportunity for service providers to better support the mid-market and drive meaningful results for these businesses by augmenting their lean, in-house teams. 

Q: What do you think publishers should be doing right now to position themselves for success? 

A: Now more than ever, publishers need to make sure they’re answering for advertiser outcomes. Without third-party cookies, buyers can’t discover performance in the same way they used to. Publishers can play a larger role informing advertisers about the user, their interests and their engagement with ads. Direct sold publishers have always operated this way and now programmatic channels must borrow more traditional techniques for data management and inventory optimization.

AI can help publishers implement these tactics very efficiently with much less manual effort spent classifying and analyzing data. System1 is a proud AI early adopter. We use AI tools to help classify our content and machine learning models to design high value audiences and pricing rules for our most valuable collections of signals. While it’s exciting to work for a company on the cutting edge of a technical revolution, publishers shouldn’t have to do these things on their own. Great technology partners should be figuring out how to work AI into their products so they can add value for their customers. The problem-solving potential feels endless right now, which presents great business opportunities for service providers.

Q: What does it mean for an SSP to be a true partner to publishers? 

A: SSPs should facilitate demand to support content monetization, which goes beyond just opening a door to inventory. To be a true partner, they need to care about display and they need to convince advertisers to care on behalf of their clients. They should be looking for opportunities to facilitate and optimize the relationship between buyers and sellers. Post cookie, we simply aren’t going to benefit from having as many open doors to our inventory and true partners will figure out how to differentiate and add value for their customers. 

Additionally, tech providers in general — and SSPs specifically — should be leaning into AI to deliver results that help our businesses. Publishers need the most support on data transparency because that’s the only way we can understand how AI-driven yield decisions are working for us. Not every publisher has the resources to analyze data at that scale.

Q: Why did you feel it was important to get involved with Sovrn’s steering committee? 

A: I’m very protective of the open web and I want to help mid-market publishers gain access to monetization solutions that meet their unique business needs. The mid-market represents a huge segment of open market auctions, yet these publishers are under-recognized customers. I joined this committee to champion the mid-market and make sure these interests are represented at the vendor level. 

Sovrn is trying to navigate some really interesting use cases that support the diverse needs of complex content businesses. Participating in the steering committee may help deliver product and service innovations that are useful for me as well as my friends.  

Q: How can groups like this help to drive positive impact and change?

A: I’m involved in a lot of groups where publishers come together to have conversations about what the industry needs. On the whole, publishers tend to be very open and full of great ideas — and that fuels very productive conversations. We educate each other, solve problems together, stand up for one another, and champion each other’s work. Publishers are extremely collaborative, despite the fact that we operate “competing” businesses. As the advertising ecosystem grows more opaque, those transparent conversations help keep the industry honest and hold our customers and partners accountable.

For more insights to help grow your business on the open web, visit the Sovrn blog. You can also contact us at for more information about our comprehensive suite of publisher solutions for advertising, commerce, and data.

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