Digital Mad Woman: aQuantive VP Maggie Boyer Finch

Read the third installment of this series.

aquantive-finchAt the tender age of 23, Maggie Boyer Finch became the queen of digital analytics before most people in the interactive ad field knew what digital analytics were. It was 1997, and as a senior exec at Web agency Avenue A (later renamed aQuantive), Finch felt like “god’s messenger,” preaching the importance of measurement and data at innumerable industry panels.

When Seattle-based Avenue A went public in 2000 it raised $126 million, and made Finch one of the era’s paper millionaires. That year the shop pulled in about $194 million in revenue. Two short years later, after an avalanche of layoffs and agency closures, Finch and her data-centric shop  looked around and saw they were one of the few agencies left standing. With her ebullient, outgoing style, she went on serve as aQuantive general manager in 2003. And when Microsoft bought the company in 2007 she rose to the position of a Microsoft GM. [Photo left: Maggie Boyer Finch now, courtesy of  Tubefilter.]

For the last couple of years, Finch, 37, has been CEO of entertainment community site King of the Web, a Seattle startup she founded with former aQuantive boss Nick Hanauer and Zillow founder Rich Barton.  

ClickZ: What made you ditch traditional advertising for interactive work?

Maggie Boyer Finch: I was working at direct marketing agency Wunderman in Chicago in 1995 and my job basically consisted of the media director asking me to order pizza for meetings. If someone was sick I might get to place an ad. One of our clients H&R Block was brave enough to try an email campaign, so I started to work on that. It was minor, worth only about $10,000, when other clients were spending millions on direct response TV campaigns. But I loved the freedom of interactive media, so much that I left Chicago to join an online media placement startup called iBalls which later was sold to  Avenue A.

ClickZ: Tell us about an average day at Avenue A in the ’90s?

MBF: It started at 5 a.m. It is dark outside, but when the elevator door opens into the office there are already about 12 people bustling around. Card tables are set up everywhere, including the hallway leading into our office. People are interviewing candidates for new jobs all day long at some of those tables. We hire 10-12 people a week.

Dozens of media buyers spend the day rapidly dialing on the phone, like day traders, hustling [web sites] for the right price points. There is no wining and dining – our software tells us the right price. We don’t care about your site’s idea or if we like you. It is all data driven. At 7-8 p.m. we go out to drink until midnight, usually tequila shots and cheap beer. Then we sleep for four hours and do it all over again. Most of us are under 30 and we have this incredible work ethic. It is a world of children running big business.  

ClickZ: Since you were in Seattle, how did you connect with your peers elsewhere?

MBF: Remember we had no social media back then, no smartphones, no search, no LinkedIn. We barely had email and BlackBerrys. So at events in New York and San Francisco I was the defacto spokesperson for our shop and our analytical approach. I felt like I lived in two worlds. Seattle was grounded and full of math and science types. When I’d get off the plane in New York there was this sharp contrast of a fast-paced advertising world all about relationships. I would share our knowledge about measurement and analytics. It was fantastically fun bringing our best thinking to the marketplace at these conferences, I felt like I was god’s messenger.

ClickZ: What was the IPO like?

MBF: At noon time that day we went to the top floor of our building with bottles of champagne and opened all the windows. We hooted and hollered, drank champagne and poured some out the windows. We were rock stars, we were millionaires. Clients seemed to be coming out of the woodwork at that point.

Yeah, and a year later we were concerned our company would be delisted from the stock exchange. But to tell you the truth, after we lost all our [paper] money, I couldn’t be that sad because there hadn’t been much time to be happy about it.  

ClickZ: Were there many senior-level women in your world?

MBF: I saw more women in authority in the late 1990s than I do now. Back then, there was an openness, an entrepreneurial spirit and acceptance of counter cultural experiences. Everybody was a Zuckerburg. The diverse cast of characters included many women, though more than half were still guys.

Then in 2000-2001 it changed. The large corporations took over failing dotcoms, they brought in smart business practices, but they also brought in a lot of dudes. I have to admit I’ve had some tough moments when everyone around me seemed to be a six-foot tall white guy.

ClickZ: With such rapid change, what surprised you most?

MBF: I was shocked by how different we were from all the traditional marketers we were trying to convert. Every time we’d walk into these Fortune 500 companies, we were overcome with a huge language barrier. The meaning of  “reach” and “frequency” meant something different to us and them. They would talk about the scarcity or availability of inventory and we’d try to explain there is no ceiling of the available inventory – it’s the Internet.

Eventually we realized our industry had created a language foreign to Fortune 500 clients.Even though we were only in our 20s, we really had to focus on educating them.

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