“People are very dedicated to this, that’s one thing,” said Michael Korsunsky, CEO of North American operations for global native advertising platform MGID. “The second is the sense of normalcy. It’s a distraction from the nightmare that’s happening. It also helps psychologically to maintain something that hasn’t been broken.”
We had been reviewing photographs of MGID staff members driven to cellars with their laptops by the sound of air alarms.
Korsunsky himself is based in Santa Monica. MGID’s global CEO, Sergeii Denisenko is Ukraine-based, as is a large MGID team mainly devoted to R&D, engineering and tech support. How many? “It’s hard to say,” said Korsunsky. “We originally had about 600 people in that office, but because of COVID the office was a come-as-you-wish basis for the last couple of years. Some people went to Western Ukraine, some people went to Poland, some people went to Germany and a lot are still in Ukraine. Until we can make sense logistically of what’s happening, it’s difficult to see how many people are physically in Ukraine and how many are in different areas.”
Right now, men aged 18 to 60 cannot leave the country, although Korsunsky said there were plausible candidates — perhaps Slovakia or Estonia — if the decision was taken to relocate the Kyiv operation.
A decentralized model
Founded in 2007, MGID is one of the oldest platforms of its kind. “Today we operate in 276 countries and have physical offices in 11 countries with close to 1,000 employees,” said Korsunsky. “Different geographies and regions require different approaches to the market and we go into each market with the intention of connecting local demand to local supply — so we open physical offices, we hire local people, we work with local agencies; what that of course does is force a distributed model for the company in terms of resources.”
The decentralized nature of MGID’s operations was only underlined by COVID, with many staff choosing to work remotely. It ultimately turned out to be a good thing that resources were not concentrated in one location, and decentralization has meant that the war has had no impact on MGID’s operational capacity. “We kind of saw this coming,” Korsunsky mused. “Nobody believed it would happen, but the signs were there, right?”
Korsunsky himself was born in Ukraine. “I left during the Soviet Union, so the country did not independently exist. To me this is completely insane, like science fiction of a very poor caliber. It’s like California fighting with Kansas, for example. It makes no sense.”
An open letter to the adtech industry
Shortly after the opening of hostilities, MGID released an open letter to the adtech industry, calling for “access to reliable and truthful information about Russia’s aggression in Ukraine” and including a link to make donations to the National Bank of Ukraine’s special account for Ukraine’s armed forces.
“All of us in the industry understand that content integrity, especially during these times, is crucial,” said Korsunsky. “What we’re asking for is a sense of responsibility when distributing content. In addition to that, we need to offset the disinformation impact by sharing more approved and legitimate news. Obviously Russia is very good at disinforming and spinning things. We ask for support for truth, and if there is an ability to provide humanitarian help, to try to organize that.”
Korsunsky thanked publisher partners that have allowed MGID to insert an in-content impact widget in articles at no cost: “It’s just a link to official humanitarian groups that can collect funds and distribute them properly. The more people see it, the better the impact will be.”
The bombs need to stop
We asked Korsunsky what hopes he had for the immediate future. “I don’t believe any argument can be heard until the bombs stop. It doesn’t matter if there is any perceived legitimacy from the Russian perspective on why this happened. Until the terror stops, no one’s going to listen. My hope is for no loss of life; everything else can be restored but life cannot. There are no winners in this situation.”
Despite damaged infrastructure and economy and loss of life, Korsunsky believes Ukraine can nevertheless be restored. “We also have millions of Russian people who didn’t want this war, and they’re severely impacted. So there’s no win-win, it’s more of a lose-lose. I think everybody’s main hope is for a quick resolution of the military conflict. Then everything else can be dealt with.”